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Major Insight: How to Become a Local Civic Leader

Charles Kennick

For Charles Kennick, there are no boundaries between campus life and community life. During his time at Miami, Charles has become a leading advocate of student voice in all town-gown relations. He has served as the chair for the City of Oxford Student Community Relations Commission, as the Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs in the Associated Student Government, and more.

On this episode, Charles explains how to become civically engaged in your local campus community, the benefits of having a strong alumni base, and a career in public administration.

Featured Majors

Anthropology, Public Administration, Political Science, History

Featured Internships

Greater Cleveland Transit Authority, Ohio Public Leaders

Featured Organizations

The City of Oxford Student Community Relations Commission, Miami’s Parking and Transportation Board, The Associated Student Government, Miami’s Chapter of College Democrats, Armstrong Student Center Board 

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Read the transcript

Announcer:

Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research, and its relevance in our world.

(MUSIC)

For Charles Kennick, there are no boundaries between campus life and community life. During his time at Miami, Charles has become a leading advocate of student voice in all town-gown relations.

He has served as the chair for both the City of Oxford Student Community Relations Commission, and or Miami’s Parking and Transportation Board.

He’s also served as the Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs in the Associated Student Government, and as a 3-time President of Miami’s chapter of College Democrats.

This year, Charles also won the 2019 President's Distinguished Service Award, and all while studying Anthropology, Public Administration, and Political Science.

And today, he joins Major Insight host Jacob Bruggeman to talk about why Miami is the perfect place to become civically engaged, the benefits of having a strong alumni base, and more.

Jacob Bruggeman:

All right Charles, welcome to the podcast. So could you start by giving us a little bit of an overview of your background as you came to Miami. And then, the interests both co-curricular and research-wise that you've sort of delved into while you've been here?

Charles Kennick:

Thank you for having me on. You know, I'm from Cleveland, outside of Cleveland, Ohio, Parma Heights. I've really found my place here. I really have kind of grown in through the experience, and had experiences that, when asked about, I think really could only have happened in Oxford and in Miami, because of the small town type of atmosphere and small campus atmosphere. But then also, being at a large state institution that has, like, a deep and wide variety of what you can really do and accomplish through your professors, through your extracurriculars, and alumni networking and relationships that you can get for internships, and stuff like that. Currently, I'm a public administration and anthropology major. I have a minor in history, and I'm doing the combined bachelor's and master's program in the political science department.

So, where I came in, I came in as an anthropology major, solely. But I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And then, I kind of started spinning into public service, and especially local or like state-level public service, when I emailed Dr. Mark Morris. Tried to force myself into Political Science 261, which was intro in public administration. And he was like, why are you interested in this class? And, I was like, you know what? I don't really know. But it seems interesting. I read the description on the course pack, and I was like let's try it out, you know? I think it fulfilled some type of Miami requirement. And then from there, I became pretty involved with the political science department. I had an internship that I was really lucky to get sophomore year at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

But then, I kind of realized that I'm kind of in … more into this like urban planning thing, and that's when this urban planning niche, or interest, started to develop. And then, from the urban planning component and focusing more on the economic development component, and then I started to realize that … that was kind of what I wanted to do. I kind of wanted to connect people to jobs, to connect people to investors, connect people to opportunities that they didn't have, especially being, you know … As you know, from Cleveland, from the Rust Belt. It's difficult to see a lot of people that are a lot older than us say, like, yeah, this used to be …. This used to be a great place to live. This used to be a place where you could just … you could walk out on the street and there would be 40 people trying to hire you. And stuff like that.

So hearing those stories kind of makes you want to bring that back to an extent. And so, that was kind of how that interest kept sparking. So I had a couple of internships. I did the Ohio Public Leaders.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Which is a fellowship we offer for the January … or Winter Term.

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. So I did that during J-term with Dan Evers, who is an alumni. He works at the Clinton County Port Authority, which operates the Wilmington Air Park, which is like actually a pretty … a pretty unique public facility. And that, like, really was, like, my first entree into economic development at a local level.

