With the presidential elections right around the corner, UT will have an opportunity to watch the upcoming presidential debates and discuss the issues with students across the state of Tennessee.

The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy is holding "DebateWatch" tonight at 9 p.m. in the Toyota Auditorium. The event will begin with the nationally televised debate being shown to participants in the auditorium, which has a capacity of about 180 people, from 9 to 10:30 p.m.

After the debate has concluded, those in attendance will participate in a video conference and discuss and debate the issues with representatives from a wide variety of schools across the state of Tennessee, including UT-Martin, East Tennessee State University, University of Memphis and Volunteer State University.

This is the first of the three presidential debates for this election season, and it will be moderated by Jim Lehrer, executive editor of "PBS NewsHour," on the campus of the University of Denver. The debate will largely focus on domestic policy. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, it will be divided into six sections of approximately 15 minutes each, with each section opening with a question from the moderator. The topics, as announced on Sept. 19, include the role of government, health care, governing and three entire sections regarding the economy.

The Commission on Presidential Debates developed "DebateWatch" as a voter education program, and during the presidential election of 2004 the cumulative totals of the "DebateWatch" nationwide included over 30,000 participants and 2,000 "DebateWatch" groups in all 50 states, half of which took place on high school or college campuses.

This is not the first "DebateWatch" hosted at UT. One was held in 2008 with great success, and Baker Center Associate Director Nissa Dahlin-Brown is prepared for even greater success tonight.

"We plan to overflow upstairs into the classrooms if needed," Dahlin-Brown said.

Students can expect to learn more details about the platforms and policies of the presidential candidates.

In an era of widespread national student apathy toward voting, many students seek to remain politically aware. Nathan Burcham, junior in political science and a former member of the Baker Learning Community, is one of those politically aware students.

"I usually make an effort to watch the debates," Burcham said. "I've only missed one or two."

He believes that the key to citizenship is political awareness, especially during election season.

"Just voting is not being a good citizen; you have to have knowledge behind your vote," he said. "It is your duty to be an informed voter, not just a voter."

Dahlin-Brown agrees, explaining that one of the most important goals of "DebateWatch" is increasing students' knowledge about the election. The Baker Center is holding the viewing, "so (the students) can make an informed choice based on fact at the polls," she said.

The "DebateWatch" will also provide students the opportunity to discuss the debates with students from other schools. Burcham sees this opportunity as a great value.

"You get perspective you wouldn't get here," he said.