John Straayer’s legacy at Colorado State University
Just like the Oval, or students painting the Aggie ‘A’ at the beginning of the fall semester, Dr. John Straayer has been a staple of the Colorado State University experience for the last five decades. Whether in the classrooms of the political science department, or the halls of the State Capitol, Straayer’s passion for public service and shared governance has shaped multiple-generations of civic leaders across the state.
Straayer grew up in Michigan, studied political science and government, and holds degrees from Western Michigan University (B.A. ’63, M.A. ’64) and the University of Arizona (Ph.D. ’67). He began teaching at CSU in 1967, served as department chair for 15 years, and has overseen the Legislative Internship Program at the State Capitol since 1980. Straayer has also written extensively on Colorado and American politics, with a focus on state and local politics, and his book The Colorado General Assembly is a must-read for anyone interested in legislative governance.
The Legislative Internship Program: providing professional opportunities for students interested in civic leadership
Not only have more than 1,000 CSU students gone through the Legislative Internship Program at the State Capitol, working directly with elected officials under Straayer’s tutelage, but Straayer has also personally driven those students in a van from Fort Collins to Denver twice a week during the legislative session for the last 37 years. Former students who have gone on to leadership positions in government and public affairs have described the internship and experiential learning opportunity as “impactful,” “transformative,” and “the most meaningful part of [their] time at CSU.”
Former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives Russell George described the anticipation he felt working with Straayer and his students each spring. “I knew I was getting a top student, carefully taught and screened by John himself, to be a worker, a discreet aide, and a willing observer and learner. What I found years later was that John was also giving me an early introduction to a few of Colorado’s remarkable future citizens and leaders.” Straayer describes the internship (and his “kids” as he warmly describes the interns) as his proudest achievement in five decades of teaching. He leaves a legacy of developing and guiding students with a passion for public service leadership, a fitting compliment to the emphasis of service and impact of Colorado State University and its land-grant mission. After all, as Straayer himself says, “we don’t have a state or nation without dedicated civic leaders.”
A New Center Emerges: connecting public sector partners with students and faculty
Moving forward, the Department of Political Science, the College of Liberal Arts, and the University intend to honor Straayer’s legacy and
commitment by developing a new center dedicated to civic leadership. The Straayer Center for Public Service Leadership will connect students to public-service internships, support applied research on policy and governance linking the University to practitioners in the field, and facilitate thought leadership on public issues by partnering with community partners.
The first step toward the formation of the new center was the hiring of Sam Houghteling in February of 2017, who brings almost a decade of program development experience, most recently with the City of Fort Collins. Houghteling describes his primary initial focus as “developing high-impact programs around student experience and professional development.” This includes expanding internships and connections to local governments, building on the work of Straayer’s colleague, Dr. Susan Opp; continuing to support students interested in the legislative internship, now run by Dr. Robert Duffy; and the development of a D.C. semester program for students interested in politics and governance at the federal level. “The response to the Straayer Center with our students and various partners has been extremely supportive. We look forward to building collaborative partnerships and programs that add value to our students, University, and communities across the state,” says Houghteling.
Here’s how alumni can get involved:
- Volunteer to speak with a class
- Serve as an advisor/fiscal supporter of the Straayer Center
- Provide financial support to one of our student scholarships
- Provide an internship or professional development opportunity through your organization
- Contact the Straayer Center at: email@example.com or (970) 219-4656
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