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CNNU: Students learning to juggle school, politics

By Joel Christian Ballezza
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based. This week's contributor is Joel Christian Ballezza, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- College students grappling with the burdens of a full class and social schedule can barely find enough time to do laundry, let alone have a part-time job or an internship.

However, some students are answering their civic obligations and getting involved in the political process -- on and off campus.

Registering new voters, canvassing for political candidates, managing campaigns and even running for local and state office -- students are stepping up and taking action, and pushing time management to the extreme.

In the spring of his freshman year, University of Washington sophomore Bryce McKibben was appointed director of the student union's Office of Governmental Relations and is responsible for advancing legislative issues important to university students in the Washington state capital.

Balancing a political science major, a personal life, volunteer campaign work and his lobbyist obligations can be tough, but McKibben stays on track with a little help from a daily planner broken down into 15-minute increments.

"I make it a priority, I schedule it in advance, and I make sure I'm out there," he said. McKibben suggests students integrate their social life with political efforts.

"[Pick] the issues that mean the most to you and get your friends involved," he said.

Even students who can only spare a few hours a week are finding ways to take part in politics.

Laura Baird and her roommate Melissa Aar, both juniors at the University of Washington, are in student government as well as volunteers off-campus for Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's re-election campaign.

"It's not hard to balance because it's something that I'm interested in," Baird said during a break from her studies, volunteer work and campus job as the student union's director of operations.

Aar's solution to juggle campaign work into her busy life is pragmatic.

"I just do the task in front of me," she said.

Some college students also are holding professional positions in competitive statewide races.

In August, Marcus Riccelli, a graduate student in public administration, took on the role as campaign manager for Washington state Senate candidate Chris Marr.

When originally approached with the job offer, Riccelli replied, "There is no way -- I'm in graduate school."

After reconsidering, he took the job and now commutes weekly more than 500 miles round trip between work in Spokane and school in Seattle. "It's difficult juggling different things," Riccelli said, but "you can find a way for your passions."

When struck by the lack of competition in his home legislative district in Seattle, University of Washington freshman Will Sohn was inspired to do something about it, running for the 43rd District position himself.

Despite not having the candidate registration fee of $350, Sohn was able to convince the state Republican Party to support his mission -- and cover the registration cost.

"I like doing political work. It's not a problem," Sohn said.

In addition to his campaign for state representative, Sohn also is active in the College Republicans and volunteers for other state candidates. He manages a busy schedule by memorizing his daily obligations and by sending himself an occasional e-mail reminder.

When asked what advice he would give other students interested in getting involved, Sohn replied, "Make sacrifices and do as much as you want."


Will Sohn is a sophomore and a candidate running for the Washington State Legislature.

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