December 8, 2015
Location: Kalamazoo, MI
First, tell us a bit about your time at MSU.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced as a Madison student? How did you overcome it?
I’m originally from South Dakota. Choosing to attend JMC meant leaving my home state to attend a university with nearly five times as many people as my entire hometown. Fortunately, JMC was exactly the academically intensive, small-school experience I was trying to find.
Did you do an internship while you were at JMC? A study abroad program? How did those experiences contribute to your professional development?
I had the chance to go to Washington, D.C. for my internship at the National Stonewall Democrats. I learned firsthand what the intersection of policy, politics, and interest groups looks like. With talented mentors who provided ample opportunities to jump into policy head-first, my Field Experience laid the groundwork for what would later become my job and then a career in public service.
Did you have any professional mentors (faculty, staff, etc.) while you were a student at MSU? How did you seek them out/connect with them? What influence did they have on your career path and/or professional identity?
JMC is designed to encourage professional mentoring relationships between world-class faculty and students. I was lucky to have multiple such mentors. I remember having my arguments sharpened—repeatedly—through debate with faculty such as Dr. Grant, Dr. Jezierski, Dr. Borcila, Dr. Hunt in her senior seminar, and Dr. See while serving as her professorial assistant. Their support has continued after graduation, as they’re often available to think through a policy problem or recommend a good read.
Any involvement in student groups/organizations while you were on campus? How did those involvements influence your professional path?
Student activities occupied a significant amount of my college experience and enriched everything I was learning in the classroom. From the moment I stepped onto MSU’s campus I was involved with organizations like the Alliance of LGBT Students (the organization’s title at the time), MRULE, and the MSU College Democrats. The skills I learned ranged from fundraising to political strategy to large group facilitation and became the core competencies I use frequently in my business, Badlands Strategies.
We’d love to learn more about how your career path has developed.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was running a statewide ballot campaign trying to prevent discrimination in marriage in my home state of South Dakota. I was able to land the job through networking during my Field Experience. Running that campaign on the equivalent of $4 and a Tic Tac, we were able to secure over 48% of the vote. Our team would not have been as successful as we were if we weren’t applying all the skills we learned in crafting good public policy, working with interest groups, and debating our point of view.
Walk us through a typical day at work. What’s it like?
There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a legislator. Each day is a combination of meeting with constituents, working on proposed legislation, participating in community events, and tackling an array of campaign-related responsibilities. The most common theme is that tomorrow won’t look like yesterday and today will be different, too. That said, the analytical skills learned in JMC and the ability to create a logical argument on the fly are used every day.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining work/life balance can be difficult whether you’re running your own business or serving as an elected official. Both jobs have expectations that you’re constantly on the clock because when a constituent or a client calls you have to respond. I try to set time in the morning to take care of myself, even if that means getting up at 5:00 a.m. to get a run in. The other trick is setting date nights on my calendar and then keeping to them.
What professional goals are you still working toward?
I want to go back to school and get a J.D. One of my biggest regrets was not immediately continuing my education and pursuing a legal degree. I listened to the folks who told me not to go to law school, but I wish I hadn’t. I’m hoping I can still find time to go back to school locally and develop those skills.
A few general/fun questions.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
My grandfather gave me the best advice I’ve ever received. He reminds all of his grandchildren, “Don’t fall behind; it’s hard to catch up.” Take care of the things you can today because you never know what opportunity tomorrow will hold.
What’s your favorite part about living in your current location?
I love living in Kalamazoo. We have the amenities of a larger city and the community that can be difficult to find in a place where people don’t know their neighbors. We also have quite the craft beer scene, which doesn’t hurt either.