Imagine: it’s your first week of college. Your notebooks and laptop are stowed in your backpack, your phone and schedule are in your hand, and you’re scurrying from class to class. You can’t decide whether you’re excited or nervous for your first Biology lab of the semester. Your Physics professor assigned online homework due later this week. The Chemistry TA has already emailed you about a refresher quiz during lab tomorrow. Your orientation class isn’t until Friday. You’ve got some time to finish that book report you were supposed to write over the summer. During freshman orientation, you were encouraged to join a student organization. You were nudged towards the nursing honorary or the engineering sorority. Maybe, you were encouraged to join the Pre-Med club. Others might have been pushed to combine outreach and professional development with Global Brigades, Doctors Without Borders, or Engineers Without Borders. Going into college, you were told to “diversify your interests” by taking classes outside of your major. Then, you were told “don’t go too far” with student organizations.

When I was approached about joining College Republicans in my second year of college, I was incredibly apprehensive. On top of the normal feelings about being an outspoken conservative on a left-leaning campus, I was directly and indirectly warned about joining a group outside of my major. As I got more involved and eventually worked my way up the ladder, people were shocked when I told them I was studying engineering. Two years later, I’m here to let you know that you can do both. With a little bit of time management and a whole lot of dedication, you can knock doors on Saturday and finish that lab report that’s due at midnight on Sunday.

Political apathy

The indifference towards civic engagement often starts in high school. If your high school education was anything like mine, it was one dinky civics class in 12th grade, when everyone starts thinking about college or entering the workforce. Programs like Inspire U.S. have lept to the forefront of registering high school seniors to vote, but this lack of enthusiasm often continues into college. According to a study conducted by Tufts University, STEM majors are among the least likely to vote in an election, right above business students. One of the reasons the authors give for this is that the majority of STEM students are younger males. This group is less likely to vote than older generations and females.

Is there a doctor in the house?

The disconnect between STEM and politics is evident from our college campus to Washington, DC. In the United States Congress, STEM occupations are vastly underrepresented. As of July 2018, there were seven engineers in the House of Representatives, and one in the Senate. There are three members of the House that hold doctorates in psychology, one with a doctorate in mathematics, and one with a doctorate in physics. There are three medical doctors in the Senate, eleven medical doctors in the House, and three registered nurses, all in the House.

One of my inspirations for breaching the political realm is Rep. David McKinley, P.E. (R-WV), who is the congressman from my school’s district. He is a professional engineer. McKinley is a prime example of being involved in STEM fields and politics. At an American Society of Civil Engineers conference in 2013, McKinley saidThere are many issues Congress is working on that need to be examined with facts and not ideology…Members with an engineering background bring a unique perspective to Congress and understand what impact policies have on people and businesses in the real world.”

Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), a registered nurse, told the Robert Wolf Johnson Foundation in 2014 “I believe the insight nurses have into our healthcare system is invaluable and should be at the table whenever health care reforms are being negotiated. Our healthcare system is undergoing many changes right now, and in order to preserve the nation’s greatest health care system, I believe it is essential that nurses play a key role in advancing the policy debate.”

If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this: Follow your passions. Politics is not a spectator sport. Dive in head first, and don’t forget your planner.

Jillian K