Dedicated to public service
Photos by Jessica Eastburn | Photo illustration by Jeffrey Chase July 11, 2018
UD student Eric Hastings has a passion for civic engagement
Anyone who thinks that all of today’s college students aren’t interested in politics or civic engagement has never met Eric Hastings.
And anyone who does meet the University of Delaware alumnus and current graduate student is likely to come away wondering if they might be voting for him someday.
“I’m committed to public service,” said Hastings, a first-generation college graduate from Laurel, Delaware. He is midway through a two-year program to earn a master’s degree in public administration and just finished a six-month stint with UD’s Legislative Fellows Program, working with the Delaware General Assembly.
“I might end up working in a leadership position in a nonprofit, or in government service, or in an advocacy role. I might even run for office someday,” he said. “As long as I’m able to help people, I don’t really care what my title is.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2014, with minors in political science and political communication, Hastings worked full time for a few years before returning to UD to pursue graduate studies.
One of those full-time jobs was with the Boys and Girls Clubs near his home in Sussex County, where he was inspired by what he saw as the potential for at-risk kids to benefit from constructive programs. With positive recreational and educational activities and mentors who provide a sense of stability and community, young people who might have been on the wrong path can turn their lives around, he said.
That experience has led to Hastings’ interest in juvenile justice issues, including a trio of bills he worked on during the most recent legislative session, which ended June 30. The bills, all passed by the General Assembly, give judges more discretion in sentencing juveniles and prevent juveniles accused of a crime from being housed in adult prisons before they are convicted and sentenced.
As with other pieces of legislation, Hastings staffed committee meetings on those bills and conducted research on such subjects as criminal sentencing reform and recidivism, turning over the research to policy advisers, who then worked with legislators to craft the bills.
“My experience as a Legislative Fellow has really helped me to think about issues and policy more clearly and to listen to points of view from all sides,” he said. “Especially in a small state like Delaware, you can feel like you’re making a difference. I could see how young people—even some I used to work with—can be affected by the kind of legislation that was right in front of me in Dover.”
His work at the Boys and Girls Clubs has also helped motivate some of Hastings’ many other activities at UD, including his involvement with College Application Month. That initiative, a partnership between the state Department of Education and UD’s Institute for Public Administration, trains volunteers to help high school seniors with the college admissions process.
Hastings worked with the program last fall, visiting schools around the state and meeting with teens who were often confused by the preparation, application and financial aid process needed for higher education.
“My parents, and especially my mom, always encouraged me to get a good education, but they didn’t go to college, and we all found [the process] hard to figure out when I was applying,” he said. “When I think about kids who don’t have that family support, I know it’s really difficult for them.”
In the end, he said, assisting with the program was much like his work with the Boys and Girls Clubs, both with the goal of “pushing kids to get ahead.”
Next year, Hastings plans to spend another semester as a Legislative Fellow. He didn’t take advantage of the program as an undergraduate, he said, and now he wants to make the most of the opportunity to have a closeup view of how government operates.
“For me, it’s not just a resume-builder,” he said. “I’m getting real, hands-on experience in the Delaware legislature, and that’s valuable because I see myself continuing to live and work in Delaware.”
That interest in politics and public service is something Hastings would like to help instill in other students. He’s a leader in Make It Count, a student-run initiative of UD’s Biden Institute to increase voter registration and nonpartisan civic engagement on campus.
“We saw this as an immediate need, especially in these times, to encourage conversation about issues and to have students participate in the political process,” Hastings said. “It’s a labor of love for me, because it’s all student-led, and we are all passionate about community engagement.”