Thursday, January 22, 2015
Mercyhurst University senior Mike Walter is about to make the move from the university’s hill to Capitol Hill.
Beginning Jan. 26, the 22-year-old political science major will start a full-time job at U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s congressional office in Washington, D.C., after completing internships at the congressman’s Erie office and on his 2014 reelection campaign.
“I’m excited to get going in Washington. It’s definitely going to be a change of pace from Erie,” he said.
After graduating from Mercyhurst North East in 2013, Walter, an Erie native, entered Mercyhurst University as a political science major with an applied politics concentration, fulfilling a lifelong interest in politics. The applied politics concentration requires completion of an internship; Walter completed three.
“I knew I wanted to work with a Republican, and Mike Kelly was my first choice,” Walter said. “I was originally in his district, before the 2012 redistricting, and I’ve always liked him.”
Walter started working in Kelly’s local office in the summer of 2013. He interned there again for academic credit from October 2013 through January 2014.
“I mainly handled casework in the local office,” he said. “If anyone has a problem with social security or a tax return or things of that nature, they contact us and it’s our job to help them navigate government bureaucracy, which isn’t always easy.”
Another priority was listening to the concerns of Kelly’s constituents, and following up with them if they wanted to know the Congressman’s position on various issues.
After successfully completing that internship, Kelly’s staff approached Walter about staying on through Kelly’s 2014 reelection campaign as a grassroots coordinator for the northern portion of the district (Erie, Crawford and northern Mercer counties).
“The Congressman and his staff thought I did a good job in the local office. They knew I had an applied politics concentration, so I had experience in elections and polling,” Walter said. “I’m really competitive, so I was glad to stay on for the campaign.”
Responsibilities on the campaign trail included recruiting and training volunteers, door-to-door canvassing, managing campaign events and meeting with Republican committee members. All the effort was worth it, he said, as Kelly romped to victory and his third consecutive term in office.
Walter’s hard work paid off yet again when, after the campaign, he was offered a full-time position as a staff assistant in Kelly’s Washington office, an achievement he said wouldn’t have been possible without his political science background from Mercyhurst. He will be completing the last of his Mercyhurst coursework remotely with an eye toward graduating in May.
Walter points to his classes with Joseph Morris, D.A., Michael Federici, Ph.D., and Rolfe Peterson, Ph.D., as especially influential.
“It’s one thing to intern at a congressional office. It’s another to work there and know what’s going on, know the rules and how legislation gets passed,” he said. “Without my experiences as a political science major, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities I did with Rep. Kelly.”
Some classes that really prepared him well for the campaign trail and his work with Rep. Kelly were “Political Theory,” “Political Psychology,” “American Congress” and “Campaigns, Strategy and U.S. Elections,” Walter said.
“The material in Political Psychology, especially, helped me understand the way voters think and the way people think in politics,” he said, which proved useful when Walter went door-to-door, talking with voters.
With his sights set on studying political management at the graduate level and perhaps one day managing a presidential campaign, Walter doesn’t see himself running for office in the future. Given his competitive nature, he said, the fast pace and the excitement of the campaign trail are a draw for him, even though the hours can sometimes get crazy.
“I was taking four classes along with the campaign internship, so there were times when I would sleep on the futon in the office and wouldn’t leave. That’s one side of the campaign I don’t like,” he said with a laugh.
As Walter prepares to begin his new job in Washington at the end of January, he’s confident that no matter where his political career takes him, he’ll be ready.
“I think Mercyhurst really prepared me well, especially when it comes to writing well – something the political science department really emphasizes – and understanding politics from theoretical and practical points of view,” he said. “When people call in with questions about a bill, or want to know the Congressman’s stance on anything, I’m able to speak with them intelligently. I have that knowledge because of Mercyhurst.”