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Two Peas in Politics: Honors Students on Their Way to Becoming Lawyers

| Katie Murphy

Elizabeth Tenbarge and Nick Johnson have always known they wanted to be lawyers. What they didn’t know was they would become close friends as they continued on parallel paths towards their goals.

Elizabeth is from Lodi, WI, and is majoring in political science with a certificate in legal studies. Though she toured a lot of schools, Elizabeth was in awe of the campus’ beauty and the way it felt like home. She felt welcomed by the campus ambassadors and after she spoke to the political science professors, she was compelled to attend the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

Nick, growing up in Plymouth, MN, about 20 minutes from Minneapolis, knew he didn’t want to go to school in a big city. He, like so many of UWEC’s students, was thoroughly impressed by the campus and loved the smaller size of the political science program. The opportunities to develop relationships with his professors and get involved in research and campus activities solidified his choice to get his degree at UWEC.

Both Elizabeth and Nick have been actively involved in the Honors program and various clubs and committees while working toward their career goals.

From Classmates to Best Mates
Because Elizabeth and Nick had some credits before starting college, they were the only freshmen in their POLS 290 Introduction to Political Analysis class. From that point forward, they took a majority of the same classes and even had the exact same academic schedules during the Spring 2023 semester.

From being actively involved in housing committees, to Elizabeth recruiting Nick to the student senate, these two have worked together for years. Considering all the time they spend together, it is no surprise they like to engage in lively, intellectual debates.

Elizabeth says, “It helps you refine what you believe and what you think. I want my ideas and thoughts to be tested.”

The two also enjoy screening movies together, or at least Elizabeth enjoys showing Nick different movies. There are a few films that have become inside jokes between the two, with various one-liners that seem to fit perfectly into their conversations.

Elizabeth’s Experience
Elizabeth has been part of the Honors program since her freshman year and lived in the Honors Living Learning Community (LLC). Even though she had a randomly chosen roommate, they became close friends and have lived together ever since. With Elizabeth’s political science major and her roommate’s actuarial science major, it’s unlikely they would have met if it weren’t for the LLC. She’s created many more connections, both through the LLC and her Honors classes, that she deeply values. She says, “If I'm walking across campus and we see each other, we'll always wave and say hi and smile.”

Not only has Elizabeth been involved in her Honors community, but she’s been working towards her future goals too. She has been actively involved with UWEC’s housing committees, where she was a Judicial Board member, Residence Hall Association delegate and president, and the Vice President of Outreach for the National Residence Hall Honorary. She also currently interns with the Eau Claire Public Defender’s Office, where she deals with legal documents.

Through her involvement, especially in Honors, Elizabeth has realized how important it is for her to leave a legacy. She is a mentor for theBlugold Fellows, which she was part of her freshman year. She gets to use her expertise to help students who are in the same place she once was. She says that being an inspiration for other students is one of her biggest accomplishments.

“The mentors were always there for me… and to be able to turn around and do that for my mentees now is a really cool and fulfilling experience,” Elizabeth says.

Nick’s Experience
In the beginning, Nick enrolled in the Honors sections of standard classes, where he worked on projects to provide extra richness for the courses’ topics. From that point on, he was inspired to go above and beyond in all his classes. Another Honors course he took, Fermentation: Cultures Meets Culture with Dr. Scott Bailey-Hartsel and Professor Jackie Bailey-Hartsel, provided the stress relief he needed.

“That class really took me out of my head and just put me into a very fun environment,” he says.

Nick is a mentor for an Honors 100 course this year, where he gets to guide incoming Honors students through their first semester. From introducing discussion-based learning, to encouraging students to get involved on campus and in the city, he says this experience has been especially meaningful.

Nick has cultivated interest in chess by co-founding the campus Chess club and previously acting as the president. He’s also advancing his career goals through an internship with the Eau Claire County Circuit Courts. One of his biggest accomplishments was acting as the Finance Director for the student senate. During this time, he and his fellow senators passed incredibly important spending bills.

Sharing Similar Paths
With the consistent overlap in classes and campus activities, it is no surprise that Elizabeth and Nick had multiple similar experiences. They’ve found their time in Honors to be incredibly beneficial to their time in college. Nick says the interdisciplinary nature of Honors courses and the introductions to a variety of fields “make us more well-rounded people. I might have a lawyer brain, but I think that taking courses in Honors is preparing me for different areas of life beyond that.”

He and Elizabeth were able to combine topics and ideas with people who have very different backgrounds than them. She says this has helped her learn to dig through various opinions to form her own. This, in combination with the many discussions in class, has prepared Elizabeth and Nick to think outside of the box, which will be important for their future careers.

One of the biggest jobs that the two of them have done is interning and researching for the Menards Center for Constitutional Studies. The center works to inform students about free speech, which is pertinent for students to know while on campus. Nick and Elizabeth help with events, advertising, and discussions. Elizabeth says the discussions allow students to “explore that new idea in a very non-confrontational way and still be able to ask questions.”

Both graduates participated in research with the Menards Center during their summer terms. Nick’s research, with Dr. Eric Kasper, involved understanding the procedural protections that states create to protect First Amendment rights. It was titled, “SLAPP-Back: An Interstate Analysis of Anti-SLAPP Legislation.” Elizabeth’s research, with Dr. Adam Kuntz, titled, “Examining and Defending the Constitutionality of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Trainings in Higher Education,” was presented at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in 2023.

Onto the Next
With their academic success, campus involvement, and valuable connections, Nick and Elizabeth are proud to be finishing their undergraduate years. They both plan to go to law school, with Nick exploring different options and Elizabeth hoping to stay close to home.