Megan Weeks got her first glimpse of government through a high school advanced placement course she took during the 2016 election season.
Watching how campaigns played out “translated the concepts we learned in the classroom into a concrete reality,” said Weeks, who spent her free time that year knocking on doors and calling voters on behalf of her chosen candidate for governor.
She’s since parlayed her passion for politics and public service into a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mary Washington. Just days before she donned her cap and gown and walked across the Commencement stage, Weeks received word that she was among 25 rising college seniors and graduates nationwide selected for the Virginia Governor’s Fellows Program. Weeks, who grew up in Henrico County, will return to the Richmond area this summer to merge the knowledge and skills she acquired at UMW with the hands-on experience she’ll gain working in the office of Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.
“I know how competitive the program is, so I was in complete disbelief,” said Weeks, who will join fellows from The College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Princeton universities, among others. “Eventually, the shock turned to excitement, but it took a moment to sink in!”
Weeks first became interested in Mary Washington when her older sister was exploring prospective colleges. When it came time for her own search, she decided that UMW had “exactly the right balance of academic rigor and size.”
In addition to political science, Weeks majored in historic preservation. She minored in urban studies and earned membership in UMW’s chapters of Pi Sigma Alpha and Upsilon Sigma, political science and urban studies honor societies. She rounded out her coursework with several environmental science classes, blending her interests in governmental policy and sustainability.
At UMW, Weeks said she appreciated having the opportunity to form close connections with faculty members, like Professor of Political Science Stephen Farnsworth. Her academic advisor, Farnsworth helped Weeks secure an internship last fall with Virginia State Sen. Scott Surovell’s constituent relations team.
Her work, which continued through spring, was completely virtual due to the pandemic, Weeks said. But she still had the chance to see firsthand how legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly impacted people in the senator’s district.
“I realized how rewarding a career in state government could be,” Weeks said, “knowing that you could have the ability to change lives and communities for the better.”
Farnsworth also encouraged Weeks to apply for the fellowship in Richmond. “Megan fully deserves this exceptional professional opportunity,” he said. “She has consistently demonstrated that she is one of the department’s strongest political science students, as well as a first-rate writer and thinker.”
The prestigious Virginia Governor’s Fellows Program was established in 1982 by former Gov. Chuck Robb to give students interested in public service an entry into state government while working alongside Office of the Governor staff and under Cabinet secretaries in the Commonwealth of Virginia. For the first time in the program’s history, all Fellows will receive a $3,600 stipend to remove barriers to the opportunity.
“We are thrilled to welcome this new class of Fellows to the Governor’s Office and the unique perspectives, energy and experiences that each one of them brings to our Administration,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Our Commonwealth is fortunate to have these talented young Virginians serving in state government, and I look forward to their contributions as we continue working to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive Virginia.”
COVID and remote learning made her final year at UMW exceptionally challenging, Weeks said, but she feels more adaptable and resilient than ever. And she’s ready for the next step.
“Mary Wash has taught me so many valuable lessons, both in and beyond the classroom,” she said. “I cannot wait to share what I’ve learned with the Governor’s Office!”