Gunnar Haberl

Legal studies and political science dual major, Gunnar Haberl, represents UB at the Center for Study of the Presidency and Congress.

What clubs and organizations are you involved with on campus?

I’m currently the chief of staff for the Student Association. [I will be] running for president next year. I’m a college ambassador for the political science department. I serve on the FSA (Faculty Student Association) board, the SBI (Sub-board, Inc.) board.

You are UB’s ambassador for the Center for Study of the Presidency and Congress. Tell me about that?

Throughout the course of this year I’m working on a 15-page research paper. Through that process, there are two conferences that you go to, one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester where you meet with the rest of the fellows. You have to write a research paper that combines a topic of public issue that is connected to the Presidency and Congress. I’m doing public education, more specifically, civics education and how the Department of Education at a federal level has evolved over time with different presidents and different Congress members.

What has your experience with that fellowship been like?

I grew up my entire life going to public school, [I’m] now here at a public university… This fellowship opportunity allowed me to go down to D.C. and interact with students from those colleges. I sat down and was one of the only public universities that was represented… It was a little intimating at first to sit down at a table and your roommate sitting next to you is from Harvard. You sort of sink in your chair a little bit with your public institution that is on your name tag. But then everyone starts talking and you join in on the conversation, you realize, “you know what, I can keep up with this.” For me, that was really rewarding, knowing I could keep up with the conversation. When my fellowship peers starting asking me questions about my work and what I’m doing, that showed me that I can compete with the best and brightest.

What do you think sets you apart as an applicant?

I hope being an elected school board member is what will set me apart from other applicants. I know UB has had other elected school board members in the past, however, I really wanted to focus on the changes that I’ve made as a school board member thus far. I’ve created a program that’s now being modeled across the state. Also, the fact that the election itself was unprecedented in my district. There has never been someone under the age of 30 that has run before, there has never been someone under the age of 40 that has won in my district. I talked a lot about that in my application and I hope that sets my apart.

What are your current academic or career goals?

I’ve always been interested in politics and government and it was the school board experience that really introduced me to education policy itself. The fact that the federal education department is so new. If we think Jimmy Carter’s administration is what established it and every administration since has changed it. We haven’t had consistent education policy in this country at a federal level. What does that mean? That question, to me, is so interesting to delve into. My first step is to finish my undergrad and go to grad school to earn a master’s, hopefully a doctorate, in education policy and leadership. My career goal is to start out in D.C. in my younger years at the federal level in education policy. They have a section of the department that works with Congress, that’s where I see myself beginning in my career. Down the line, I could see myself coming back to Western New York and really looking at New York State’s public education at the state-level.

What has kept you motivated, in both the application process and your college/future career?

There are two things. [First], in my head, knowing that education is changing rapidly and we haven’t found an answer yet for better education policies. Knowing that students are struggling because of that keeps me motivated to try to improve it. Second, applying for these scholarships, going through college, keeping two jobs and paying for your tuition is not easy. I’ve been brought up, thankfully, by two amazing parents that have instilled [a sense of] work ethic in me. My grandmother, at the age of 75 is still working two jobs. I’ve always been brought up to work hard and that if you work hard you will be rewarded for it. For me, that keeps me going. If you work hard, you don’t have to be at the forefront of everything and boasting about your achievements, people will notice that you work hard and reward you for it.

Tell me about your inspirations?

My biggest inspiration throughout my entire life is my father. Whenever I need advice on anything, he’s always had my back… He’s a physical education teacher in a public school district. Seeing how differences in education have affected his job and seeing what he does for his students [has been important]. I can always trust his opinion so he’s probably my biggest inspiration. If I can make a difference that I know can impact students in the same way that he has, I’ll feel that I’ve achieved my goal.

As far as big names that are inspiring to me? I’ve always looked at John F. Kennedy’s leadership as inspirational. I think President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s message of getting younger folks involved in government and civic engagement really inspired me to run for a school board position.

Can you share some advice for students who may want to go for these awards?

My biggest piece of advice [for students] would be: it starts your freshman year. If someone tries to start their junior year, building experiences and interests, then that’s really too late. Come into UB and pull aside a professor, get to know that professor during office hours, and ask them questions about their experiences. Don’t be afraid to try something that’s outside your major. There are so many different clubs and departments on campus. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try something new. If you don’t like it then you don’t have to go back. But make sure you’re trying new experiences.

Interview with Gunnar Haberl conducted on February 16, 2018 by Deanna Buley.