Two Berea Students Win Project Pericles 2016 Letters to an Elected Official Competition

Megan Yocum

Megan Yocum

Megan Yocum and Tran Nguyen, two Berea College students, were one of five winning teams in the National 2016 Letters to an Elected Official competition sponsored by Project Pericles. The other winning student teams were from Allegheny College, Carleton College, Hendrix College, and Pitzer College.

For the competition, students from member campuses of Project Pericles sent letters on various public policy issues to elected officials throughout the United States. For the first time, students also submitted project proposals outlining how they would use their award. Each of the five winning teams will receive $500 to work on their issue during the 2016-17 academic year.

For their project, Yocum and Nguyen composed a letter to State Senator Jared Carpenter (R-KY) discussing the expansion of Kentucky’s 2013 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “We hope to raise awareness among people in Kentucky and to challenge and encourage them to think of a way to exercise their religious freedom in a loving and considerate way,” Nguyen said. The pair plans to create a public service announcement and then present it to elected officials during lobbying meetings.

“We selected this particular topic because it affects many people within Kentucky,” said Megan Yocum. “There are still many discriminatory issues that the alphabet community faces.”

Tran Nguyen

Tran Nguyen

Nguyen said the Berea College motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth, (Acts 17:26)” inspired her work on the project. “I chose this topic to promote the culture which emphasizes the appreciation for diversity, social justice, and equality beyond the boundaries of Berea College. As a Christian myself, I know that this is not easy, but I believe God teaches us to do everything in love, not in hatred.”

 Originally from Dalat, Vietnam, Nguyen, said, “I didn’t grow up around any people from the LGBT community. Yet, at Berea one is my best friend and deserves all the respect and happiness in the world. I also wanted to use this project as an example of how a student could communicate with their political representatives to make policy that serves the public’s interest. In modern America where so much hatred is going on publicly, I believe that it is necessary to raise our voices for justice to let the oppressed know that they are not alone.”

“The 2016 Letters to an Elected Official competition engages students around public policy issues, the political process, and with their elected officials,” said Jan R. Liss, Executive Director of Project Pericles, Inc., which is based in New York. “Since this program began in 2008, we have received outstanding submissions from students at our Periclean colleges and universities. This year was no exception.”

The letters in this year’s competition proposed innovative solutions on issues ranging from online privacy and adapting Europe’s Right to be Forgotten in the United States, LGBTQ access and rights, extending Federal insurance to all agricultural crops, restricting local media sources from publishing the names of juveniles charged as adults for crimes, and expanding Medicaid coverage for mental health treatment and recovery support programs.

Since 2008, hundreds of teams from all Periclean colleges and universities have participated in the Letters to an Elected Official Competition.Every year, a panel of judges with significant legislative experience selects the winning letters written by teams of students from Periclean campuses. An elected official who served as one of the external evaluators this year wrote, “let all these students know what wonderful and impressive work they did,” adding that “if [she] had received any of the letters from a constituent, [she] would have been blown away.” 

Yocum and Nguyen are both juniors at Berea College. Yocum is majoring in Communications with a double minor in Broadcast Journalism and Film Production. She is president of the Berea chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, the national honors society for communication majors. Nguyen is an independent major in Public Policy, with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies. Upon graduation Yocum hopes to become a freelance editor in the television industry and Nguyen plans to work for a couple of years before attending graduate school.

About Project Pericles

Founded in 2001 by educational philanthropist Eugene M. Lang, Project Pericles is an organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs. Project Pericles works directly with its 30 member institutions, called Pericleans, as they individually and collaboratively develop model civic engagement programs in their classrooms, on the campuses, and in their communities. Project Pericles encourages higher education to promote a more just, equitable, and compassionate society by reawakening American undergraduate education to its responsibility to prepare students to be effective citizens and leaders of their communities, nations, and world. Find out more at

Debating for Democracy (D4D) ™ is a distinctive campus-based program that represents the mission of Project Pericles in action. Students acquire the tools and tactics they need to advance their issues and to get their messages across to elected officials, fellow students, community groups, and the media.

Categories: News, People
Tags: Appalachia, diversity, Social Justice, Students

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.