When Chris Cassingham collected his political science degree from the University of Mary Washington earlier this month, he already knew what was next.
The swimmer from Plano, Texas, had learned days before that he’d earned one of just 23 coveted spots in the 2018 Governor’s Fellows Program, selected among rising college seniors and graduates from around the country.
Beginning Monday, Cassingham will go to work in the Office of the Governor, what he calls “real-world, on-the-job experience” in the highest levels of state government.
“The skills I gained at UMW prepared me so well,” said Cassingham, who will serve in the Office of Administration. “I learned how to solve problems, think critically and convey my ideas in a way anyone can understand.”
He’ll also put to work his command of writing and research and ability to work on his own and in groups in his role as a fellow.
“Chris was a first-rate student in my political film class, with an instinctive ability to assess the impacts of media and culture upon politics,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and international affairs. “With his honors project in political science, his legislative internship with the Virginia House of Delegates and his performance on the UMW swim team, Chris is a great example of what a motivated student can do at Mary Washington – and how a student’s hard work can pay off after graduation.”
The prestigious Governor’s Fellows Program began in 1982 to give exceptional students with creative ideas a front-row seat to state government, according to the governor’s office.
“Bringing young, energetic Virginians into the office during the summer challenges us to develop more intentional, stronger proposals that create a Virginia that works for everyone,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Our fellows represent the best of Virginia: students willing to give up their summer in the name of public service for their fellow citizens.”
Other fellows were selected from the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, the University of Chicago and Alabama’s Auburn University.
As a high school student in Texas, Cassingham had not heard of UMW until the head coach of the university’s men and women’s swim team reached out to him.
“I came to visit and I fell in love with it,” he said. Four years later, “I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.”
That’s due in large part to the academic experience and the relationships he formed with professors and coaches.
Farnsworth, one of his political science professors, first recommended the Governor’s Fellow Program.
“I’ve always been interested in current affairs and how the world works,” Cassingham said.
At UMW, his desire to be an advocate – “to put my privilege to work to make the world better” – grew, he said. “It’s something that’s desperately needed right now. This is a good way to make some headway on those goals.”
UMW Political Science Professor Chad Murphy, who has worked with Cassingham for several years, isn’t surprised by his success so soon after graduation.
“There aren’t many students who could manage the workload of internships, swimming on the varsity team, and an honors thesis and Chris not only managed but maintained the highest possible standards,” Murphy said.
Cassingham already has an idea of what comes next. He’s been invited to join Let America Vote, a grassroots, voting rights organization that fights for voting rights all over the country, particularly people of color, the elderly and college students.
He’s also landed a couple of job interviews at other nonprofit groups. For now, though, he’s looking forward to a summer in Virginia government.
“This is a huge opportunity,” he said. “I am thrilled to be selected.”