In an election year like no other, politics has been front-and center at FLC just as it has been around the country. Young people of all political persuasions have historically had low levels of electoral participation, but for Olivia Thomas (Political Science and Borders &Languages, ‘20) and Jessica Hayden (Political Science, ‘20), direct political engagement has been a central part of post-graduation life.
For the Political Science faculty, the work of inspiring students to actively engage in politics is an everyday part of teaching in their discipline.
“We teach Political Science in the hope that students will go on to create change on the issues they care about, so it is especially gratifying to see our recent graduates becoming political leaders and agents of change during these historic elections,” says Paul DeBell, assistant professor of Political Science.
“Given the diversity of our students and their political views, it is wonderful to witness the breadth of political issues and campaigns our students go on to fight for after having worked and learned together in the classroom for years.”
— PAUL DEBELL
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Thomas was the campaign manager for the Committee to Elect Barbara McLachlan as representative of House District 59 in the Colorado House of Representatives. Her choice to study Political Science was born from a deep desire to make a lasting positive impact on the world— Thomas wants to make the world a better place, and politics, she says “is an accessible and important first step to doing that.”
When Thomas began her work as campaign manager, she was the campaign’s only paid employee. “All of the sudden I had to budget, and fundraise, and plan events, and coordinate volunteers, and all these things that I was not expecting.” To make matters more difficult, she says, “volunteers [were] really elusive this year because of COVID.” She went on to manage the other staffers, interns, and volunteers, and was responsible for the campaign’s $150,000 budget.
“Those are things I didn’t know I could do, and I think Fort Lewis definitely helped me build up my adaptability,” Thomas says. From her perspective, the dedication of FLC faculty members was key. “I felt prepared going into this job having studied Political Science, and my relationships with professors really made me feel a lot more confident,” she explains.
Thomas sees her efforts on the McLachlan campaign as an important step toward a different kind of political work that will allow her to better leverage her experiences and education in the service of meaningful change. She plans to go to law school before finding her dream job at a nonprofit or grassroots organization.
Like Thomas, Hayden also joined the campaign trail not long after graduation. Following her lifelong passion for politics, she majored in Political Science.
“My professors further reinforced my passion for Political Science,” she says, “and my passion told me that one of my greatest purposes in life is to further the efforts of those running for office who I feel will best represent the populace.”
Hayden gravitated toward Lauren Boebert’s campaign to represent Colorado’s 3rd district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Just days after she contacted the campaign, Hayden found herself working closely with Boebert as her scheduler and personal assistant.
“I liked her message, so I reached out to her campaign page on Facebook asking if there were any local opportunities for a recent Political Science graduate to gain some real-world experience on a campaign,” she says.
Hayden forged a strong working relationship with Boebert during her time on the campaign, and although she was not able to work with her through the entire pre-election period because of the coronavirus pandemic, she hopes that her efforts will lead to “even more incredible opportunities in election politics.”
“Given the diversity of our students and their political views, it is wonderful to witness the breadth of political issues and campaigns our students go on to fight for after having worked and learned together in the classroom for years,” DeBell says.
To other Skyhawks looking to do the kind of hands-on political work that Thomas and Hayden have done, both Political Science graduates were adamant—make sure you’re “putting yourself out there and being involved in the community,” Thomas says. “Take risks,” Hayden adds, “never be afraid to take a leap of faith.”