Kansans lament that Kansas is not growing. Its population is aging faster than the nation as a whole. Young people are migrating elsewhere in numbers that threaten the sustainability of the Sunflower State. At the macro-level that’s all true, but I have anecdotal material that might improve our outlooks.
During my time in higher education, I have met several extremely good students who have graduated and taken roles in the politics and public-policy sectors. I want to let Kansans know that help is not just on the way, it’s already here. These young people and their peers from the state’s other colleges and universities are already fine leaders. They have stepped up, even as we learn how extensively the public sector has been purposely hollowed out since the recession. So here’s my list of some the best and brightest young Kansans it has been my privilege to teach and advise.
The Bolt brothers from Chanute each earned bachelor’s degrees in public administration degrees here. Both have gone on to Wichita State for graduate work. Taylor, our 2013 graduate, works in the region as an economist for a federal agency. Evan (2015) now is finishing his masters at the top of his class with excellent prospects to be hired here in Kansas.
Laura Burton, bachelor's degree in political communications (2005), became communications officer first for YWCA, then for a Topeka hospice program, started a graphics firm and serves the community on the editorial board of the capital city’s daily newspaper.
Lindsey Douglas (2004) earned a BPA and then earned a master’s in environmental law. She returned to Kansas and worked in state government in a legislative liaison role. She then was hired by KU in government relations. Now she’s a senior regional public affairs director for Union Pacific with primary responsibility for Kansas, Missouri and northeast Nebraska.
Shelbie Konkel (2014) and Ashley Hutchinson (2005) have accomplished achievements and advancements for their respective political parties. Konkel directs special projects for the state Democratic Party. She’s currently thinking about law school. Regardless of that decision, she has and will continue to disprove the belief that Democrats are not developing any bench strength for the future. Hutchinson went from state legislative intern to interning in Sen. Pat Roberts’ office. Back in Kansas, she took increasingly responsible jobs with the Republican Party, married, started a family and presently directs an economic development corporation serving Cloud County and Concordia. With roots in farming and party politics, I expect her to be a significant voice for the Big First and perhaps Kansas as a whole.
Anthony Swartzendruber (2004) earned our BPA degree then won a graduate appointment to Wichita State after which he took the job of finance director for Harvey County and is now, in his mid-30s, county administrator there.
Finally, Angel Romero (2010) is one of the most decent, good-hearted young men I know. Then he earned a law degree and chose to serve his community. Today he serves as a vice president for United Way, but his big job is working to integrate the “under 40 set” into the commerce and culture of Topeka.
What impressive talents with positive and intelligent views regarding the future of Kansas. We need to give these people room to make a difference. It’s amusing to consider teen-agers running for governor, but it’s more realistic to admire and encourage these 30-somethings and their peers. Let them contribute, and the future of Kansas can be bright. Cut them off, crowd them out, ignore their ideas, use up their energy unproductively and they will take their talents and enthusiasm elsewhere. These young adults and many more like them can blaze Kansas’ path to greatness.
Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka.