Published: April 11, 2018

It’s large and looming and talked about every four years or so, and some University of Tampa students want to change that.

“The Congressional Budget Office projects that if the current spending is maintained, the federal debt held by the public will climb to 150 percent of the gross domestic product within the next 30 years,” wrote Rajul Mehta ’18 in an editorial in the Tampa Bay Reporter. “That is more than our country’s entire economic output. These dangerously high levels of debt threaten the economy the younger generation of Tampa Bay would inherit.”

Mehta is leading a group of three others in the Up to Us challenge, a semester-long competition empowering students to educate their peers on the impacts of the national debt and what their generation can do to mitigate its effects. The competition started in 2012 with previous winners including the University of Virginia and College of William & Mary. Some competitors in this semester’s program include the University of South Florida, University of California, Berkeley, Duke University and Northwestern University.

Out of 106 competing schools, UT has made it in the top 10. The team will find out on April 17 if they won, which includes a $10,000 prize and a chance for the whole team to attend the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s Fiscal Summit in Washington, D.C. Even if they don’t win, one team member will attend the summit for making it into the top 10.

“Being at that stage with the people at the summit is actually huge,” said Mehta, a triple major in finance, cybersecurity and accounting. “It’s the first time UT has participated in the event, and if we win it’s going to be a big benchmark to set the foundation for other students at UT.”

Competition was based on their educational efforts as well as the number of signatures they were able to secure on a pledge of students’ support of Up to Us and their own commitment to prioritize the importance of the nation’s fiscal future.

“One thing I learned about the national debt is that it currently stands at $21.1 trillion in the U.S. Another thing I learned is that over the next 10 years, net interest on the national debt will reach approximately $5.6 trillion,” said team member John Vazquez ’18, a finance major from New Milford, CT.

“I became a part of this competition to raise awareness on the rising national debt and how it can affect us,” said team member Ismail Mohammedali ’18, also a triple major in finance, cybersecurity and accounting, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “Any kind of impact from rising debt would also impact Saudi Arabia,” in a variety of ways including trade.

Mohammedali and Mehta, of Mumbai, have had the same class schedules since their first year at UT, and partnering on Up to Us was a way to leave their mark on UT as they near graduation this December.

“It’s my senior year, so it’s like before going you have to do one big thing that you’re known for, so this is one of those things,” Mehta said. “It’s a great platform. You get to meet so many people. You get to do something that is so important, and through our events on campus we realized how much it is needed here at UT.”

Mehta and team member Shivang Kundu ’19, an international business and finance major from West Bengal, India, both commented on how the competition has strengthened their public speaking skills and makes them more confident leaders.

Activities included lots of tabling in Vaughn (“50 Shades of Debt” was the theme in February), presenting to cybersecurity and accounting classes, and hosting a debate in March between UT’s College Republicans and College Democrats. Mehta wants to create an Up to Us student organization in the fall and hopefully recruit another team to compete in next year’s challenge.

“This topic is important to be discussed. Who’s going to talk about it if not us, who’s going to do something about it in the end,” Mehta said. “We all know about college debt, but on a more significant level, on a broader level, it’s the national debt that’s more important.”

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