Scholarship Winners

1st Place $1,000 Scholarship

Emily DeVilder

The notion of civic duty has been fledging for quite some time in this country. Beyond conventional responsibilities associated with being an upstanding and productive citizen, generations past understood the significance of their government, a true democracy for and by the people, and how to cherish the liberties afforded to them. The opportunity to be judged by a jury of your peers, to be granted reasonable doubt, and ensured proper representation are some of the finest legal luxurious in the world. The Judicial branch of this country, the most powerful in all of government, expects and depends on its citizenry to fulfill their roles as Americans to preserve and deliver democratic justice in our communities, inviting the populace to play an active role in how we keep our nation safe, accountable, and just.

Recognizing this opportunity and understanding the responsibility entrusted to me, I would answer the call of citizenship and diligently engage myself with the legal process, should my name be selected for jury duty. Understanding the nuances and complications of the legal system, I would be forthright and earnest in all of my responses during selection, making it evident that I committed to impartially evaluating the case and its circumstances. Chiefly, I would carry out my duty with careful consideration and advocate for my fellow jurors to candidly express their thoughts in an effort to challenge my perspective. Upon encountering any challenges in understanding, on my part or on the part of my peers, I would seek counsel from the jury advisors to ensure the true meaning of the law and statutes we were charged with evaluating. Ultimately, the jury is executor of justice, and I would see my duty to serve as a civic and moral obligation.

When trying to improve the narrative surrounding jury duty, we need to attack the problem holistically. Fundamentally, jury duty is an integral part of our civic duty. However, the presence of civics classes in the education system has largely vanished. We need to bolster our education system by empowering our youth with the knowledge of citizenship, with the power they hold in their liberal democracy. Not only will this enhance our country’s understanding and perception of jury duty, but it will also lead to a more engaged populace at every level of government.

Jury duty is an institutional liberty, a judicial necessity, and a civic responsibility that should be approached with an unrelenting sense of dedication and obligation.


Runner-Up $500 Scholarship

Chane Eckhardt

The Call to Jury Duty:
My Reaction and Ways to Improve its Image

As someone who is interested in the fields of law and criminal justice, I am familiar with the process of jury duty and its obligations. Though I have yet to be called for it, I do know that I will have to serve at some point and time in the future. Despite the fact that serving as a juror can bring another perspective into a potentially complicated case, many view this opportunity as a burden rather than as a service to the process of fair trial. I, however, do not view a jury summoning as such.

As I have previously mentioned, politics, law, and criminal justice are fields of study that I find interest in. A call for jury duty to me is one where I can become an important part of a trial and give my input towards which way the ruling should lean. My reaction to a jury call would be more of a positive feeling personally, compared to a more common reaction of negativity.

This common feeling of negativity is something that, though very apparent and alive, can be combated over time through a stronger usage of awareness and education of both the concept of jury duty and its impacts within society and the legal system.

From my own personal experiences, there is a correlation between the amount of awareness and the things people choose to volunteer for. Organizations that have larger quantities of resources dedicated towards public outreach and awareness tend to gain stronger support and higher numbers of volunteers and donors. Though jury duty is not necessarily a volunteer organization or opportunity, this same strategy can easily be utilized to improve its image among the populous and help to dismantle the “moans and groans.” Though it may be more difficult to instruct and change the minds of those who are older and have very set opinions, increasing the instruction and discussion of it within the public school system is a very strong way to teach the next generation about its importance and impact, as many groups and organizations already have. A longer session dedicated towards law in our government and politically-focused classes is a 2 very beneficial idea to encourage on schools and its administrators both within the city and at the state level. Indeed, this process is one that takes time to implement and properly advocate for; however, if the amount of support is stable and strong, change will be imminent for our education system.

As education becomes more rapidly available and accessible to all, the importance for proper education of governmental functions and the system of law will ever increase. As it does, it is important to use this as an advantage to improve the image and feelings towards jury duty. If properly done, the change will indeed come.


