More and more students are majoring in political science and running for public office


Jennifer Lambert thought she wanted to be a nurse.

Then the Parkland School shooting in Florida took place and she watched thousands of kids protest for gun control in Washington, DC, and participated in a walkout at her New Jersey high school. It was in 2018, when national politics were extremely polarized in the midst of Donald Trump’s presidency.

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Lambert decided to major in political science instead at Villanova University, which reports a 37% increase in majors in political science since 2019.

“I really think it has to do with the state of our national politics and how divided it has become,” said Lambert, of Fanwood, NJ. “It was hard for a lot of people to escape politics in the news cycle. Not being able… is a big reason we decided to study it.

This spring, 328 students are majoring in the field, up from 238 in fall 2019, said Marcus Kreuzer, chairman of Villanova’s political science department. The department has not seen such an increase in majors since 9/11, he said. The other local schools surveyed did not experience the same increase. Drexel reports a slight increase; he also notes a 20% increase this year in candidatures for political majors. The numbers at the University of Pennsylvania have remained relatively stable.

Nationally, the number of bachelor’s degrees in political science and public administration at U.S. colleges rose from 33,955 in 2015-16 to 36,715 in 2018-19, an 8% increase, according to the most recent data. recent reports from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Students do more than study the subject. Lambert, now a junior, wrote a book, Elector Z, on political activism among its peers nationwide; it is due out this month.

Other students show up for the local office – and win. Lauren Sum, an elder from Villanova, was elected in November to the Park Ridge School Board in New Jersey, where she graduated less than four years ago. Jacob Pride, a junior political science student at the University of East Stroudsburg, was just 19 in 2019 when he was elected township supervisor in County Monroe. Now Pride, one of two dozen Gen Z students (born 1997-2015) Lambert interviewed for his book, knows two other students running for school board seats.

“There is a growing awareness that politics is not just an abstract thing that happens [in] a faraway place, but it’s something that affects people’s lives, ”Kreuzer said.

Some students were motivated by Barack Obama’s presidency, he said, while others were interested in law school and wanted to serve their country. Some wanted to be involved in social justice issues and were spurred on by national politics. And for the latter group, racial unrest and the pandemic played a role, he said.

“It has become this existential battle for the soul of America or the future of America,” he said.

Kamil Vickers, 20, a sophomore from Newark, NJ, wants to see more representation of African Americans, like him, in government.

“I hope to represent the underrepresented in our country,” said Vickers, who plans to attend law school and possibly run for Congress one day.

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Vickers, who marched in Washington after the Parkland shooting, said his generation saw the world change in unprecedented ways and it made them stronger.

“We are a group of fearless leaders,” he said.

Natalie Christopoul, 21, a junior from Franklin Lakes, NJ, said she wanted to reduce political polarization.

“We need to relearn what it means to be liberal or conservative and understand how harmful social media can be to becoming educated voters,” she wrote in an email to Kreuzer, explaining why she specialized in political science.

Social media doesn’t help people understand the other side; it only ignites the differences, she says.

“No one is able to respect the other side,” she said.

She would like to start a club in Villanova that would allow people with different opinions to discuss issues in a civil manner.

Sum, 22, a communications and Spanish student, was among a group of alumni from her hometown school district last summer who began discussing the need for a more responsive curriculum and policies. to culture.

“We were hoping to push for more diverse reading lists, more diverse history classes, more color schools, and mental health support for students of color as well,” she said.

When there was only one candidate for three open seats, it presented itself as written. With the help of a friend, she ran a campaign mainly on social media from her residence on the Villanova campus.

“One thing I stand for is making sure that students know that they are more than capable of what they think they are capable of,” she said. “They are never too young to seek changes in the decisions that affect them.”

She attends meetings virtually for now, but intends to move home after graduation while working on an internship in New York City.

Pride, the student from East Stroudsburg, said his interest in political science started when he was 8 years old and George W. Bush sent his father, who was in the military, to Afghanistan.

“I wanted to understand why,” he said.

He is a suburban student and lives in neighboring Smithfield Township, a community of 7,500 in the Poconos, where he became a supervisor in January 2020. He introduced himself because he feared there was not have enough housing and economic development in the township to keep the young people in the area.

“I felt that with a younger perspective, maybe it was possible that we would keep more here and help move the field forward,” said Pride, Democrat and chairman of the board, including the two fellow supervisors. are 70 years old.

He had campaigned on live streaming of supervisors’ meetings and updating the website to allow more transparency.

“I didn’t think at the time that what was really going to start it up and give it momentum was a pandemic,” said Pride, who earns $ 2,500 as a supervisor and extra salary for serving as a digital specialist and coordinator of the township parks.

Pride balances his supervisory responsibilities with his coursework and always takes time for a social life and a girlfriend, he said. His job as a supervisor is really another learning experience, he said.

Kimberly S. Adams, professor of political science at East Stroudsburg, said her department expects students to become active in politics. Pride was not the first student to run for office.

“We are trying to create an environment where this becomes the norm,” she said. “Who cares, Democrat or Republican, go ahead and be the change you want to see. “

Adams lives in Smithfield Township and could not have been happier when Pride knocked on his door during his campaign.

“I told him I was going to vote for him,” she said.

He took a course that she teaches while introducing herself and gave students important insight into her experience as a candidate, she said.

Lambert, who interviewed Gen Z nationally about their political beliefs, voting habits and the politicians who inspired them, said writing the book gave him a new perspective on his generation .

“I see my peers as agents of change, activists and truly people who transform our political system every day through their actions,” she said. “There are positive reforms this generation can make once they come to power.”

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