John Cronin ’19 came to the University of Mary Washington to play basketball. But the Springfield, Virginia, native’s biggest goal was to be known for more than just his jump shot, though he admittedly didn’t have a plan for college beyond that.
A mere two months after graduating, Cronin, who was named 2019’s Male Student-Athlete and UMW Alumni Award recipient, has the next two years of his life mapped out. After completing his bachelor’s degree in political science in May, Cronin was recognized yesterday by the Office of the Governor as a member of the second cohort of Virginia Management Fellows.
An initiative of the Commonwealth of Virginia developed with Virginia Tech, the paid fellowship will give the former men’s basketball team captain the chance to learn about the inner workings of state government while also preparing for a future management and leadership role in public service. It’s something he would have never considered until he stepped into a political science intro class as a freshman.
“I was unsure about going to a small school, but UMW really has the model down,” said Cronin, an Honors student and Phi Beta Kappa member who graduated with a 3.82 cumulative grade point average. “Every professor’s door was open. Once I learned to reach out to them, I reaped the benefits.”
The political science department also opened doors for Cronin, who served as vice president of UMW’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society. He appreciated the way Emile Lester helped his students understand complex topics, and he found Stephen Farnsworth’s political parties and elections class – which Cronin took in the midst of the 2016 presidential election – absolutely fascinating.
“It inspired me to get involved further into the field,” said Cronin, who began campaigning for his neighbor, who was running for Virginia’s House of Delegates. He also led voter registration efforts on campus.
Cronin later spent a summer working for Ballotpedia.com, a nonpartisan resource on elections, representatives, court decisions and ballot measures. An assignment constructing pages for the website sparked his interest in ballot initiatives.
“This is when the public gets enough signatures to place an issue on the ballot and can approve or disapprove it,” said Cronin, who wanted to learn what happens when such initiatives are partially or completely repealed by state legislatures. He spent months examining 20 years of case studies on the topic to observe possible trends.
“John’s meticulous research of governmental efforts to undo or weaken direct democracy in several states breaks important new ground and is worth publication in a scholarly journal,” Farnsworth said. “It should come as no surprise he was selected for this prestigious fellowship.”
For the next two years, Cronin and the other 11 members of his cohort will rotate through different agencies, gaining hands-on experience through interactive projects and learning from seasoned leaders. By the program’s end, Cronin will be well-positioned for a state government job.
“This new cohort of fellows are an impressive group of aspiring managers and leaders that have diverse educational experiences and backgrounds, and represent our Commonwealth’s best and brightest,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a news release. “We are fortunate the VMF program is working to ensure that Virginia has the leadership in place across our state agencies to keep our Commonwealth moving forward.”
And Cronin is eager to start this next chapter of his life in the public sector. While he loved his time spent on the basketball court – where he set UMW’s career record for field goal percentage and even ranked nationally – it was what he did on the sidelines that meant the most.
“My best memories were when the team did community service,” said Cronin, who participated in the Alzheimer’s Walk, Special Olympics refereeing and Bully Busters, and supported UMW employee Grace Anne Braxton – one of his team’s biggest fans – after she won her Special Olympics silver medal for golf.
“Events like these made me realize how important it is to take time to help others. That’s a big reason why I’m in public service today.”