But then, I kind of started to realize, like, a lot of issues that I see, especially in cities, in rural areas too, comes to deal with the failures of current, like, economic development policy. And in kind of the way that, like … currently, the way that cities and governments, especially in the Midwest, really try to sell themselves out. And it's kind of a race to the bottom for a lot of different industry, and a lot of different jobs. And it makes sense, in the sense that, you know, the jobs have been gone for so long. Or there's been so much struggle and poverty and just disinvestment and blight. So it makes sense. But it also is kind of harmful to the most vulnerable residents.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Yeah. So you mentioned both the draw to local leadership that's been, you know … There have been opportunities for that at Miami University. And then also, the research you've been doing on the communities that were living in the Rust Belt, you know, sort of post-industrial communities. And so, I'm curious if you could talk about how you've blended those? So you've been involved in many things in the community here. But I'd like to ask if you have a particular philosophy for blending those two things, into sort of a localist public leadership, or how you see yourself as a researcher, someone engaged in public policy, as someone capable of being a political leader? Not just a policy leader. If you could talk a little bit about the ways you sort of engaged the community in that way?

Charles Kennick:

So, I guess academically - and I don't really talk about the anthropology major very much. It's kind of like always on the back, back burner at this point. But I've learned a lot in the anthropology department. I've learned a bunch about … just, I mean … it's the study of people. And so, you learn so much about how to talk to people. How to understand what they're going through. And it's just … there's just … Even amongst identities that you think you are familiar with, there's just so much more nuance that you just can't experience as one person.

So learning those methods, and learning … just having that different lens, like, taking public policy, and then applying that lens of the anthropological ethnographic research to it, has been so valuable. And that's really been key to my, like, development and figuring out, you know, what I'm really passionate about, what I really want to learn more about. And so, I blend that holistic approach of anthropology, and I like to see kind of what happens when decisions are made politically. And so, both of those work really well together in local government. And to a lesser extent in state government. But you really get to see what goes on. You really get to see the nitty-gritty. And I really enjoy kind of manipulating that, like, pulling all the little levers and doing all the things like that.

And so, I put that into practice. So I'm both engaged politically and also engaged administratively in local politics here in Oxford. So, in the Student Government .. The Associated Student Government, I have been serving as an off-campus senator, or the Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs, which is my current position on the executive cabinet, where I interface a lot with the city government. And I've made just a myriad … I mean, you really would never be able to make these connections in a bigger city, or anything like that. But I pretty much know every single person on City Council. I pretty much know almost every single city administrative staff. And it's just been through working on a lot of different things.

The most, you know, greatest accomplishment we've had was getting two electric scooter providers, which has been kind of a bike-share, scooter-share type of thing that has been a battle that the students have been fighting with, not only the school and sort of with the city, to try to get some type of program like that for almost a decade. And I kind of, you know, I worked a lot on that for the past couple years. But I kind of have been in the right place in the right time, where we can kind of blend all of my expertise in my work with just market forces, and stuff like that.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Oh yeah, the technology is cheaper now.

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. And also with like the willingness of the city government to kind of back us in that. And then also working around and trying to get that program to work for Miami, to work for the city, to work for the students the best. And so far, it's been pretty successful. And so, just things like that where I had to … I was here over the summer to go to City Council meetings. I talked to counselors, and stuff like that. And that's experience that like, you know, other students have, I think, in other student governments. But the tight-knit nature - that I was talking about earlier - in Oxford makes it so that I can literally just walk into City Hall, and say, like, look, I need to talk to this person. And they will talk to me.

And just the power that the students really have in this community, because we are majority of the population, kind of gives you a unique position where you can go in between both the most important employer, or most important institution in the city, and also with the city government as a student. You can really wear like multiple hats at once. And that really allows you to see just so much, and so much practical decision-making. So I've really … That's been really valuable in my experience, and really developing me as a person, as like a quasi-little baby public administrator, you know? Working out through those issues, and just being integral on a lot of those experiences has been very valuable to me developing at Miami. And learning about myself and how the world works. So …

Jacob Bruggeman:

So how do you balance the involvement in the community that you've just mentioned with sort of the academic pursuits? And then also, I mean, your involvement in the community is split into the campus involvement and an actual, you know, sort of like Oxford beyond the university involvement. So there's almost three spheres you've been working in. How have you been able to balance that? What resources have you been able to take advantage of at Miami to help you balance that? What's been the key to weighing those things in your time here?

Charles Kennick:

I think they kind of … It is kind of self-regulating in a way, where I learned something in the classroom, and then I can like apply it immediately the next day in practice, in Oxford, or in … community involvement, and stuff like that. So, like directly learning content from professors and directly having professors ask you, like, where have you experienced this? And whatever And I always, seemingly, have an answer to that. And so, I let them build on top of each other, so that they're really interconnected. And I think that's something valuable that everyone should try to do. Because it's difficult, a lot of the times, to see the see the theory in class, and then kind of have to really try to pull it into how does it get applied in real life? Because, you know, theory is theory because it's theoretical. It doesn't always work exactly how it says in a book.

But when you can see that theory, and then you can see it kind of working underlying in real life, that's huge. And I love seeing that. I love making those connections. That really keeps me going. Because a lot of times, it is a lot of work. It is really hard to keep everything going. But that helps me a lot.

Having mentorship from all types of professors too. It's not just in the political science department. Like, I talked about Dr. Morris. I talked about Dr. Russo … Maybe I didn't talk about Dr. Russo. But, like, having their experience, and them kind of saying, like, look Charles, don't get worked up about this. This is not that serious. On some things that are issues. And then also, from other departments too, that are not political science talking about politics too. So the anthropology department, same thing. I mean that's my major too. So, you know, I get attention from that department as well. But also, I'm not technically any type of urban planning or geography major. But I still get advice from David Prytherch right, right …

Jacob Bruggeman:

Now Councilman Prytherch right.

Charles Kennick:

Now Councilmember Prytherch right. Yes. So, I get a lot of advice from different people. And you can go wherever you want. You can really branch out into different areas, and different departments, and you figure out who can provide you the best advice on that particular issue, or thing you're grappling with that you can't really figure out. And I've even done that in the history department too. And when I was taking a class called the American West, we talked a lot about the development of Ohio. And I'm, like, wow, I've learned a lot about this, and my local politics, that I can connect now here, and I can talk to you about, and we can think about it a different way. And so, it's just the ability to really just go around to any different department, any different sector of the school …

Jacob Bruggeman:

… to drop in the office hours, which is the advice that new students get all the time. But don't necessarily heed.

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. And, I mean, even I feel like don't heed as much as I really should. Because there is just a lot of other things going on, but …

Jacob Bruggeman:

You have a limited amount of time in the day!

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. But it really is though. I mean that alone is huge. And just really the connections that you get from alumni too -- which I've participated in umpteen alumni dinner event things – that they really try to connect you with people who were in your shoes like five years ago. And it's really interesting because they're like, yeah, like, they want to know like, you know, has the food changed? Stuff like that. And all the little things too.

But they also ask you, like, you know, what are you doing? How are you learning? This is what we did. Maybe you can try this. And we've had that with College Dems. I've had that with the student government. I've had that with the political science department. I've had that with every department, you know, people …

And the alumni network is really underestimated. Because people really do, I think, care about the students at Miami currently. And they really want to see you succeed, just as they succeeded, really. And I think it's kind of a really mutual-istic environment that, again, I think is fostered by it being a small town, but a big school. And, you know, having that whole dynamic is really important to building like a community of students at Miami. So that's been huge. You see it in practice when you're here, and there's no real way to like … You don't go to … I don't know if you really go to college to look for that necessary. Like, I wasn't really looking looking for that. But it's helpful.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Huge advantage.

Charles Kennick:

It's crazy. To think about the way that this place operates, and the way that the people who come through here kind of take that with them for the rest of their life.

