In a short video uploaded to his Facebook on Oct. 11, freshman Robbie Shinder, a goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, patrolled the Emerson campus and asked students about their plans to vote ahead of the midterm elections. He noticed several students were puzzled by the voting process and unprepared to participate. Some students admitted they had not registered to vote. The video gained over 2,000 views and helped promote his organization, Absentee Ballots Now.
Shinder, who founded Absentee Ballots Now in May, committed himself to increasing voter participation across America. After hiring a web designer and gaining not-for-profit status with the help of an attorney, he began running the organization on his own.
“I created Absentee Ballots Now so that I could give all Americans an easy way to vote,” Shinder said.
Absentee Ballots Now enables voters to cast their ballots without leaving their homes. The program helps those who do not want to waste time in long lines on Election Day, as well as college students living outside their home state.
In addition to his work with Absentee Ballots Now, Shinder worked with Jason Meier, the director of student leadership and engagement, to organize the March for Our Lives Gun Prevention Panel on Oct. 30 in the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
“I got March for Our Lives Boston involved because Boston has a big gun violence problem,” Shinder said.
15 students and two faculty members were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida On Feb. 14. Shinder lives in Boca Raton—less than 15 miles from the shooting.
“I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing now regarding gun control or absentee ballots if Feb. 14 didn’t happen,” Shinder said.
Meier said that while many Emerson students fail to turn their political awareness into political activeness, Shinder is an exception.
“At Emerson, we say we are involved politically. We say we are going to vote, but statistics show that we just don’t,” Meier said. “Robbie has done a great job helping to create this lifelong commitment of civic engagement.”
Meier said Shinder’s ambition in coordinating a panel on a pressing issue in America impressed him.
“As a brand new student, during orientation, he took the initiative to make this happen,” Meier said. “It’s our job as administrators to support students and their vision, and Robbie knew that on day one. More people need to follow in that example.”
To continue his work outside of the classroom, Shinder said he chose Emerson because of the urban setting and the opportunity to play soccer.
“I really wanted to come to Emerson no matter what, and the opportunity to play soccer added onto that,” Shinder said. “Being in Boston has helped a lot as well—there’s plenty of work to do with MFOL and Absentee Ballots.”
Robbie played in three games this season and finished with a .778 save percentage. He said the most memorable experience on the field came during his first minutes as a collegiate athlete, when he entered a game against Clark University in the second half and stopped six shots.
Bryan Harkin, the head coach of the men’s soccer team, said he applauds athletes who take advantage of other extra-curricular opportunities.
“I think it’s great that all of our guys are involved in stuff outside of Emerson, which is part of the reason they chose Emerson in the first place,” Harkin said. “I encourage them to chase their dreams and follow other pursuits.”
Along with his extracurricular goals, Shinder is a visual and media arts major. He aspires to make documentaries and posts most of his videos to his Vimeo account. “Recovery in the Keys,” a documentary he made on the lives affected by Hurricane Irma in Key West, Florida, won four independent film awards.
“It feels great to be recognized for my projects at the very beginning of my career, but I know there is still so much that I can work on,” Shinder said.
Shinder said his next documentary will cover the 17 families dealing with loss following the Parkland shooting and is set to be released early this summer.
“My goal for it is to get people emotionally involved in these parents who have lost their kids,” Shinder said. “The only way for there to be change is for people to get emotionally invested.”