‘Political nerds’ earn spots at GW

Four students from across the nation were honored Wednesday night at the first Undergraduate Political Achievement Awards for their work in student, local and national politics.

Each winner, chosen from different categories, won a $10,000 scholarship to attend GW’s Graduate School of Political Management after completing their undergraduate degrees.

The “undergraduate political nerds,” as master of ceremonies James Kotecki described them, were Jordan Spencer, Patrick Boland, Parker Novak and Kara Van Stralen.

Spencer, from Patrick Henry College in Virginia, and Boland, from Colby College, won for their abilities to run student government campaigns.

Novak, from Ohio State University, won the Student Campaigner of the Year award for his work on four different congressional campaigns during the 2008 election cycle.

Van Stralen, from the University of Redlands, won Student Advocate of the Year for her involvement in organizing one of the largest events in her school’s history – an on-campus gay marriage debate.

“Issue advocacy is speaking on behalf of people who can’t speak sometimes,” she said. “I’m still kind of in shock. I’ve always wanted to move to D.C, and GSPM just handed me the opportunity.”

A panel comprised of one professor, one political professional and one student chose the winners out of a vast pool of applicants from across the nation.

“We saw that with so many young people engaged in civic and political activism in 2008, we should take an active role in rewarding them and recognizing the superstars,” said Bryce Cullinane, a student employee of the GSPM and an event organizer.

Cullinane said he was especially proud of the undergraduates and their generation as a whole.

“I think they’re just the tip of the iceberg of an amazing generation,” he said.

Kotecki poked fun at the GSPM, calling it a “graduate program where you can embrace your inner Karl Rove.”

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry thanked GW for an invitation to the event and spoke to the audience.

“I want to tell the award winners not to get a swollen head,” he said.

Other speakers included Rock The Vote’s Executive Director Heather Smith; NBC’s Luke Russert; Christopher Malagisi, of the Young Conservatives Coalition; Office of White House Public Engagement Associate Director Paul Monteiro; and Tom Manatos, outreach advisor for Young Americans in the Office of Nancy Pelosi.

Peter Weiss, president of the College Democrats, shared his views on the event and the role of the youth in today’s political spectrum.

“I thought the event was fantastic – yet another ‘only at GW’ experience. To the complacent and unimaginative elected leaders, I say, we are young and we vote,” he said.

Afterwards, Henry imparted a bit of advice. “The simplest piece of advice I can give anybody here at GW, be it an undergrad, graduate, [or someone] into political science or journalism, is that you’ve got the best playground in the country for politics and media. Take advantage of it.”

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