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Peter’s Story: A Bias for Political Action

Peter Wedlake realized his career path when he volunteered with the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign in high school. That experience convinced him that he was passionate about politics. Currently at Portland State University, he studies Political Science and Urban and Public Affairs, with a minor in Economics. Peter is also a third-generation alumnus of Portland State University! We love to hear about connections through family.

Peter says he was surprised about college life at PSU when he got here because he was used to the idea of college from movies and TV shows. “A lot of the students in my classes are non-traditional students, which provides a valuable and unique college experience. PSU also does a lot to give students the opportunity to make college what they want. For me, this school has a traditional college feel in an urban university.” 

He is also a student in the Honors College and he said that he made his first college friends in his introductory courses. In University Studies (what we call our general studies classes), students are placed in classes with other students from a variety of majors and are encouraged to find deeper connections and learn the value of other areas of study. Every student’s major can be involved in the discussions that happen in these classes, so it builds an appreciation for all subjects. In one of the first classes like this, Peter met his first group of friends and was able to build a solid community from the start.

Peter has done amazing work on the leadership council for the Student Sustainability Center in the orchard on campus. In the orchard, native trees and plants are grown as a “grazing garden” for anyone to use. He helped shape the mission for the orchard. 

He is also active in student government, known as the Associated Students of Portland State. “Student government is best when it is student-led because it will prioritize students. People feel safe on campus and this creates a space for intellectual discussion.”

“I love how many guest speakers come to PSU. There was a speaker named Daniel Ziblatt from Harvard who talked about his book How Democracies Die. There are also potential political candidates who come and give talks in Smith Hall. These are open to anyone so students like me can go in and listen.”

He told me that his favorite resource at PSU is the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). “It is so convenient! It’s right on campus and they make it easy to be aware of your mental and physical health. They are nice about everything. SHAC has great access to so many resources, like group and individual counseling, and free STD and STI testing.”

In a political science class about the legislative process Peter took his first year, his professor, Jesse Cornett, had previously worked with Barack Obama and Joe Biden so he was a great primary source for real-world experiences. “A third of the class was interning in the legislature at the time and we were able to learn from those experiences.” First-hand experience in the real world is so valuable, and something that cannot be learned just by attending lectures. To have these people in class is to share the experiences of what worked and what didn’t.

Peter has had some amazing internship opportunities during his time here. He interned for State Representative Susan McLain, Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Ron Wyden. “PSU is great because you are so close to political action in the city and have great access to information. Professors give you so much support and encourage you to apply what you’re learning for credit.”

IMG_1736Peter with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon

One phrase that he mentioned a couple times during our interview was that he has a “bias for action” which was really motivating for me to hear. The way I understood it was why talk about something when you can start today to make a difference? It’s so important when people take initiative to make the world better for others, and usually, this change begins with just a small step. He said “I always ask myself ‘How can I serve? How can I get access to the community? I am biased for action. I feel a need to help the community and people around me. This shapes all my decisions.”

He had some advice for students considering PSU: “Visit! When you’re here, you feel something. The community has a buzz. There is always something going on. Find what you’re interested in and find PSU’s role in that. PSU is not just a backup school. You get out what you put into it.”

Peter’s experiences are an embodiment of our motto: “Let knowledge serve the city.” Our future begins now. Join our community, apply today.

leadership, student stories, university studies