BSOS Alumnus Eric Swalwell on Education, Politics and Testudo
Eric Swalwell, a two-time University of Maryland graduate and College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS) alumnus, is running for congress. The 31-year-old Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin, California city councilman is challenging 20-term incumbent, Rep. Pete Stark, for the 15th District congressional seat. In the primary election on June 5, Swalwell managed to secure 32% of the vote - placing him in the top two candidates and moving towards a November election showdown with Stark.
Swalwell took time from his campaign to chat about his education at the University of Maryland, the issues facing today’s college students, the lessons he learned while serving the local community as a Terp and his drive to address the issues and the system on Capitol Hill.
Life Lessons, Wisdom and Testudo
Swalwell said he often speaks about his time at the University of Maryland (UMD), and the experiences that led him toward a law degree and, ultimately, his political career.
Asked what some of the most important lessons he learned as a Terp were, Swalwell described his first foray into politics. “When I was a student at UMD, the men’s basketball team was doing very well. Occasionally, the celebrations would get out of hand,” he recalled. “I witnessed first hand how the [riots] were affecting the relationship between UMD and the residents of our community.” To facilitate mutual understanding, respect and cooperation, Swalwell piloted an initiative to put students on the College Park city council – a program that still exists today. Working with the city council, traveling to discuss his projects, and serving as the liaison between UMD students and the community taught Swalwell the importance of patience and a strong work ethic in achieving difficult goals. Furthering his interest in politics, he served as the vice president of campus affairs in the Student Government Association (SGA).
Citing several specific examples of his work to build effective coalitions and empower change on campus, Swalwell reinforced the importance of staying grounded and not becoming discouraged in the face of adversity. “Nothing happens overnight. Change comes to the patient.”
Speaking more generally about his experiences at UMD, Swalwell acknowledged the tremendous support network that enabled his success. “The valuable connections and relationships I made formed a strong foundation early on…a network of support for ideas, advice and encouragement,” he explained. He went on to single out two of his on-campus mentors, Wayne McIntosh (professor in the Department of Government and Politics and assistant dean of BSOS) and Craig Slack (assistant director, Adele H. Stamp Student Union), who helped him “navigate the university system and move along in a positive way.”
Education, Employment and Politics
After being injured while playing NCAA Division One soccer, Swalwell lost the scholarship that had been, in large, supporting his college education. When he transferred to UMD as a sophomore, Swalwell recalls having to struggle to make ends meet. Relating to the thousands of students who work their way through college, he specifically remembers how difficult and stressful it was to balance academic achievement and an overwhelming financial burden.
“I was that kid, receiving warnings from the Bursar’s Office,” Swalwell noted. “If I could not make a payment immediately, I was not going to be permitted to attend my classes”. He went on to say that an “undereducated society” is one of the nation’s greatest threats, and it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the existence of loan systems that allow qualified students the opportunity to attend college. Swalwell emphatically supports the concept that the availability of higher education must be based on students’ dedication and aptitude, instead of their financial status. “Access to colleges should be based on [students’] end goals, not their income,” Swalwell explained.
Speaking to the current state of the job market and the challenges facing our graduating seniors, Swalwell connected the bleak employment outlook to the country’s overall approach to higher education. “There is no longer job security. People searching for employment have no hope for finding a job tomorrow,” he said. Acknowledging the challenges and obstacles involved with improving the situation, Swalwell emphasized the importance of “syncing the business community and the education system to better understand [employers’] needs.”
When asked about the state of the American political system, and why he is interested in becoming a California representative in Congress, Swalwell summarized his observations and his desire to lead by example. “Americans feel that Congress is broken, and it is no longer working for [the American public]. Representatives are so willing to engage in partisan bickering,” he continued. “There is no seeding of good ideas.” He ended his comments on the challenges facing American politics with a combination of advice and personal policy; “Working on contentious issues as a 20-year-old student…it served me very well to understand the importance of values, and willingness to work across the table.”
More About Eric Swalwell
Swalwell was raised in Dublin, California and graduated from Dublin High School. Since 2006, has served as a prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, where he has prosecuted more than 1,000 cases and 32 jury trials, including murder, human-trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault, burglary and fraud. In 2009, Swalwell received the Bay Area Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award for Community Service.
In 2006, Eric was appointed to the City of Dublin’s Heritage & Cultural Arts Commission where he later served as chairperson. From 2008 to 2010, Eric served on the City of Dublin Planning Commission where he worked to stimulate Dublin’s economy, enticing businesses back to Dublin and working to expedite development projects and fill vacant commercial real estate sites.
Swalwell received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Law. While at Maryland, Eric served on the City of College Park City Council as its student representative. From 2001-2002, Eric worked in Washington, D.C. for Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, assisting with legislative research and constituent outreach and services.