After earning a bachelor’s in public administration, KUEC graduate works to improve and empower his hometown community
Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, 22, recently graduated with a B.A. in Public Administration from KU. As a student he served as a student senator for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, was a member of the Beta Xi Chapter of Phi Iota Alpha, and served as the Diversity and Inclusion Chair for Stephenson Scholarship Hall.
After graduation, Rangel-Lopez moved back to his hometown of Dodge City, KS and is now a project coordinator at New Frontiers, a nonprofit equipping young Kansans with the tools to build economic, social, and political power. In this position, and with his KU education, he hopes to empower his local community and make an impact on its future.
“We have a chance to shape the communities we’ll be living in for the rest of our lives.”
Find out more about Alejandro and his journey at KU.
What is a typical day in your life like?
My job can vary a lot on a day-to-day basis – that’s part of why I chose this career! My day consists of making and designing social media posts/content, coordinating partnerships with other local nonprofits, texting volunteers to attend upcoming events/meetings, and researching legislative movement in Kansas policy that impacts marginalized folks in the southwest region of our state.
What makes you the happiest?
Getting to come back to my hometown and empowering young folks to build a community and a future that they see themselves in will always put the cheesiest smile on my face. I grew up feeling like I couldn’t fully be myself, partly because there were only a few folks like me in visible public positions of influence. I get to be that person that says we deserve to feel at home right here and actually give folks the tools to make it a reality, which is awesome.
What motivates you?
We have a chance to shape the communities we’ll be living in for the rest of our lives. I love my hometown and don’t want it to wither away like other rural Kansas towns; that happens when young folks leave and never return, often because they feel their values aren’t represented in the environment around them. I want to have friends my age that feel like they belong and raise kids that can be proud of where they’re from. I know that I can’t do it alone, and that I don’t have all the answers, but it’s the act of working towards this future that keeps me going.
Why did you choose KU and the Edwards Campus?
When I was in high school and looking at my options, I came across KU’s School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA). I knew I always wanted to do work in the public sector, even as an 18-year-old, so it seemed like a great fit – especially with all its accolades as a program. I initially intended to go to KU Law but as undergrad wore on, I saw that my skillset and strengths were not suited for that field and began focusing more on public administration, which turned out to be the best decision I ever made for myself.
How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?
From the very first Intro to Public Administration course that I took my first year, Dr. Goodyear and all the great folks at KU SPAA helped me navigate undergrad and learn early on what I wanted to do with my career. This was vital because then I could take more of the courses I was interested in and gave me the interdisciplinary skills and insight that I use on a day-to-day basis in my work.
How has your degree prepared you for the future?
Today’s world asks us to connect the dots between a variety of seemingly-unrelated issues. As it turns out, they are critically interrelated and often have a core of inequity and discrimination that public administrators must untangle and sort out. My degree in Public Administration required me to follow a curriculum that was consistent, future-facing, and helpful in understanding how systems in our society operate and how to change them to achieve more equitable outcomes for the public we serve.
What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?
During my freshman year, I was having a lot of issues adjusting to a new community without my existing support structures. Then in March of 2020 we were all sent home, and my issues got even worse. While struggling with it all, this situation pushed me to finally reach out to CAPS and get the treatment I needed for what I didn’t know was undiagnosed ADHD at the time. I finally knew why I would put off writing 10-page papers until the night before they were due, and why I got stuck on one topic for hours at a time even if I knew I had other things to do. Figuring this out wasn’t easy at all; it still isn’t. However, at least I finally knew what was up and took steps so that I didn’t have to struggle as much, not just in my college career but life in general.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Graduating college! I’m a first-generation college grad, son of packing plant workers who migrated straight to Dodge City from Mexico almost 30 years ago. My dad’s dream was to be a professional soccer player, my mom’s to be a nurse. Due to circumstance, they never got the chance to. What are the odds that I would accomplish this much? I’ve never been great with numbers, but that has to be a very small number! I’ll always be grateful for those sacrifices my loved ones have made based on little else than hope for the future, and it is thanks to them that I can continue paying it forward.
What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?
Most of my classes for public administration were online, so I didn’t get to be on-campus at Edwards until spring 2022 when I had an evening class taught by Professor Hannes Zacharias on ethics in the field. It doesn’t sound the most exciting, but I promise it was one of my favorite classes. Most of our time was spent working through the ethical conundrums we’d come across in our work. It was thought-provoking, engaging, and fun, and it helped that the class was taught by a fellow Dodge City native, which you don’t see often.
What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
I hope to continue helping young folks in southwest Kansas build political, economic, and social power through grassroots action. I want to be a resource and help folks understand that the greatest impact and potential for change lies in the neighborhoods and communities around us, towards a future we all have a stake in. I strongly believe that folks are inherently good and kind, we just need to give ourselves and those around us a chance to be good and kind. This requires steady, long-term investment of time and energy but I’m not planning on going anywhere else anytime soon, so that’s no problem at all. In 5-10 years, I hope I can go back to school and earn my MPA and potentially shift gears towards city/local government management.
What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?
Do it! I’m a firm believer that education is a lifelong process that never really ends. If you have the time, resources, and support to make it happen: make it happen. Whether you’re fresh out of high school or in your 40s hitting a mid-career slump, education is never a bad investment. Some of the most valuable insights I’ve heard in class were from older students who have lived experiences that we don’t have at our age, and the opposite is also true of the perspectives folks my age can provide.