For Cara Sierks '18, Government is fueling a passion for impacting social policy

Tue, 11/07/2017

What is the context of your coming to Cornell?

I chose Cornell because of the school’s location, people and support network. I wanted the opportunity to experience life in a different part of the country. Growing up in Minnesota, I was eager to explore the East Coast. I was drawn to Cornell as soon as I heard Ezra Cornell’s egalitarian mantra, “any person, any study.” Once I visited campus, it was clear to me that his vision permeated the student body, and I immediately wanted to become one of the passionate students who worked to help continue his vision. Add in the remarkably stunning landscape, the active alumni network and strong support services for students, and choosing to come to Cornell was easy. Cornell just felt like the place I needed to be to help me achieve the future I envisioned for myself.

What area of Political Science are you studying?

I am studying American Politics. After doing research my freshman year and taking Politics of Public Policy my sophomore year, I became particularly interested in public policy and poverty programs.

Who have been your influential professors and why?

I have been lucky to learn from many incredible professors during my time at Cornell. Two professors who profoundly influenced my Cornell experience are Professors Mettler and Michener.

Professor Mettler has fundamentally shaped the way I analyze government programs and politics, and shifted the way I view the world. I took Professor Mettler’s Intro to American Government and Politics class the fall of my freshman year, and the first reading I did for the class changed the way I think about government programs and program delivery. Professor Mettler’s passion for the subject left me wanting to learn more – which I was able to do the summer of my freshman year as her research assistant. Professor Mettler is also my Advisor in the major, and every time I meet with her I get that same inspirational feeling and verve to discover.

Professor Michener follows the pattern of inspiring and engaging Government faculty. I thought I could be interested in policy, so my sophomore year I took Politics of Public Policy with Professor Michener. I am so glad I did. Beyond being my favorite class so far at Cornell, Professor Michener’s passion for poverty and policy’s ability to solve complex political problems fueled the topic of my honor’s thesis, and helped me see that I want to work on these issues in the future. It is one of the main reasons I interned on the Hill this summer, and why I want to move to D.C. when I graduate. Her stories revealed the real-world implications of what we were studying, and made me realize why policy was so important and necessary.

Are you writing an Honor’s Thesis and what are you writing about?

I am writing an Honor’s Thesis studying the impacts of federalism on poverty policy. Specifically, I am looking at the factors that motivated the rise and design of area-based poverty initiatives to see if those factors translate to other policy arenas.

How has being a Government major helped you grow personally and professionally?

Cornell’s Government major helped me grow as a student and as a person. I learned about the Cornell in Washington (CIW) program in my intro Government courses and was excited about the opportunity to attend after seeing the impact of public policy in my courses sophomore year. Through CIW I was able to intern with the Law and Policy Section of the Department of Justice. I deepened my interest in policy, saw firsthand how an executive agency works, and I was able to grow a network of contacts in Washington D.C. which eventually led to an internship on the Hill that summer. I have also assisted a few Government professors with research projects during my time at Cornell, which honed the research and writing skills necessary for my internships. Being a Government major has challenged my analytic skills, taught me to communicate clearly and concisely, and helped me critically challenge foundational assumptions. The connections I have made with Government faculty and students, as well as my DC experiences have nurtured my desire to enter public service. I really believe that learning from passionate and dedicated Government faculty has helped make me the person I am today.

What kinds of opportunities outside of Cornell have you pursued, and how has being a Government major helped you land the opportunity and be successful during it?

Before coming to Cornell I thought I would like to be a lawyer some day.Since I really did not know what that would look like, I have pursued many opportunities outside of Cornell to help me figure out what exactly I want to do.

I interned with the Minnesota Elder Justice center, where I was able to use the research skills I developed as a freshman Government major to assess the quality of services available to senior citizens across Minnesota’s counties. Completing the project helped me see the importance of government programs in improving citizen’s lives.

After realizing I wanted to learn more about policy and government programs on the federal level, I interned with the Department of Justice. I could not have received that opportunity without Cornell in Washington, and the research skills and knowledge I gained from Government professors.

Finally, as an intern on the Hill, I drew on my Government policy background and research and communication skills to successfully complete fast-paced research projects in a demanding environment.

My experiences outside Cornell confirmed my interest in continuing to work on social policy once I graduate, and I hope the skills I have developed at Cornell will help me have an immediate impact.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

After I graduate I plan to work in Washington DC for a few years doing policy research as a federal consultant, policy analyst, or associate with an advocacy group before returning to school to get a joint degree in law and public policy.

Cara Sierks