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Hill Climbers: Staffer Learns All Politics Is Local

For Matthew Hilgart, it’s all about communicating.

Last year, he was teaching in Jordan. Now, Hilgart has returned to Rep. Betty McCollum’s office in St. Paul, Minn., as a part of the Democrat’s communications team.

In the summer of 2007, Hilgart, then a student at the University of Minnesota, interned in McCollum’s district office, where he worked on constituent correspondence and helped organize community events. 

“I fell in love with her district,” he said of his time at the internship. “It’s so unique and such a historic district.” 

It was then that he decided that politics was for him.

After graduating from college in 2008, he landed a job at Minneapolis’ intergovernmental relations department. 

There, he worked on policy issues that intersected with the state Legislature. “I was working on lobbying the Legislature on … local government aid,” he said.

Between the internship in McCollum’s office and working for the city, Hilgart learned the intricacies of local politics. 

“In college, I focused on the international and macro level,” he said, explaining that the internship and job broadened his horizons. “They gave me a really good grounding for how important local politics is in the grand scheme of things.”

When he found out he’d been accepted into the Peace Corps, he knew he had to take the opportunity even though it meant leaving a job he loved. 

“I’d developed a love for city politics and local government,” he said. “So it was kind of tough for me … but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

So after having learned a small amount of Arabic — “I’d taken Arabic my first semester of college and totally failed it” — Hilgart headed off to Jordan, where he spent two years teaching English, developing extracurricular activities for his students and learning Arabic “for real this time.”

While in Jordan, Hilgart was stationed at Al al-Bayt University in Mafraq, encouraging his students to express themselves through creative extracurricular activities. 

“It’s very important that we find ways for these youth to be creative,” he said. 

And his efforts paid off. “I really enjoyed seeing my students, especially women, being able to think outside the box.”

Now, he’s back in Minnesota, working as an outreach and communications specialist for McCollum, “making sure the Congresswoman is seen through new media and social media.” 

And while St. Paul might seem very different from Mafraq, Hilgart said some things have stayed the same. Such as working with his students in Jordan: “You get to see the people when you’re on the ground here in the district,” he said.

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