BOONE, N.C. — As a senior associate at Civitas Public Affairs Group in Washington, D.C., Appalachian State University alumnus Nathan Smith ’09 tackles pressing political and societal challenges facing the country today. He began his political career while a student at Appalachian — in student government and with summer internships in state and federal government.
Smith, a Garner native, works mostly with nonprofit clients at Civitas Public Affairs, where he advocates for LGBTQ equality as well as expanding ballot access, voting rights and access to health care.
“It is an exciting and challenging job that allows me to deal with issues that I care deeply about and to make real change — often from behind the scenes,” he said. “I am fortunate to work with and learn from leaders who have been at the helm of shaping public policy at the local, state and federal levels over the last few decades.”
Prior to joining Civitas Public Affairs two years ago, Smith served as the public policy director at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (now known as GLSEN), the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all K–12 students. There, he managed a coalition of more than 100 national organizations and advocated for the passage of federal anti-bullying and nondiscrimination legislation.
Paving the way toward politics
Smith said he developed interest in politics as a senior in high school, during the 2004 presidential election. He earned a B.S. in political science–public policy (now the American politics concentration) from Appalachian, graduating magna cum laude, and an M.A. in government from John Hopkins University.
At Appalachian, Smith was active in the Student Government Association (SGA), serving on the cabinet as director of government relations. Through this role, he represented the student body before the town of Boone and engaged students in civic participation.
“SGA instilled in me a sense of duty and public service, and taught me a good deal about politics, too,” Smith said.
After his sophomore year at Appalachian, Smith interned for the late North Carolina state Sen. Steve Goss, whom he met through his involvement in SGA. The following year he interned with former North Carolina U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, which sparked his interest in working in Washington, D.C.
His internships paved the way for a position as a legislative staffer for California U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo after he graduated from Appalachian.
“Working on Capitol Hill was exciting as I was able to get a front-row seat to politics and policymaking in Washington,” Smith said. “I was there when the Affordable Care Act was passed and signed into law, and my boss was a member of the committee that oversaw the House version of the bill. It was thrilling to see such a landmark piece of legislation move.”
Smith said he has fond memories of his time at Appalachian and his coursework in the Department of Government and Justice Studies.
“Dr. Ruth Ann Strickland (now retired), Dr. Philip Ardoin and every other professor I encountered in political science were passionate about their area of expertise and always willing to engage in thoughtful discussion. They were incredibly influential in shaping my worldview and helping me to craft my eventual career path,” Smith said.
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About the Department of Government and Justice Studies
Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies offers undergraduate programs in political science and criminal justice, and graduate programs in political science and public administration. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department has over 600 undergraduate majors and more than 70 graduate students. Learn more at https://gjs.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.