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Jo Jensen ’07 Trades Junior Class Presidency for Capitol Hill Position

The MHC class of 2007 is looking for a new president.

Jo Jensen
Jo Jensen '07

Jo Jensen ’07 reluctantly resigned the position late in the summer to serve as chief of staff for a student lobbying group in DC. While giving up the class presidency was difficult, for a young woman with political ambitions, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Her group, Students for Saving Social Security, is a nonprofit, student-run organization that enlists college students in support of President Bush’s plan to reform Social Security through personal ownership by promoting personal retirement accounts. Despite long hours and makeshift living arrangements, Jensen is getting an extraordinary education in grassroots politics.

S4, as the group is known, was started last spring by two college students, Jonathan Swanson of Yale and Patrick Wetherille of Haverford. The two met last year while working as White House interns for the president’s Social Security adviser, Charles P. Blahous. Having seen older Americans actively participate in the Social Security debate, Swanson and Wetherille believed that college students should also have a voice in the future of the program, in which they have a substantial stake. They decided to start an organization.

Jensen, a politics and economics major at MHC, received an email last spring about the new group. When she went to Washington, DC, this past summer to work as an intern for Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons, she volunteered for S4 in her spare time. It wasn’t long before she was putting in more and more hours with them and ultimately ended her internship so she could work for S4 full-time. “I was planning to come back to school in the fall, but the Social Security issue has taken off. We met with President Bush and Karl Rove in the White House. I thought, ‘Wow, I should stay,’ ” Jensen said.

The group S4 has received some in-kind assistance, including free office space, email lists, and technical advice. But the group has received very little cash and operates on a shoestring budget. Jensen and the other full-time staff members receive a modest monthly stipend.

As chief of staff, Jensen has major supervisory responsibilities that keep her working 90 to 100 hours a week. She oversees ten staffers in DC, approximately 60 active volunteers nationwide, and the seven departments within the organization, including education, outreach, and media. In addition, she supervises the more than 230 campus chapters around the country. “The number grows every day,” she said. “I make sure everyone has what they need. It’s a lot of work.”

But the long hours have not fazed her. “We’re all students; we’ve never done anything like this before. It’s definitely a great experience to work for something you really believe in,” she said. “It’s so motivating.”

In addition to learning how to prioritize and manage her time efficiently, Jensen has come to appreciate the impact a group can have on public policy. “I’m actually talking to senators and telling them why students think this issue is so important,” she said. “And they say, ‘We had no idea students felt strongly about this. Keep up the good work.’ ”

Jensen, whose family moved from New Hampshire to Connecticut last year, has been active in politics since she was 16. She worked for the three previous summers as an intern for Congressman Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. In April 2005, she was elected cochair of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans (MACR), an organization that connects college Republican chapters across the state and provides the clubs with a network of resources and events. This year, Jensen founded the MACR's Conservative Women’s Caucus, which connects Republican college women in the state with conservative women role models and provides the tools for them to establish themselves and take a leadership role in the competitive world of politics.

Being a Republican on a strongly Democratic college campus like Mount Holyoke is “interesting and a challenge,” Jensen said. “I like it in the sense that I’m challenged every day. It makes me reevaluate my position and makes it stronger.”

Jensen plans to return to Mount Holyoke spring semester. She looks forward to “educating people about the other side [of the Social Security issue].” Last year, she explained, Massachusetts Congressman John Olver spoke at Amherst College, and had a letter and an article in the MHC newspaper, expressing his view that personal accounts would negatively impact students. “Now I can present the other half of the argument,” she said. “I believe that young workers and students have the most to gain from voluntary personal retirement accounts, mainly due to compound interest and ownership.”

Jensen is certain she will have a career in politics, but is not sure whether she’ll work on the inside for the government or outside at a lobbying firm or nonprofit organization. “In the future, I’m not sure which role I will play in shaping policy debate and legislation. I have always had an inside perspective as an intern on Capitol Hill, and now I am learning what it’s like to be an activist trying to affect legislation from outside the government," Jensen said. "This experience has definitely opened up new doors.”

On the Web:

Students for Saving Social Security

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Copyright © 2006 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on June 13, 2006.