Jacob Bruggeman:

It's something that is really unique and enriching about Miami. I mean, it's alumni networks in Columbus. It's in D.C. It’s in Chicago. It's really in any of the cities that you'd be looking for a job in public policy, if you want to stay in the Midwest, or if you want to go federal.

We talked a little bit about, you know, what your plans are for, you know, the next year or so. So you got to finish up the master's thesis.

Charles Kennick:

Yes.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Where would you see yourself in five years? You're looking to stay in Ohio? Work in public policy? Or, are you looking to maybe go work in D.C. for a little bit, do some campaign work? What are your thoughts?

Charles Kennick:

I think I would be good at a lot of things. But I really do want to stay … I've been looking mostly for jobs and internships, and stuff like that, in Cleveland-Columbus. I'm trying to stay …

Jacob Bruggeman:

Mid-to North Northeast Ohio.

Charles Kennick:

Yes.

Jacob Bruggeman:

That's the way to go.

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. I spent a couple years now here in southwest Ohio. It's a little bit different. Not bad. But it's just I miss my home. I've been living in Cleveland my whole life. So, it just really … it's important to, for me at least, to stay in Ohio. Really, there's been so much investment in me. I went to a public high school. I went to a public college. There's been so much investment into me by the state, the government, resources.

But also from my community on, like, you know, when I played football in high school, or whatever. And all these type of interactions I have had with people, that where I'm from, this … It's difficult for me to … It's difficult for me to leave that behind because I know so many other people will. And that's not necessarily bad on them for doing that.

But it's just like, I know that I can make an impact. I know that I can make a difference in my community. And I really want to leverage what I've learned here, what I've learned from the opportunities that I've been afforded here, and I really want to bring that back home, and I really want to make where I live a great place for people like me, who are, you know, young kids now, or haven't even been born yet, or whatever. I want to make it so that they also can continue having these experiences, so that we can continue having sustainable type of loop of investment back into our state. So that we don't completely just fall into despair. And, you know, I don't think that's really gonna happen regardless. But I just really want to … I really want to give back to what gave to me, right? And that's the whole point of …

Jacob Bruggeman:

Reinvest, yeah.

Charles Kennick:

Yeah. It's the whole point of working in the public sector, really. So … Yeah.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Yeah. Well, that sounds great, Charles. We'll look forward to following your post Miami journey.

Charles Kennick:

Thank you.

Announcer:

Charles Kennick is currently working for the Parma Municipal Court in his hometown near Cleveland, Ohio. And he plans to continue pursuing a career in public service.

If you enjoyed this episode of Major Insight, please share it with a friend, with students, or with anyone who hopes to make an impact on their world. You can find more of our podcasts for free, including episodes of our Reframe podcast, on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

SHOW NOTES:

For Charles Kennick, there are no boundaries between campus life and community life. During his time at Miami, Charles has become a leading advocate of student voice in all town-gown relations. He has served as the chair for the City of Oxford Student Community Relations Commission, as the Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs in the Associated Student Government, as a 3-time president of Miami’s chapter of College Democrats, and more.

On this episode, Charles explains how to become civically engaged in your local campus community, the benefits of having a strong alumni base, and a career in public administration.

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Featured Majors
Anthropology, Public Administration, Political Science, History

Featured Internships

Greater Cleveland Transit Authority, Ohio Public Leaders

Featured Organizations

The City of Oxford Student Community Relations Commission, Miami’s Parking and Transportation Board, The Associated Student Government, Miami’s chapter of College Democrats, Armstrong Student Center Board 

 

Major Insight

 

Miami University logo



Major Insight is a production of Miami University and the Reframe podcast. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research, and its relevance in our world.

Host Jacob Bruggeman

Jacob Bruggemam

The Major Insight podcast is hosted by Jacob Bruggeman. Bruggeman, a Miami Honors student and double-major in History and Political Science created the podcast to feature stories of students navigating 21st century academic life.

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