Shaila Bornstein came to UMass Lowell to study criminal justice so she could help victims of sex trafficking and apprehend traffickers.
Then Donald Trump won the presidency, and she realized that the nation’s direction was going to change dramatically. She started paying more attention to politics and picked up a minor in political science.
“I became enamored of politics. I love the fast pace – there’s always something going on,” says Bornstein. “I’ve always seen myself as an activist. And when I set my mind to something, I feel like I’ll explode if I don’t do it.”
So Bornstein signed up to spend fall semester of her junior year in Washington, D.C., through the university’s partnership with The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. She studied political psychology and leadership and interned at Emerge America, a nonprofit that recruits and trains women candidates for political office.
Bornstein helped the expansion director open Emerge America offices in a half-dozen new states. She also assisted with social media campaigns and fundraising, as well as the organization’s biennial conference, where she met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator who became famous for her 11-hour filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill in 2013.
“All the people at Emerge America treated me like I was a staff member,” Bornstein says. “They made me feel like I was a part of something.”
Back on campus, she helped revive the the UML College Democrats and won election to serve as the club’s vice president her senior year. Asst. Dean Francis Talty selected her as one of two student panelists for debates among the Democratic primary candidates for Niki Tsongas’ seat in Congress. The debates were hosted by the university and The Boston Globe.
“I was really excited, and I wasn’t nervous,” she says. “It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
The debate added to Bornstein’s confidence. In high school, she’d been active in theater, but always behind the scenes as a stage manager. Now she feels comfortable on stage – and she’s planning to run for political office herself. Her ultimate goal? President of the United States.
Bornstein decided not to double-major because she wants to graduate early and get back to Washington as fast as she can. Besides, she’s learned a lot in her criminal justice classes, including gaining more empathy for law enforcement officers as well as crime victims.
“It’s made me more tolerant. I’m much more sympathetic with what police officers go through, but I also understand there’s a need to reform the whole criminal justice system,” she says.
Before she heads back to D.C., Bornstein will take her birthright trip to Israel and apply for political internships there and with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom she met on campus at a forum on the opioid crisis. She’s also working hard as a resident advisor and enjoying all of the campus clubs and programs here, from rowing crew to taking a leadership role in the largest sorority on campus, Alpha Sigma Tau.
“The opportunities I’ve already gotten here are above and beyond what I could have gotten anywhere else,” she says.