Madison Ald. Zach Wood, a UW-Madison graduate, and recent alum Hayley Young, along with current junior Noah Roberts, were elected into the local government spots they currently hold while studying at the university.
Homegrown: Local leaders jump-start political careers while enrolled at UW
For most UW-Madison students, it’s easy to don red and white on game days, walk down Bascom with eyes set on the capitol or sit on the Terrace and feel at home.
For some, though, taking advantage of what the city of Madison has to offer just isn’t enough. For some Badgers, both current and alum, being a part of the community means serving in it.
UW-Madison junior Noah Roberts has ties to the Madison area that reach back far before he applied to college. Born and raised in neighboring Fitchburg, Wis., Roberts’ self-proclaimed “over-involvement” began in high school. That didn’t end once he graduated.
“Curious to a fault,” Roberts invests his time in many parts of campus. On track to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees by 2019, the double-major in political science and geography currently serves as an Associate Justice on Student Judiciary, policy chair of the Alexander Hamilton Society and an editor of the Wisconsin International Review. He also previously held a position on the Student Service Finance Committee.
“I have a lot of passions, and I like to be involved in the things I’m passionate about,” he said.
For Roberts, his involvement on campus is only the beginning — at 21, he serves as president of the board of education for the Verona Area School District, the district he graduated from not long ago.
Roberts ran his own campaign through the spring semester, a process he says happened rapidly, but culminated in his victory in the April 2016 election.
“It wasn’t something I expected, and it was a quick turnaround, but I’m extremely happy that I did and grateful for those who urged me to pursue that,” Roberts said.
According to Roberts, his position on the school board allows him to pursue his passions for public policy and education while working on a lifelong goal: inciting positive change in his community.
“One of my goals for my career in general, no matter what I do, is that I bring about positive change,” Roberts said. “Give me an issue, and my goal is to solve that issue.”
However, Roberts says, this positive change can’t be achieved alone.
“When people work together, when you have diversity of thought and diversity of ideas, you can come to a solution, and I think when people are engaged, that’s when you are able to address prevailing issues in your community.”
Roberts is not the only Badger to take on local government while in the midst of his undergrad.
Current Madison Ald. Zach Wood, a UW-Madison alum who graduated in 2015, ran and was elected to his current position on City Council during the second semester of his senior year.
A native of Waunakee, Wis., Wood also had strong ties to the local community long before attending his first class as a Badger. As a high school senior, Wood was drawn to UW-Madison watching the Act 10 Protests.
“That was an important event for me in terms of going from somebody who thought about politics and government to working adjacent to it,” Wood said.
While studying political science and education policy, Wood was heavily involved in College Democrats. He spent much of his undergraduate career doing campus work for the campaigns of several local and national political figures.
According to Wood, he decided to run for City Council during his senior year due to his frustration with the unresponsiveness of federal and state government.
“If you wanted to see something happen at the federal level, sometimes it could take years, whereas locally I got a chance to see that you can do things,” Wood said. “Somebody can say ‘Hey, I think we ought to look at this’ and you can look at it and actually do something.”
Promoting young voices in government has been one of Wood’s primary goals while serving on City Council.
“I don’t think it is just a coincidence that there are lot of seventy-plus [year old] individuals in the Senate who deny the existence of climate change, for example, because they will not [live to] see it,” Wood said.”I think when it comes to the decision-making table, you’re either at it or on it.”
Hayley Young, a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors and recent UW-Madison alum, also attested to the importance of local government.
“You can say, ‘oh, I’m not interested,’ but [local government is] interested in you,” Young said.
Young made the decision to run for Dane County Board during her senior year and was elected in April 2016.
“I knew that Dane County was going to be home for me regardless,” Young said. “I wanted to live here after graduation no matter what happened, and I now have the real privilege of getting to represent my neighbors.”
Young was also an active member of College Democrats during her time on campus, spending “pretty much every semester of undergrad” working for both local and national campaigns. She said this involvement in activism during her time as an undergraduate exposed her to the dynamic nature and potential of local government.
“Being so active in college, being so engaged in activism … I had already started seeing, at the smaller level, what could be done, and I wanted to continue that and I wanted to continue being involved in my community, and I wanted to be involved in a more concrete way,” Young said.
All three local leaders advocated for increased presence and participation of young people, both in government and within their communities.
According to Young, the best way to achieve this is to vote.
“A lot of people do a really good job of being engaged every four years, but things happen every single day that matter a ton, and they happen every single day in your backyard, so know who your local representatives are,” Young said. “Vote in every single election. Vote for school board. Vote for County Board. Vote for City Council because it all impacts your life.”