University Park, Pa. -- Casey Miller is a senior mechanical engineering major with a passion for politics. From the end of summer until Oct. 6 -- the last day for voters to register in Pennsylvania before the 2008 Presidential election -- the Penn State student registered about 1,100 people to vote through PSUVote.org, a nonpartisan student coalition. Miller's zealousness for democracy has earned her a feature role in an episode of "This American Life," a nationally syndicated radio show produced by Chicago Public Radio. The episode will be broadcast during the weekend of Oct. 25-26.
"I call Casey the Iron Butterfly," said Sarah Koenig, a producer for the show, on how she thinks Miller registered so many people. "She is totally single-minded, competitive and utterly fearless. People in politics may sometimes come off as a bit geeky, but Miller fits into a lot of groups and can approach just about anyone, anywhere."
Koenig recently moved to State College with her husband, but telecommutes and commutes to New York City for "This American Life." When the staff decided to do a show focusing on the election in Pennsylvania — because the Keystone State is diverse with big cities and rural areas — and her segment was on voter registration, Koenig realized she was in the right place. She said students were at the center of increased voter registration in Centre County, which now has more than 100,000 voters for this election, up from 86,000 registered during the last presidential election. While Koenig had already started working on her election story, she was glad to meet Miller, who was perfect to include in the piece. For a few weeks, Koenig was Miller's shadow, following the Penn State senior around with a microphone and digital recorder.
Miller, a Pittsburgh native, may not be heading toward a politically charged career, but she's so passionate about current issues and encouraging her peers to take advantage of their right to vote that she spent all of her free time before Oct. 6 going into classrooms, football games and other social gatherings on behalf of PSUVote.org to help ensure the youngest voting population had a voice in this year's election.
"Every student needs to pay attention to the election," Miller said. "A lot of students care about the issues but don't think their vote counts. The seniors are really concerned about the job market next year but all students are concerned; they just need to vote to make this a true democracy."
Miller said the issues she's most concerned with are health-care reform, the economy and renewable energy research. As a mechanical engineering student, she intends to help find ways to cut back carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to what effects the next presidential election may have on her future, Miller said she was raised in a household that took social issues and doing something for the country very seriously. In fact, now she is doing an internship for the Obama campaign, earning college credits for the job she is doing. She said she believes in his policies and from now until Nov. 4 is spending about 14 hours a day campaigning for him.
"This American Life" airs in the greater State College area at 91.5, WPSU-FM, at 6 p.m. on Sundays. Miller's episode is set to run on Oct. 26. Podcasts of the show are available to download or listen to online for free on the Monday after they air at http://www.thislife.org.