By Bryce Comstock (’12)
The year 2011 was special for me. That January I attended the inauguration of a family friend as county auditor, with Secretary of State Sam Reed doing the honors. That spring I also attended an EU studies conference in California, where I presented my first academic paper. Both of these events would become turning points in my young life. These events cemented my dedication to politics, but also posited a unique conflict I still struggle with: Do I want to study political science or take part in the subject matter?
This past June I had the pleasure of going on a study tour to Brussels to examine the institutions of the European Union and NATO. From the initial EU conference in 2011, I met academics and students immersed in various EU subject matters. I also discovered an area of EU studies that that captured my intellectual curiosity. I wondered how diplomats react when they face sometimes conflicting demands – in this case, from their EU peers and their home government. I turned this curiosity into an independent research project my senior year. I started with a broad research question that I chiseled at between essays while studying at Oxford University. I woke up early during winter break to review literature on the subject. Finally, during spring semester, I wrote academics from various universities to get advice on how to approach the subject. Ultimately, I interviewed various EU ambassadors by email to find evidence for my hypothesis. After going to the EU conference earlier, I was determined to go back my senior year and win the top prize, an all-expenses paid study trip. At the 2012 conference, my senior study was determined to be among the best, and in recognition of that I was awarded a seat on the EU trip.
Three months later, I flew from SeaTac to Brussels via New York, and I met up with the three others from the California conference also going on the EU study tour. They have become great friends and professional connections.
I got a chance to explore the European capital with new friends. But the most memorable parts of my journey included talking with officials and ambassadors. While they often faced difficult identity issues of being officials of both the EU and their home countries, they shared an incredible sense of purpose. Whether visiting the new External Action Service (the diplomatic arm of the EU) or the U.S. representative to NATO, I took advantage of an opportunity to see what being an international diplomat is actually like. This led me to lean towards a career in public service, instead of academia.
Last fall, I spent some time working for Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, who was then running for election as secretary of state. I had volunteered for her campaign before my June trip and was thrilled to have her offer me a job as her executive assistant at the county. It was the perfect entry into a public service career. Wyman won the election. And yet, changes can come so quickly. In late February I arrived in Washington, D.C., for the chance to work with U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
None of this would have happened without support from Gonzaga. For two years, Gonzaga paid for me to attend conferences which helped me develop academic contacts and experience necessary for my thesis. Gonzaga also gave me the opportunity to study abroad, which further continued my intellectual progress. Finally, and most importantly, the political science faculty at Gonzaga provided more guidance, support, and challenge than I ever could have hoped for. In particular, Professor Robert Waterman and Associate Professor Laura Brunell always went to bat for me when I needed resources for projects or an intellectual ear to bounce ideas off. Assistant Professor Stacy Taninchev acted as adviser for my independent study, giving me materials to read, blunt critiques, and advice on where to go next with my project.
I have been lucky and blessed to have attended Gonzaga. I received a scholarship from both the school and alumni that made college affordable. I received academic and job search support from my department and the career center. I got funding to study abroad and to attend conferences across the nation. Most importantly, Gonzaga gave me the opportunity to give back through CCASL programs and to engage in reflection to formulate my moral self. I used these experiences to craft who I am and where I want to go, and I know that because of Gonzaga, I am in a unique position to pursue my passion for public service.