Driving change: Student leaders sharpen skills in political leadership

How the Democracy House is helping OHIO students turn their thought leadership into action

McKenna Christy '25 | February 23, 2024


While younger people are often overlooked or face barriers to political participation, a group of Ohio University Student Senate leaders are already heavily engaged in civic leadership. These three students are gaining valuable training through Democracy House, an organization dedicated to driving “innovation in civic education and leadership, community infrastructure, public policy, and youth voter participation,” according to the group’s website.

Megan Handle ’24, the president of OHIO Student Senate, Chief of Staff Carson Sarver ’24, and OHIO alumna and former Women’s Affairs Commissioner Kennedy Huntsman BA ’23, are team members for the Democracy House’s Young Leaders Civic Action Program (YLCAP). YLCAP is an opportunity for students who completed the Young Leaders Summer Institute, a Democracy House internship, or received a partner nomination. The program trains students on leadership skills for civic engagement purposes and allows teams to develop projects to bring back to their universities that will benefit the student body.

OHIO Student Senate leaders Carson Sarver ’24, Megan Handle ’24, and Kennedy Huntsman BA ’23 during a Senate advocacy trip to Washington, DC in 2023.

From left, OHIO Student Senate leaders Carson Sarver ’24, Megan Handle ’24, and Kennedy Huntsman BA ’23 during a Senate advocacy trip to Washington, DC in 2023.

Before becoming part of YLCAP, Handle and Huntsman participated in Democracy House’s Young Leaders Summer Institute (YLSI). YLSI Fellows learn from experts about what threatens democracy through “global and historic democratic contexts.” Fellows met for weekly two-hour virtual sessions and interacted with civic leaders and elected representatives. Sarver was able to join their team for the YLCAP because of Handle and Huntsman’s prior involvement with Democracy House. 

The program provides students with the resources to “strengthen democracy in their communities through organizing practices while developing their leadership skills.” For Handle, Sarver, and Huntsman, the program began in January and will end in April. The team traveled to Austin, Texas, at the beginning of the year for in-person training.

“Our time in Austin was spent learning and working on how to organize groups of people and how to coach [and] be coached,” Sarver explained. “Through our training, we learned about the ways in which people can organize groups of individuals to make a change as well as how we ourselves can organize on our campus.” 

The skills they learned during the three-day training were meant to be brought back to OHIO to help others improve their leadership skills. From January to mid-April, the YLCAP cohort meets virtually twice each month and teams participate in weekly coaching meetings to track the progress being made for their projects. 

“We are all incredibly excited to bring our project into fruition,” Sarver said. “We are working on adding Narcan, a medicine that can treat an overdose, into local bars on campus. We are hoping to educate more individuals on the benefits of having Narcan in local places as well as educate individuals on how [they] can help.”

Carson Sarver '24

Carson Sarver '24

Megan Handle '24

Megan Handle '24

Kennedy Huntsman BA '25

Kennedy Huntsman BA '25

By the end of the program in late April, the cohort will meet once more to celebrate each team’s accomplishments. The application for the 2024 Democracy House Young Leaders Summer Institute is open and applications are due no later than May 10. 

“The Democracy House has helped us all grow as leaders as we have resources provided by the organization, we can use to help bring our project into fruition and to help be the best leaders [we] can be,” Sarver said.