Political ActionGifty Amarteifio hopes to apply what she's learned at WSU to public realm
By Sarah Certa '10
In the fall of 2007, Gifty Amarteifio arrived at Winona State University and, like many new students, had little idea of what she wanted to major in, let alone what career path she might take. Fast forward to the spring of 2011, and Amarteifio is ready to graduate with a double major in Political Science and Public Administration, while building an impressive record of public service, civic engagement, and leadership.
Multiple factors played into Amarteifio's decision to enter the public realm, but what first sparked her interest was the 2008 presidential election, held during her first semester. It was the first time she was eligible to vote. "Everyone was talking about it," Amarteifio remembers, "and it got me really excited."
The next semester, an Introduction to Politics course grabbed her attention. At the same time, Amarteifio was reading Three Cups of Tea in an English class. The memoir records the journey of Greg Mortenson, an American who promotes peace through education by establishing schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Amarteifio, whose name reflects her Ghanaian heritage, was intrigued by Mortenson's selflessness. "He was able to put everything he loved aside in hopes of giving others an education so they could better their own lives," she says. This insight opened a world of possibilities for Amarteifio. She declared her major in Political Science, with a strong interest in education.
"I knew that education was something I wanted to be a part of, but I didn't necessarily want to teach," she says. After taking a public service course her sophomore year, Amarteifio realized she didn't need to be in a classroom, but that she could do it through policy work. With the guidance of Kara Lindaman, professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Winona State, Amarteifio declared a second major in Public Administration.
Lindaman has continued as an advisor and a source of support. Lindaman is also the coordinator of WSU's American Democracy Project, a multi-campus initiative that promotes campus engagement in democracy and political discussion. Through her classes with Lindaman, Amarteifio became involved in the ADP. "This really developed my love for public service," she says.
With the ADP, Amarteifio helped conduct several public service projects, including Democracy Day, which brought members of the student body, administration, and local community together to tackle the issue of student binge drinking. Amarteifio felt the project was a success. "It was great because we decided to have an open discussion about this issue and work together to come up with possible solutions," she says.
Amarteifio was also one of ten Winona State students who volunteered to serve as 2010 midterm election judges in Minneapolis and St. Paul. She says she loved being a part of the entire process and was inspired by all the people coming out to use their voices.
As a senior this past fall, Amarteifio, along with Lindaman and two other WUS students, attended "We the People," a civic agency conference held in the Twin Cities. Amarteifio says this was a great example of how a small group of people can come together and be collectively engaged in seeing change come about.
This experience, along with her other public service projects, reinforced the idea that she doesn't have to be a "big politician" to have a voice, says Amarteifio. "A small group of people dedicated to making small changes can really have an effect."
In addition to her work off-campus, Amarteifio has been active on campus as a member of the WSU Student Senate and its Academic Affairs Committee. Although it has recently become more diverse, Amarteifio says that she was one of the few, if not only, African-Americans serving in the WSU Senate when she was elected during her sophomore year.
"I wanted to represent the people who I felt didn't have a voice," she says. Now a full senator, Amarteifio enjoys representing the liberal arts area and working on academic issues that affect students directly.
Amarteifio is looking at a master's degree in public policy and a career in researching, creating, and reforming education policy. She would love to eventually work with a think tank, crafting education policy at the state level.
"We as a country expect children to make something great of themselves, and we need to provide them with the proper tools to do so. I want to play my part in ensuring that they have a quality education," says Amarteifio.
She encourages others of her generation to realize that they can influence political change, and stresses the importance of taking active roles. "When we don't come forward, we're depriving the country of our great ideas, our great energy, and everything else that we have to offer," Amarteifio says.
"There's a common misconception that young people just don't care. But a lot of us do care, and a lot of us hold the potential to make a difference."