Centre College students often find ways to get politically active both on campus and off, and in the midst of this busy campaign season, two students recently immersed themselves in political work on the local and national levels.
Austin Ryan ’17 and Volur Zhang ’16 applied their interests in politics to different campaigns, with Ryan working on behalf of now former presidential candidate Marco Rubio and Zhang supporting Centre alumnus Bill Noelker’s bid for the Kentucky state house of representatives.
Both Ryan, a history major, and Zhang, an economics and finance major, were excited to put their interest in politics to work on campaigns they strongly supported.
“I have always had a passion for understanding and participating in the democratic process,” Ryan says. “When the Rubio campaign reached out to me, I saw an opportunity to work for a candidate who shared my values and who had the same vision for America that I did.”
Zhang had a similar experience.
“Mr. Noelker is a Centre graduate who is truly concerned about the people in our community,” Zhang says. “I wanted to help our community choose a representative who could protect the interest of most of our residents.”
Zhang’s academic internship with Noelker gave him the chance to interact with other politicians during the process, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and former Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen ’74.
“They addressed the current issues in Kentucky and made me start to think what kind of politicians can make Kentuckians better off,” Zhang says. “It was definitely an inspiring experience.”
Ryan’s work on the Rubio campaign evolved, as he first served as the Kentucky vice-chairman for Students for Rubio before being named a caucus chair and regional volunteer coordinator for Kentucky.
“Through this position, I was able to organize students from around the state, including over 30 Centre students who either made calls for the campaign or went to various caucus sites to represent Sen. Rubio,” Ryan says.
Seeing his peers get involved was a highlight of the campaign experience for Ryan.
“The most rewarding experience while working on the Rubio campaign was helping engage my fellow Centre students in the political process,” he says. “Being able to encourage students to get involved in our democratic process, especially at such an important time, was extremely rewarding.”
Zhang agrees that the people he interacted with—particularly those in the Centre community—made his internship rewarding.
“During the campaign, I worked with several Centre students to get our faculty and students more involved in the campaign,” he says. “The ability to reach out to people, the opportunities to talk to the leaders in Kentucky and the learned event planning skills are all great assets that I gained from this internship.”
Ryan plans to utilize what he learned on Rubio’s campaign in future political involvement.
“Through this experience, I was able to make fantastic connections as well as learn organizational, time-management and communication skills that will be invaluable to me as I continue to work on campaigns after college,” he says.
Zhang has found ways to apply his campaign experience to his classwork and research endeavors, including a presentation at the recent RICE Symposium that focuses on research, internships and creative endeavors.
“I am actively sharing my takeaways in the Centre community. I believe what I learned from the campaign can raise awareness and get more students engaged in politics,” he says.
Both Ryan and Zhang appreciate that Centre is a place where political involvement is encouraged.
“I think that the reason that so many students are politically active on this campus is because we go to a school that cherishes different points of view,” Ryan adds. “Students on either side of the political spectrum are not discouraged from speaking about what is important to them; rather, they are emboldened by their professors and the administration to refine their opinions and vocalize them.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
April 26, 2016