As Congress grapples this month with the need to raise the national debt limit yet again, a team of five Richard Stockton College students is competing to raise local awareness of the debt and its impact on their and future generations.

Jessica Carey, a Stockton political science major from Chatham, Morris County, said her goal in entering the Up to Us contest is to give students and the public a better understanding of the national debt, its role in the American economy, and how students themselves might be affected by it.

As of Thursday, the national debt was just under $17.3 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury web site.

"People are really ignorant about the debt," Carey said. "We are not taking a side on the issue, just trying to start a conversation. You can't have an opinion if you don't even know the issue. This is establishing the foundation."

Team member Mico Lucide, of Galloway Township, noted that college students have a vested interest in the national debt since college federal financial aid debt of more than $1 trillion makes up more than six percent of the total debt.

The Stockton team is among 25 colleges chosen to compete in this year's competition, sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative University, Net Impact, and the Peter J. Peterson Foundation. Teams got $2,000 to run their campaign and the winner will get $10,000 and recognition at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University.

Other team members are Katerina Childs of Lacey Township, and Angelo Bechara and Tarek Gad of Egg Harbor Township,

The Stockton group has promoted an online debt questionnaire, which as of Monday had about 800 participants, putting them in second place. They also made a YouTube video, started an online petition to ask state Legislators to put more resources into civics education, and hosted lectures and a Jeopardy-style debt game on campus.

Their next event is "Dodge the Debt:" a dodgeball tournament at noon Sunday where teams of up to five people can compete both in dodging the ball and answering questions about the debt. Winning team members will each get $75 Visa gift cards.

Carey said they will announce facts about the debt during breaks in the tournament, then offer a quiz at the end to determine the winner.

"Young people often feel that we are talked at rather than talked to," Carey said of their dodgeball event. "We were looking for a fun way to start the conversation."

Lucide, also a political science major, said he joined the team because it offered a broader way of thinking about government, how it spends money, and the global implications.

He said one of the interesting things he has learned is that anyone can write a check to the U.S. Treasury to help pay down the debt.

Bechara, a freshman, made a short presentation during a nerfball tournament at Egg Harbor Township High School Friday night. He said he was pleased that he was able to grab people's attention, even if it was just for a minute.

"I kept it brief, but it was cool to see their faces when I said the debt is $17 trillion," he said. "It kept their attention longer than I thought."

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

IF YOU GO

The Dodge the Debt dodgeball tournament will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 16 in the I-Wing gym at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township. Visa gift cards of $75 will be awarded to each player on the two first-place teams - the winners at dodgeball and the team with the most correct answers on the debt quiz. Admission is free. To register a team of up to five players email UptoUsStockton@gmail.com and include a name and contact information for the team.