Connecting His RWU Experience to a Career in Politics
In the world of politics, you need to make connections to be successful. And for Jakub Lis ’17, his connections in the political realm started at Roger Williams University, sparking his passion for political work and launching his career in state and federal government.
As a triple major in political science, economics, and German, with a minor in mathematics, Lis had many career options under his belt. But political science won him over when he got his first taste of being involved in a campaign. Through Professor June Speakman’s connections, Lis began volunteering with Seth Magaziner’s 2014 campaign for Rhode Island treasurer.
“Democracy in action was very inspirational,” Lis said. “In 2014, I had never seen someone I knew get elected. I grew up in the Barack Obama era of ‘hope and change,’ but this was the first time I’d seen it translate to someone I knew. It was that hunger to dig my hands into it that made me want to go back into it in 2016 and 2018.”
His Campaigns and Elections course with Professor Speakman only required 15 hours of volunteer political work, but Lis ended up putting in almost double that on his first campaign. By the next campaign cycle, he was eager and motivated, dedicating over 300 hours campaigning with the Rhode Island Democratic Party on several local races and working with the Hillary for America campaign.
Through these hands-on field experiences, he was getting the opportunity to put his education to work and apply the knowledge and skills he’d gained in the classroom. The Campaigns and Elections course taught him theory of campaigning and gave him exposure to software he’s used in several campaigns. A course on international negotiations taught him “lessons on managing relationships and ways to approach some difficult situations that have been very helpful.” Foreign policy courses have provided a framework to understand current events related to the Middle East, and an urban politics course described the relationship between local, state, and federal governments.
“The political science department prepares you very well with the skills you’ll need and the quality of the educators is top notch,” Lis said. “Class sizes were small enough that I was able to develop good relationships with professors and have great intellectual debates that let you hone your ideas. They believed in me, encouraged me, and were always there for me and pushed me. The culture that’s encouraged in the department to get involved and make your work your own was instrumental for me.”
As soon as he graduated from RWU, Lis went to work as a field organizer for the R.I. Democratic Party, a connection he’d made by volunteering on his first campaign. He spent a week in Washington, D.C., training and “getting fired up” for the next campaign cycle.
Thanks to that connection with the R.I. Democratic Party, Lis got an offer to join U.S. Congressman David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) office where he now works as community outreach coordinator. It’s fast-paced work of coordinating the Congressman’s busy schedule – gathering minute-by-minute breakdowns of speaking events and booking transportation – and researching and preparing community outreach initiatives, from a small business advisory council to a high school mobile-app development competition and the Library of Congress’s Surplus Books Program.
“My being responsible and present is very important to have that quick turnaround on certain things. We’re trying to find ways to be thoughtful on scheduling so that it’s around policies he can work on in Washington and work with the community, so we can be as attentive as possible to the needs of our constituents. The better I am able to do my job, the less stress for him, because if he knows his schedule for the day than he can keep focused on things that matter. We make sure the train runs on time.”
In a few short years, Lis went from working on campaigns to bearing the fruit of those efforts through the nitty-gritty work of Congress. And he credits his success to that first connection through Professor Speakman to a political campaign.
“It all started with that first Campaigns and Elections class, which triggered the desire to campaign more in 2016 and turned into my first job in politics with the R.I. Democratic Party and then turned into this job with Congressman Cicilline.”