Learning and Living Politics

For Lara Sullivan, political science at the University of Pittsburgh is more than just an academic discipline—it’s a community.  No anecdote relates this better than her story about former President Bill Clinton visiting campus in the Fall of 2012. For the event, Lara was invited to join the proceedings and recite the pledge of allegiance before the assembled audience, political officials, and the former President himself. In relating that experience, it was telling to hear what she focused upon in such a unique occasion. It wasn’t the honor of being invited to do so. It wasn’t the magnitude of the personage on stage with her. But what made her smile was her recognition that her peers were there was well: “Looking down at the front row, all I could see was the line of about 70 political science majors sitting there together.” Interviewing Lara, she routinely said that this was one of the best parts of the major—the way that political science at the University of Pittsburgh functions as a good and close-knit department. “My friends in Biology and the sciences don’t really get to know each other. But we do. It’s like I share a bond with my fellow majors because of the same experiences.”

For someone whose personal life is full of individual accomplishments, it was refreshing to hear Lara’s consistent references to the influence that her peers and instructors within the department have had upon her. In particular, she praises the way a large department in terms of number of students manages to reach each student on an individual level in his or her coursework. “The department’s upper level courses are small classes. That smaller setting really makes your thoughts and contribution to the class matter.”   Despite the large pool of political science majors, Lara still manages to shine. In 2012 she was president of the University of Pittsburgh College Democrats, and remains in a senior advisory role to that organization. She is also an active member of the Pennsylvania College Democrats Organization, where she helped organize a caucus system to help organize young voters by strategic issue areas such as women, blacks, GLBTQ rights, and labor.   

Through the political science department Lara has also had the opportunity to complete internships with both the Obama presidential campaign and within the Pittsburgh mayor’s office.  It was these experiences that Lara says confirmed her faith that some sort of career in the public life was the goal she pursued. “Whatever happens, I will be doing what I enjoy because of my degree. I’m confident that whether I pursue law or public policy or a public service job, I’ll be on a good path to where I want to be.”

As a Junior who will be graduating in Spring 2014 Lara, like all of her peers, is very aware of what career options comes next. For her, the political science degree is an integral part of that process. “Political science at Pitt is helpful because of the multi-disciplinary benefits. No matter what career or field you go into, policy will affect your job. Somehow, politics will directly impact your life.” That said, she also suggests that there is a greater role that University of Pittsburgh political science alumni can play in the job prospects of current undergraduates. “It’s not a perfect path. The degree doesn’t immediately translate into an assured job. That’s why developing a network of Pitt political science alumni who can assist those of us graduating would be very helpful.”