Recent studies show today’s youth are disengaged from political activity, but for Millikin University student Michelle Patrick, nothing could be further from the truth.
Patrick, a political science and communication major from Manhattan, Ill. has assembled an impressive resume that rivals that of a full-time political operative, and she hasn’t even graduated yet.
It was a Civics class at Lincoln Way Central High School and an engaging teacher that sparked Patrick’s interest in all things political.
“The class was just fascinating. My teacher, Jeana Naujokas, was very dynamic in the classroom, and brought attention to many issues that affect students, like education funding, healthcare reform, etc. It motivated me to pay attention to politics in my free time,” she said.
Patrick enjoyed the class so much, she enrolled in an advanced placement Civics course during her senior year - just in time for the memorable 2006 election cycle, where the Democratic Party gained power of Congress following 12 years of Republican control. From that moment on, she was hooked.
“I knew then politics was something I definitely wanted to pursue as a career,” said Patrick.
Patrick received a Presidential Scholarship to Millikin, and began her Millikin studies in fall 2007. She excelled academically, but was anxious to gain experience beyond the confines of a classroom.
“Most political staffers will tell you that politics is something that needs to be experienced, and I couldn’t agree more,” remarked Patrick.
She took advantage of a number of internship opportunities, starting with a position at Decatur-based DCC Marketing, whose clients include 51st district Senate candidate Tim Dudley.
“It was an incredible experience,” remarked Patrick. “I helped develop campaign communication and social media profiles for Mr. Dudley, and scheduled media tours throughout the 51st district.”
Patrick’s dedication to her internship made an impression on her supervisor, Chris Herbert, public relations director for DCC Marketing.
“Michelle has a tremendous work ethic,” Herbert remarked. “She is bright, creative and approaches every task with a ‘can do’ attitude. She quickly proved to be an asset to our team at DCC Marketing. I’m confident she will become a rising star in any industry she enters into after graduation.”
In April 2010, when funding cuts threatened the availability of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, Patrick used the opportunity as a learning experience. She and a small group of Millikin students traveled to Springfield to lobby the Illinois General Assembly in support of MAP.
During her visit to Springfield, Patrick met State Representative Renée Kosel (R-New Lenox), the representative for her former hometown's legislative district. The chance encounter and follow-up communication led to a summer internship for Patrick in Rep. Kosel’s office.
“My experience with Rep. Kosel was a wonderful complement to what I have learned in the classroom,” remarked Patrick. “It’s difficult to understand what happens in the General Assembly without being there to experience it firsthand. It’s hard to believe how much work goes into the successful passage of just one bill. Being there to experience it makes you appreciate the process that much more.”
During her internship, she wrote press releases, put together media kits for bills Rep. Kosel planned to introduce, assisted in drafting bills, wrote a weekly newsletter, and assisted with constituent work.
“We were just thrilled to have Michelle as an intern last summer – she was a real asset to our office,” remarked Rep. Kosel. “From participating in meetings to drafting legislation, she did a fantastic job.”
Unlike most up-and-coming political operatives, Patrick has worked for candidates on both sides of the aisle. “It’s been interesting to get both sides of the story,” remarked Patrick. She also appreciates the opportunity to work on both sides of the political spectrum – campaign and legislative politics. “It’s given me good, comprehensive knowledge of both sides of the political system.”
Does Millikin have a future White House press secretary in our midst? Perhaps. After graduation, Patrick hopes to continue her involvement in the political process, and eventually would like to work as a campaign or legislative spokesperson.
As for the future of politics, Patrick strongly believes in its ability to affect positive change, but thinks that more of her generation needs to involve themselves in the process.
“After working for the General Assembly, I realize how complex things really are – it takes a lot of committed people to make government work. We need to find people who are invested in change. Now is the time to learn the lessons to move us forward. Our generation needs to care enough to contribute to the process.”