Connor Reed, Indiana University sophomore, returns to articulate why local government has difficulty connecting with college students. He proves wise beyond his years in distilling the current perception of government.
Foreignness of Local Government
By Connor Reed
While out to dinner with some friends, one a sophomore in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the other studying in the School of Public Health at IU, I asked both if they had ever considered local government for a career. Their responses, respectively, were “Not really…” and “Like, what do you mean?”
Unfamiliarity of Local Government
There is an unusual and unfortunate unfamiliarity with the field of local government among undergraduate students. When many undergraduates begin their college careers, they are unsure of where they will end up, but after taking numerous classes, consuming unhealthy quantities of coffee and switching majors several times, the undergraduate settles in to a comfortable rhythm and flow of studiousness, working towards a decided passion or industry. Local government is rarely one of those passions.
This unfamiliarity with the field genuinely surprises me. Local government is a necessity and an element of society that has existed for a long time. It is part of every community or city, so there is constantly a need for positions and officers to serve the public. In addition, local government is accessible. Cities and towns are everywhere in America. Beyond that, local government is a dynamic field with constant changes and tangible effects on the community. It is also a field that compliments a broad range of studies, including political science, public policy, economics, business and geography. Many of these majors already have huge numbers at universities. With all of these factors in consideration, it’s difficult to not consider local government as a viable career. These are all reasons that the field attracted me.
How About a Field Trip to City Hall?
Speaking as an undergraduate, I can speculate that the reason most of us aren’t familiar with the field is because we never had a proper introduction. Throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, we were educated on the operations and noteworthy nuances of federal and state governments, but were never given insight as to the policies, procedures and people shaping the community in which we lived every day. Sitting through AP U.S. Government and taking field trips to the state legislature, no thought was given to the progress being made right in our own community thanks to the work of city managers and planners.
Undergraduates Need to be Exposed to Local Government
The foreignness of local government that stems from our grade school days can only be addressed once we reach our undergraduate universities. Here all doors are open and we have the freedom to discover new ideas, new careers and even careers that already existed that we were unaware existed! This is what makes organizations like the Local Government Management Association so important.
LGMA is the leading student organization in the School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in professionally developing and preparing graduate students for a career in local government. When I joined the organization as the first ever undergraduate member, precedents and amendments were made that will now allow more undergrads from a wider range of majors to also join the organization. This will create greater exposure to the field for undergraduates. Organizations like LGMA are essential for creating interest in local government on college campuses.
Capture the Potential
Like any other discipline, local government needs a pool of fresh and innovative young professionals to tap into. This generation of undergraduates has the drive and potential to accomplish great things in whatever field they choose. We are leaders by design and champions of innovation. These past two years of college, I have worked with some of the most dynamic and intellectually outstanding students I have ever met, and am proud to call them my friends. The skills and the wills are already instilled in undergraduate students to make us successful local government leaders. It is now a matter of pointing us towards a field which will capture that potential and allow us to realize tangible results from our studies.