Andrew Reed, '16, got more civics lessons during his senior year at Swartz Creek High School than many citizens gain in a lifetime.
Now a first-year student at Albion College and a member of the College's Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service, Reed recently received three awards for the work he performed as an intern in the Michigan Legislature even before attending his first lecture at Albion.
Honors included the legislature's Frank M. Fitzgerald Public Service Award, the Washington Crossing Foundation's Dana N. Weeder Memorial Scholarship, and the Student Statesmanship Institute's John Quincy Adams Award.
Before he started interning in Lansing, Reed began his engagement in public service by supporting Flint Mayor Dayne Walling's 2011 reelection campaign by distributing yard signs, knocking on doors, and making phone calls on his behalf.
The Student Statesmanship Institute (SSI) is a private foundation mentoring young people interested in civic engagement, and it was through the organization that Reed met Kendall Wingrove, who was then serving as a press secretary for the Michigan Senate. The contact helped Reed land an internship with State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) that extended to his high school graduation in June 2012.
"I was always interested in history, but I never did anything with my secondary interest in politics until I started to get involved [in high school]," Reed said. "I watched the news, and I would always talk about politics with my dad, but I never really had a career interest in it. Once I got introduced to Mr. Wingrove, it was locked in that [politics] was something I wanted to do."
Reed attended school until mid-morning before heading home to change into professional attire and making the hour drive to Lansing. Any sacrifices of time, travel expenses, and social opportunities were mitigated by the responsibility Reed was given in McMillin’s office.
"I loved all my jobs, but working for Rep. McMillin's office was the most interesting because I was directly involved with the legislative process," Reed said. "You can sit at home and watch the news and form an opinion on the legislative process, but no one really knows how it actually works until you work for the system.
"To be able to draft a bill for my boss and have him sign off on it and see it introduced on the floor—that was a lot of responsibility," he added. "We were short-staffed, so I was utilized to my full potential. I developed many career skills."
An outgoing person, Reed also took pride in listening to constituents' concerns and then trying to find solutions. The real-world experiences—Flint is a heavily Democratic community, while Rep. McMillin is a Republican—gave him a refreshing balance in perspective that is unusual in today's political arena.
"The two professional jobs provided a good comparison [of the political spectrum]," Reed said. "I appreciate the experience because it has made me more acceptable to both sides. Mayor Walling would ask me what I thought about issues because he's a Democrat, and I grew up in a Republican household.
"Politics is something a lot of people ignore because they feel like they don't have any influence, but it's an essential part of everyone’s life," he added. "It is a tool I can use to help people. The internships have opened my eyes to things I didn’t understand. [Working on both sides of the political aisle] has taken the blinders off when people say, 'That side doesn't understand what needs to be done.' I can see where they’re coming from. I’m questioning for myself, rather than taking things at face value."
The halls of the statehouse served another purpose, too: Reed found encouragement to attend Albion from a co-worker in the legislature who was an Albion graduate.
After completing the internship with Rep. McMillin, Reed remained active in Lansing as a mentor to the students who completed the SSI program in summer 2012. He also networks with professionals by participating in Curriculum Beyond the Classroom, a group that connects students with mentors in government, law, and other fields.
While the relationship with Wingrove has helped Reed make connections in the professional arena, he was quick to credit his parents for the support they provided to make the travel to Lansing a reality.
"I could not have done it without family support," Reed said. "They never hesitated when I told them I wanted to do it. We joked that my home was a quasi-hotel where I would come home to sleep at night and have breakfast. It is amazing to have that support system."