Runner-Up $500 Scholarship

Emily Cunningham

Intrigued – that’s how I would react if I was selected for jury duty. Unfortunately, in today’s society jury duty is perceived as a terrible nightmare. It is considered a waste of time, stupid, and boring. However, I strongly disagree. Through participating in Mock Trial for over 7 years, Iowa American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, enrolling in law and government classes at school, and exercising my right to vote, I have come to appreciate the judicial system, specifically jury duty, and know just how important and impactful it can be in a citizen’s life or community.

I believe there are many ideas that could be executed to start a positive association regarding the term jury duty. While having a goal of reaching and maintaining a positive mindset and attitude towards jury duty, one could try to normalize it, educate others about it, and invite others to see it in action.

In order to remove the stigma surrounding the term, normalization is necessary. Outreach programs or public campaigns that sponsor events such as hosting politicians, lawyers, and judges at schools to answer questions or family days at the courthouse. Programs founded on simple ideas like these will not only help young citizens create goals and aspirations to participate in the judicial system, but display how important all voices are especially during jury duty. While not many young people are called for jury duty, the easiest steps begin with them. Incorporating the judicial system and jury duty into all levels of education through government, law, or criminology classes is vital for citizens to understand what juries do: decide the facts. Lastly, invite others to unofficially participate in jury duty through a short mock trial or a simple class vote when officials visit schools. Through normalization, education, and participation citizens are able to attain a basic understanding of what jury duty is and the responsibilities associated with this duty. As a result, citizens will be able to look at the term with a positive mindset and attitude and will want to serve.


Runner-Up $500 Scholarship

Brendan Hird

Across social media, news media, in school, and other means of public communication, I hear people say their voice is not heard and their opinion does not matter in America. Countless movements exist across the nation asking for their voice to be heard. Some people fail to understand that their voices can be heard at the ballot box and through serving jury duty.

I cannot wait for the day when I receive a letter in the mail inviting me to jury duty. Receiving the invitation means I haven’t committed a felony, I am old enough to participate in government activities, and I am needed to participate. As a juror, I will insure the constitution will be followed as established by our forefathers. The pay may not be great, but I know my voice will be heard while serving on a jury.

One of the key elements of jury duty involves neutrality based on economic position, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. The only thing that matters is whether or not you are a United States citizen who obeys the law. We are a “melting pot,” accepting everyone regardless of status and we value their opinion. The United States flourishes on: freedom, equality, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. The judicial branch of our government was created to protect these rights.

The best way to reverse the negative perception to jury duty is to educate our young people that citizenship requires participation. Nowadays, people are trying to figure out how to impact their government and jury duty is one step in the process. The government needs to reaffirm its commitment to the citizen and distance itself from the corporate and special interest groups. Educators need to demonstrate how much of an honor it is to serve on a jury. Create an invitation letter signed by high-ranking government officials, speaking about the importance of jury duty. As citizens we must look to contribute when possible, regardless of the convenience.


Runner-Up $500 Scholarship

Kiara Burmeister

Honor. This word comes to my mind when I think about being apart of jury duty. I see jury duty as a privilege instead of an obligation. Coming from a family of immigrants, I would feel honored to contribute to my society and be apart of something bigger than myself, since my ancestors were unable. I have always had a passion to help others through my work in community service and believe that the one day of my life dedicated to members of my community is worth more than a day of work. I believe the current stigma around jury duty exists simply because of the time commitment. However, I think commitment is a small price to pay for democracy. Although the number of democracies has grown exponentially, there are sixty nine countries living without democratic governments of the 195 countries that are recognized in the world. I realize that utmost of societies’ perceptions are unmodifiable, however I think the best way to progress society is to simply educate. Educating our society through ads, articles, commercials, or social media would be a great start since today’s society is so connected digitally. The message would exemplify the great privilege we have in the United States and maybe compare our judicial system to another country. In conclusion, I would feel honored to serve my society and grateful for the opportunity to be able to help others.