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Featured Student: Jeff Raines

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jeff Raines is a rising sophomore at American University, with an already distinguished Roosevelt background. He provided us details about his personal involvement with Roosevelt as the Education Policy Chair and shared advice on how to pursue a passion for a specific policy area, his work on an AU pilot project with Teach for America and on his plans for AU as incoming VP next year. We're thrilled to profile this young Roosevelt'er and look forward to promoting his efforts and pursuits for years to come. You can email him, and follow him and the AU chapter on Twitter: @Jeff_Raines  and the AU chapter @AURoosevelt

Jeff Raines

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bloomington, IL. Which is in central Illinois, so sadly enough, I am unable to even pretend that I am from the Chicago suburbs.

Class year and major?

I am in the class of 2014 and a political science major with what will become a double concentration in comparative politics and U.S. politics.

Policy Interests?

As far as Roosevelt policy centers go: Education, Defense & Diplomacy, and Equal Justice, but more specifically I would say promoting foreign language studies in schools, improving public education, updating the UN charter, and civil rights & liberties protection.

Academic Interests?

U.S. government and history, specifically presidential history and political biographies, analyzing foreign heads of state, how war and colonization (the West) has affected the growth of democracy and the spread of globalism.

What inspires you?

The idea of progress, I believe that one of the greatest aspect of modern democracy is the continually change our government and nation goes through. I am always inspired when a leader is willing to go the harder route in order to bring about the necessary gradual evolution, in order to improve the way the state functions. And honestly, the Think2040 video – I think our regular membership permanently increased the last time we played that video at our chapter meeting.

How did you find out about Roosevelt and what appealed to you about the organization? In other words, why did you get so involved?

I found out about Roosevelt through our current President Aaron Goldstein, by sheer luck. And after attending the first meeting, I became immediately enthusiastic about the idea of a nonpartisan political group on campus after being disappointed that the partisan groups on campus mainly focused on elections and campaigns over the issues themselves. Politically, I am someone who self-identifies as a Progressive, mainly after my favorite President and political role model: Theodore Roosevelt. But after swiftly realizing that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy fit the definition of progressive politics, my fate was sealed - I knew this was a group I had to stay in.

You’ve previously held the position of education policy chair at AU, can you tell us a little bit about what that role entailed and what you think makes for a successful policy leader at the chapter level?

My responsibilities as Chair of the Education Policy Center were focused on actively searching for new members (and membership retention), which this year meant building completely from scratch to make Education one of the top centers at American. Besides this, I focused on running our weekly chapter discussions and acted as an editor and research assistant to our members who were submitting policy briefs for the 10 Ideas Journals.

For students that really zero in on a policy passion, one that may be outside the scope of their previous knowledge, do you have insights or advice for how students can really delve into the policy area?

One the greatest ways to get interested into policy is to decisively focus on your interests. As soon as you discover what makes your blood boil as far as political ‘shop talk’ goes, that is when you know you have found a good topic, and writing policy on it becomes exponentially easier. Knowledge and research can only get you so far in writing a policy brief, but passion in writing can really make the difference when you are defending your policy (and its importance) in writing.

What was your path of engagement with education policy? You’re involved in a pilot program with TFA and planning on making a presentation at the upcoming education conference; can you discuss the details of this collaboration a bit more? How did the project evolve? What outcomes are you seeing, and where do you foresee this project going more in the long term?

My path of engagement has been an increasing one, I have always tried to become more involved with Roosevelt, whether it is encouraging more students to write policy, coauthoring a piece to get it ready in time for 10 Ideas submission deadline, or researching education ‘hot topics’ in my free time to facilitate meaningful discussion at meetings.
As far as the pilot program goes, we are trying to use Teach For America’s connections across the country to identify public schools in low socioeconomic areas and the address and research ways to solve some of the problems these schools face everyday. The school that Aaron Goldstein, Ryan Anderson (my old co-chair for education), and myself are working with fits all the typical dynamics of a public school in a low-income area. Our focus will be around truancy, the school’s biggest problem, and analyzing potential improvements in both the administrative bureaucracy and the classroom – through teacher feedback and evaluations. Because Ballou Senior High School is public, we plan to compare teaching and administrative methods at Ballou with other public high schools, both locally and elsewhere.
The project has gone from just a great idea to help a local TFA teacher at a desperate local school to one where we can apply the results and research directly to what Roosevelt is committed in accomplishing. This project, if successful can serve as a role model for other chapters wishing to get further involved in Roosevelt, as well as act as definitive proof that the Millennial movement AND the Roosevelt Institute can effectively solve some of the problems our country is facing. I hope that when we use our results directly at Ballou SHS, the administration can use our methods to improve the quality of education the students receive, as well as mitigate some of the stress the educators face daily. If this project is adopted in other regions of the country, then I hope that their projects can be successful as well so that we can prove to America that our education is important and that public school system is still a viable option.

You’re the incoming vice president for the AU chapter next year, congratulations – can you share any thoughts that are on your mind for next year? For the chapter, bigger projects, what you’re most excited about? How do you think your responsibilities will change or grow specifically and do you have any advice for newer chapters on the hazards and best practices of leadership transitions?

Next year I plan on expanding our membership, increasing it in size (as far as regular attendees go) and in dedication. There are so many issues that American University students care about that can also be addressed within Roosevelt, so I hope to encourage more members to write and blog about policy and continue to have our chapter stay a strong voice for our region. As far as projects go, I plan to maintain my seat with the Roosevelt D.C. Region Advocacy Committee; continuing to promote and advocacy the issues that our regional chapters care the most about on the Hill. My hope is to use this committee to train and attract more members who are interesting in lobbying.
A new focus we are implementing at our chapter here at American is improving delegation. In doing this, we can decrease the turnover of leadership at our chapter and help other members of our Executive Board stay involved. I will act as an accessible secondary to represent Roosevelt on campus and as an advisor both to my fellow members and the president himself.
My advice to new or struggling chapters is to set an agenda on what you want to accomplish in a year, some ultimate quintessential goal, whether that is membership, leadership, policy writing, events, etc. focus the energy of the chapter to rally around it. As long as there is definitive progress and accomplishment - through commitment and engagement - over the course of the year, any chapter head can continue to build the presence of Roosevelt at their university.

Anything else you want the network to know about you or the work you’re doing?

I was also an Education contributor to the Blueprint for Millennial America that was released in the fall and in charge of event management for the biggest event our chapter has ever received: Michelle Rhee. When she spoke at our university at the beginning of March, as Education Policy Chair, I made sure that the event ran smoothly. Besides the TFA project, I am also a team member for Education Senior Fellow Elizabeth Allan’s project to implement policy-writing courses at universities. Lastly, I have just become a Summer Academy Fellow for Roosevelt for this summer!