Prior to UAA, Genevieve Mina says she wasn’t really interested in politics. Impressive, then, that in just her third year on campus she’s interned with political consultants, competed for Seawolf Debate, helmed the UAA College Democrats club and even traveled to Philadelphia to represent Alaska at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
She’s so invested in the positive power of policy, she even added a second major in political science to her existing biology studies (a move with interesting side effects, since one’s a B.A. and the other B.S.—“I had to literally reenroll in the university,” she laughed).
Her academic interests overlap in the area of health care policy, and she has big visions for a healthy society in her home state. Along the way, she has visions for healthy conversations with her fellow classmates. She’s sunny and optimistic despite the national divisiveness. Regardless of political beliefs, she wants everyone to get involved in bettering their communities.
Arts and sciences
Genevieve is pursuing two very different degrees that may lead to one very important career in health policy.
Growing up, Genevieve was surrounded by relatives employed in the health care field, including her mother, a nurse. That inspired her interest in the science of health. So she declared a major in biology.
However, after joining Seawolf Debate her freshman year, she found a likeminded community of engaging conversationalists, which sparked her unabashed enthusiasm for public problem-solving. She joined the Alaska Young Democrats and declared a major in political science, too.
She hopes to channel two different ways of thinking into a career in public health. “There’s a lot of good research and innovation happening that the basic public isn’t aware of,” she said. “I think having that bridge between science and policy is really vital.”
For evidence of that bridge, she points to her current virology class, taught by Eric Bortz, and its implications in health policy. Zika prompted broad public health messaging. Ebola required reassessment of trade and travel. Despite their academic differences, policy and biology intersect in every vaccine administered.
“I think knowing the biological aspect [of how diseases spread] is important, and it’s something not a lot of politicians have,” she noted.
“A great community of people”
As a bonus, her biology background has helped on the debate circuit when big-picture health topics, like gene patenting and prescription drug costs, have hit the headlines. UAA’s team competes in British parliamentary debate, a pressure-cooker format that hands participants their position and their topic just 15 minutes before the debate clock starts. Clearly, knowing the science behind the headlines provides a bit of leverage.
But everyone brings unique knowledge and interests to Seawolf Debate. “The debate team is this one-stop shop of intelligent minds, people with all these different experiences who all love talking about big ideas and how the world works,” she said of her teammates (including her debate partners Stacey Lucason, now Student-Regent for the University of Alaska, and Nick Tabaczka, a military veteran 16 years her senior who “has become one of my closest friends”).
“It’s just a great community of people,” she added.
So where did all this come from? Genevieve readily traces her activism to 2015, when a friend convinced her to make phone calls on behalf of mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz.
Though involved at the grassiest of roots, the experience introduced her to movers and shakers in politics who, to her surprise, remembered her after the elections ended. Politics, she realized, wasn’t a distant unattainable world in Alaska. “All these representatives and senators are regular people that you can Facebook friend and just chat with,” she said. “I think it is really unique. We’re so small and so interconnected [that] it’s so easy to make a difference and to have your voice be heard.”
As someone who went from volunteering in a political phone bank to, two years later, representing her state as one of 20 Alaska delegates in royal blue kuspuks at the Democratic National Convention, she’s a perfect example of that claim.
The “once-in-a-lifetime” experience at the national convention this past July escalated her policy interest even further. Genevieve’s message is one of boundless positivity, recognizing but not dwelling on the country’s divisiveness.
“The best thing we can do is get people around us to unify and work together and promote more good in the world,” she said. In the sign of a true debater, it’s less the convictions you hold but the attitude you present. “I really want to promote more civic engagement into your local community, no matter your party,” she continued. “I want to make sure people know their voice can be heard and these are the steps to have that happen.”
A semester at the statehouse
Up next, Genevieve is off to Juneau for the spring semester to intern for Representative Ivy Spohnholz, who she first connected with while interning for nonpartisan political firm Ship Creek Group this summer. Each spring semester, UAA’s political science department selects a few students to work with elected officials in the statehouse, all for course credit back in Anchorage. Spohnholz is the chair of Health and Human Services in the Alaska statehouse, providing a perfect parallel to Genevieve’s academic interests.
“I’m very excited to be able to enrich my path towards public health policy by working for a legislator who has to deal directly with public health legislation,” she said. “The internship program ties in to my university studies, my focus in public health, and an actualization of my love for politics.”
Genevieve has achieved a lot so far, and she’s only midway through her time at UAA. So look for this rising debate star—she reached her first elimination round at a competition in October—to keep making waves as she blends her academic interests towards her career interest: using public policy to make sure Alaskans, wherever they live in this vast state, have access to health care.
But she could use your help. “Engaging and empowering youth in their community and in politics is really important to me,” she said. “It’s the core of my passion.”
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement