Melissa R. Michelson and Nykidra Robinson Receive the 2022 APSA Distinguished Award of Civic and Community Engagement

The APSA Distinguished Award of Civic and Community Engagement is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor significant civic or community engagement activity by a political scientist which merges knowledge and practice and has an impact outside of the profession or the academy.

Dr. Melissa R. Michelson (PhD Yale University) is Dean of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Menlo College.  She is a founding Executive Committee member of WomenAlsoKnowStuff and past president of the American Political Science Association (APSA) Latino Caucus and of the APSA LGBT Caucus.  Dr. Michelson is a nationally recognized expert in Latinx voter mobilization and LGBTQ politics.  She is the award-winning co-author of seven books, including Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns (2012), which received the 2013 APSA Ralph Bunche award, and, most recently, LGBTQ Life in America (2021).  Dr. Michelson’s current projects include ongoing research on how best to motivate students to vote, how drag performers can increase voter turnout, how to reduce prejudice against members of the LGBTQ community, as well as another co-authored book manuscript tentatively titled, Party at the Mailbox: Mobilizing Black Turnout with Celebrations of Community, under contract with New York University Press.  In her spare time, she runs with her dog, paddleboards in the Pacific, and relaxes with her husband and four sons.

Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson is a Baltimore, Maryland native, entrepreneur, visionary, motivator, and connector with a passion for changing the world.  She believes in the collective power of the people to make positive change for communities that have been underserved.

On November 30, 2015, inspired by Shirley Chisolm’s birthday, Nyki launched Black Girls Vote, Inc. — a non-partisan, grassroots organization that focuses on encouraging, mobilizing and activating Black women to use their collective voting power, to be civically-engaged, and to advocate for issues that impact Black women and their families.  The organization seeks to cultivate a generation of Black women leaders who will continue to push for justice.

Nyki has dedicated her career to organizing for social causes.  As a seasoned outreach specialist, she has over 14 years of experience in politics, project management, strategic planning, and community engagement.

In 2020, Nyki created the innovative and groundbreaking “Party at the Mailbox” (PATM) campaign, one of the first most successful COVID-19 pandemic-proof voter education engagements in the nation.  PATM launched in Baltimore, MD during the April 2020 presidential primary election.  The program then expanded to Detroit, MI and Philadelphia, PA for the presidential general election; Atlanta, GA for the 2021 Senate run-off elections; and Richmond, Virginia for the 2021 gubernatorial election.  Nyki and her team are currently overseeing an extensive randomized control trial evaluation focused on Black voter engagement.

Nyki is a proud graduate of Randallstown High School.  A first-generation college student, she attended Frostburg State University where she graduated with a degree in business administration and a minor in leadership studies.  After graduation, she studied Mandarin and international business in Beijing, China.  In 2018, Nyki earned her Masters of Public Administration from Baruch College as part of the 50th anniversary class of the National Urban Fellows program.

When she’s not organizing for the greater good, Nyki enjoys cooking, event planning, traveling, working out, listening to music, and spending time with great people.

Citation from the Award Committee:

The APSA Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement honors significant civic or community engagement activity by a political scientist, alone or in collaboration with others, which explicitly merges knowledge and practice and goes beyond research to have an impact outside of the profession or the academy.  This year’s selection committee reviewed a strong pool of applications from a variety of scholars engaged in a range of civic projects.  After careful consideration, the committee was pleased to award the 2022 APSA Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement to Melissa Michelson and Nykidra Robinson for their project “Party at the Mailbox”.

“Party at the Mailbox” was an innovative and nonpartisan voter education campaign piloted in June 2020 and designed to support voters in exercising their political power during a public health emergency and at a moment of electoral uncertainty.  Created by Black Girls Vote founder Nykidra Robinson, the electoral mobilization campaign centers around equipping community-based celebrations that not only support voter participation through educational outreach but foster a sense of enthusiasm and political efficacy at the local level.  The reach and effectiveness of “Party at the Mailbox” was enhanced by a partnership with Dr. Melissa Michelson from Menlo College whose randomized controlled trials provided evidence-based guidance on how to make “Party at the Mailbox’s” pilot and subsequent iterations effective.

“Party at the Mailbox” not only meets the criteria of the APSA Distinguished Award for Civic and Community Engagement, but it truly captures its spirit.  At its core, this award recognizes projects that benefit civic and community engagement and enhance the democratic process and outcomes.  “Party at the Mailbox” roots voter mobilization in local communities by offering participating local organizations the materials and support they need to help voters complete and submit vote-by-mail ballots and celebrate their communities and political participation.  The goal is to build large, robust get-out the-vote efforts that are owned by local community organizations and intentionally guided by local experts.  Of equal importance is that the recognized civic engagement efforts reflect an appreciation of relevant scholarship and the use of evidence-based practices.  The collaboration with Dr. Melissa Michelson that entailed randomized controlled trials and the collection of data via a survey, interviews with voters and partner organization leaders, and Zoom focus groups in each participating city perfectly exemplifies the merging of scholarship with practice that this award recognizes.

“Party at the Mailbox’s” collaborative effort paid off with results of the randomized controlled trials showing an increase in participation in the Baltimore June primary of 12.4 percentage-points (from 19 percent in the control group to 31.4 percent in the treatment group) among low-propensity voters.  Organizers integrated these findings into future iterations and replicated “Party at the Mailbox” for the general election in November in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Detroit, and Philadelphia.  In 2021, the project was implemented in Atlanta, Georgia for the Senate runoff and again in November for the gubernatorial election in Richmond, Virginia.  Spikes in voter turnout in these locations highlight the effectiveness of “Party at the Mailbox”, document the power of community-led and ground efforts, and serve as a valuable contribution to understanding of how best to get out the vote of Black Americans in particular.  In this way, not only does “Party at the Mailbox” exemplify a successful collaboration between political science and community engagement, it offers a path for moving us towards the “more perfect union” we aspire to be.

APSA thanks the Ivywood Foundation for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Elizabeth Matto (chair) of Rutgers University, Malliga Och of Idaho State, Leah Murray of Weber State University, and Gisela Sin of the University of Illinois.


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