During the two and half years I've been at UT, I've heard a wide variety of complaints about the Strip.

Professors and staff think it looks dirty and dilapidated, while students complain about the lack of parking and the need for bike lanes. The Strip is just one of those things that we get so used to looking at that we fail to realize how much better it could be.

Thus the city of Knoxville is on a mission to do just this: after football season this year, they plan to start construction on what they call The Cumberland Project.

This initiative is an extreme makeover of Cumberland Avenue that entails an overhaul of not just the actual road, but the aesthetics of the Strip looks as a whole.

Plans include making Cumberland two lanes and adding larger, nicer sidewalks and crosswalks that will make it more pedestrian and bike friendly.

Ultimately, the hope is that this project will transform Cumberland Avenue into a "to place" and not just a "through place."

While the city expects this to boost the local economy and rejuvenate interest in the Strip, the project will have direct influence on the lives of students at UT.

Fortunately, students have a fantastic opportunity to let the city of Knoxville know how they really feel about this project.

The Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy is working with the city to make your voices heard by hosting a Parking Policy Challenge on Oct. 12.

The goal of this event is to bring students together to discuss topics such as safety, transportation, student trends and problems parking – essentially all things related to the Strip. A survey about these topics is currently being circulated, and the results of it will drive the Policy Challenge and get participants thinking about ways to make the Strip better for those who use it most.

For those of you who are thinking, "I have no idea what a policy challenge is, and there's no way this pertains to me," I encourage you to think again.

Students and staff at the Baker Center have worked incredibly hard for the past few weeks to develop a program that students will find both fun and productive.

The challenge will commence with a quick welcome and discussion about the results of the survey, and then the participants will have the opportunity to actually go to the Strip with student leaders and interview managers of the establishments.

After that is completed, participants will return to the Baker Center for a pizza lunch and discussion about what they found during their interviews.

The goal for the Policy Challenge is to truly get in touch with what the vendors on the Strip really think about the Cumberland Project and what they would like to see by the time it's finished. UT students and Cumberland vendors are the two populations that will be most affected by construction on the Strip, so it is imperative that we work together to let the city of Knoxville know what we want for both parties' future betterment.

There are a slew of great things that can come out of this Policy Challenge, but it requires the support and participation of the student body.

Not only will you meet new people and get a bunch of free food, but you actually have the opportunity to reach out to the city officials and let them know exactly what you think.

It's not every day that students have the opportunity to directly affect public policy and so clearly make their voices heard.

The Strip is a huge part of our experience here at UT, and I encourage everyone to participate in the Policy Challenge.

To register as a participant in the challenge, click here, and remember that registration closes on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

This is your neighborhood and your city, so don't let your voice go unheard.

Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached at xvd541@utk.edu.