Students listened to election returns and debated the pros and cons of Democratic and Republican candidates during the on-campus Super Tuesday viewing party on March 1, 2016. Sporting an “I voted” sticker, Brenden Carol, ’17, moved among them, pleased with the turnout for an event he organized in his role as a student coordinator of politics and elections for the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE).

“Trump dominated students’ discussion during the viewing party,” Carol said. “None of the students in either political party was happy about his front-runner status.”

Despite the prevailing angst, Carol delighted in seeing students take an interest in politics. He hopes to increase political activism on campus.

Carol came to University of Richmond with politics on the brain.

“My parents met while they were both working on Capitol Hill,” Carol said. “Family dinner conversations were political, and we always had signs for candidates in our front yard.”

As a teen, Carol heard Barack Obama speak during the presidential primaries, attended the 2012 Democratic National Convention in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and interned as a congressional aide.

At University of Richmond, Carol is majoring in philosophy, politics, economics and law (PPEL) and political science.

He fulfills his Bonner Scholars service requirement as a CCE student coordinator, promoting voter registration, organizing campus political events and programs, and updating the student-run RVAGOV website with relevant information about city of Richmond politics.

The CCE awarded Carol two consecutive Burhans Civic Fellowships to pursue his political interests through academically grounded summer internships.

In summer 2014, Carol supported voter-registration drives and voter-rights outreach during his internship with Ignite NC, a nonpartisan voting-rights nonprofit. Carol’s faculty mentor, assistant professor of political science Ernest McGowen, helped Carol contextualize his experience with readings on grassroots movements.  

“This is the first time I’ve worked with a grassroots movement,” Carol wrote of his internship. “This experience has taught me the power of micro-politics. One cannot imagine the power of the local board of elections until you are there discussing the effects of the board’s decision with them.”

Carol undertook his second Burhans Civic Fellowship in summer 2015 as an intern with the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonprofit dedicated to making Congress more responsive to its constituents. Carol and other CMF staff instructed constituents and professional lobbyists on advocacy best practices. Political science professor Sandra Joireman served as his faculty mentor during this fellowship.

“My CMF internship showed me politicians really do care what their constituents say,” Carol said. “Elected officials have to be responsive when their constituents contact them.

“Politics is a two-way sport. Voting is the equivalent of sitting on the bench. If you want to get playing time, you have to get involved.”

Not content with learning only about American politics, Carol interned with a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) during his study-abroad semester at the University of Edinburgh Institute of Governance in fall 2015.

“My MSP, Stewart Maxwell, asked me to review a law about the public-smoking ban,” Carol said. “The ban didn’t apply to smoking in stairwells. I looked at the law and at the amendment process and was surprised by how simple it was to make an amendment.

“My research on the smoking ban was a small thing, but I will be partially responsible for changing a law likely to go into effect in Scotland this April.”

This summer, with funding from an Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fellowship, Carol will explore with Dr. McGowen how congressional representation would change under a proportional system. Ultimately, Carol hopes to pursue a graduate degree in law or public policy as an entrée to the world of politics.

“Many forms of civic engagement are only necessary because of the faults in our political system,” Carol said. “Volunteering helps one or two people. Changing legislation helps many more.

“You can clean up a lake, but if you can’t stop the polluter, you’ll have to keep cleaning up the lake.”