In 2016, surrounded by activists four times her age, Sophie Schwartz (Political Science and Philosophy, ’21) volunteered with a non-partisan grassroots organization in her South Dakota hometown. An impassioned member of her high school debate team, Schwartz loved the energy around elections season and relished the opportunity to support causes she believed in.
“Who you elect as your leaders and decision makers will shape the change and impact in your community,” says Schwartz. “Politics can get disheartening when things don’t go your way, but you can also see how change stems from political work first.”
As an undergraduate student at FLC, Schwartz maximized her time making change across campus. Besides bringing her inexhaustible spirit to the FLC women’s golf team, she was also vice president of FLC’s student government and a program developer for, and founding student member of, the FLC Engagement Collaborative. Her work was heavily influenced by discussions she had in FLC’s legendary Philosophy courses.
“I’m from a small town, so I feel comfortable at FLC, especially with the faculty in the Philosophy Department,” says Schwartz. “Sarah Roberts-Cady, Justin McBrayer, and Dugald Owen…they have to be top-tier in the country, or even the world. They’ve made my time worthwhile. They’re why I’d choose Fort Lewis again and again for college.”
Early in 2020, Mark Mastalski, faculty advisor for student government, encouraged Schwartz to apply for a summer internship with the Emerson Collective, a “philanthrocapitalistic,” for-profit corporation launched in 2004 by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow). As a cooperative of “idealists with feet on the ground,” the Emerson Collective is inspired by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who says, “in one soul, in your soul, there are resources for the world.” In short, the mission of the Collective is to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.
For driven students like Schwartz, the Collective provides an unparalleled platform for networking and intellectual stimulation. Schwartz applied for an internship with the Collective’s Political Affairs department, which would have been based in Washington D.C., but the pandemic moved everything virtual. Despite the challenges, Schwartz says the intern management team at the Emerson Collective went above and beyond to make sure interns had a “stellar” eight-week experience.
Of the 30 interns, who hailed from Borneo, Berkeley, Calif., and all places in between, Schwartz was the only one interning in the Political Affairs department. Her days were packed with reading, book club conversations, one-on-one meetings with fellow interns, and a speaker series that featured an all-star lineup of immigration lawyers, journalists, healthcare advocates, educators, environmentalists, and creatives from a variety of disciplines.
Throughout the summer, the interns worked as a group on a “When We All Vote” campaign that focused on increasing student voter turnout on college and university campuses across the country. They also battled food insecurity through a food bank project. For a community-based environmentalism project, Schwartz joined four other interns to build out a virtual museum exhibit that was then presented to the Smithsonian Institute Board. For her personal project, Schwartz wrote case profiles on 60 congressional candidates from different districts around the country and ran prognostics to determine the most likely election outcomes.
“If there was someone who I thought resonated with the values of the Collective, then I would submit their profile as a solid option of someone we could support,” says Schwartz.
By the end of summer, Schwartz had 30 new likeminded friends, and she's confident she could get a job in any political realm, from Colorado to the White House.
But not until she’s finished her work as a Skyhawk. This summer, Schwartz will continue researching and developing the upcoming FLC Builds Community Conversation series, which aims to identify ways for students to engage with the community through volunteering, internships, student work, research opportunities, and more.
“I think I’m doing what I hope every citizen would do, which is in its basic form feeling like I have a moral obligation to care for members in my community,” says Schwartz. “That’s what I see my purpose in life being: trying to find something where I’m perpetually helping others. That feeds my soul.”