Wonks Wanted: A Boothie’s Experience at the Institute of Politics

Wonks Wanted: A Boothie’s Experience at the Institute of Politics

As one of many Boothies with a non-traditional background, I came to Chicago hoping to gain analytical tools to make a successful transition into business. But with a long-term goal of returning to the public sector, I was lucky to discover the University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) sitting just a block-away from the Harper Center. 

IOP’s mission statement is to “inspire and cultivate the next generation of political and public service leaders,” providing us Boothies (and other UChicago students) a non-partisan, one-stop shop to deepen our political engagement, regardless of our academic focus. Over two years at Booth, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a small sample of what the IOP has to offer.  I’d love to share my experience for those of you interested in engaging with the center, but don’t know exactly where to begin.

World Class Speakers, with a Personal Touch
Open to the entire community, including prospective students, the IOP Speaker Series draws leaders from around the world to Hyde Park. Despite juggling the typical MBA schedule of class, recruiting, traveling, and social events, I’ve had a chance to see Secretary John Kerry, Senior Advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

Shaliya ’20 (far-right) attending an IOP Speaker Series event.

The IOP goes the extra-mile to make even these large events special for students. One of the interests I developed at Booth (through courses like Data-Driven Marketing and an internship at Google), is digital marketing. When the IOP brought White House Chief Digital Officer Ory Rinat in for a Speaker Series event, they reached out to me personally with an opportunity to chat with Ory off-the-record prior to the event and introduce him to the audience!

Like a Class, but Better
Through the Pritzker Fellows program, the IOP brings practitioners (elected officials, political strategists, policymakers, journalists, etc.) to teach quarter-long seminars. In the fall I attended former Congressman Tom Rooney’s seminar. And last quarter I joined former White House Legislative Affairs Director Shahira Knight’s seminar. Throughout my time at Booth, I’ve been impressed by the breadth of topics and exposure to different perspectives, including seminars by Univision anchor Enrique Acevedo and national-security expert Fiona Hill.

Why are seminars better than a class? There is no preparation required, you can show up to as many or as few as you’d like, you meet students from across UChicago’s academic programs and there is plenty of free food! More importantly, these practitioners provide deep insights into the nuts and bolts of implementing policy.

Helping Boothies Register to Vote
After realizing that the deadline for mail-in voter registration in 2020’s Illinois Primary was a week away and most Boothies were not eligible to register online, I saw an opportunity to make an impact in our community. Across a two-day span, Booth’s Student-Life team, IOP Staff, Booth’s Government and Policy Club, and UChiVotes (the IOP’s student-run voter registration initiative) aligned to help over twenty Boothies meet the deadline.

Typical of our “pay it forward” culture, Richard Day ’20 and Chet Kumar ’21 jumped in almost immediately to support the effort by staffing our voter registration table! Armed with a prime-location in the Harper Center’s Winter Garden, printed voter-registration forms, envelopes, stamps, and relevant information for student eligibility, we ran a process for Boothies to complete their entire registration in less than five minutes during lunch. When the IOP’s mission meets Booth’s “pay it forward” culture, anything can happen in a week!

Everyone’s IOP experience is a little different; count me in as another Boothie who found a way to make the IOP their own! I urge you to get involved and gain an insightful perspective in public service like no other.

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