In this heated election year, a Bowdoin alumnus finds himself in the midst of the fray and playing a major role in getting out the vote. Not only is he hiring campus organizers and fellowship interns for the state PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups), but he is also a very recent graduate: Nick Walker '04, who currently works for the Boston-based organization.

Walker oversees recruitment and entry-level hiring in the 28 different PIRG states. He hires campus organizers, who go to college campuses and work with students to develop skills to be effective activists, and PIRG fellows, who work with professional lobbyists and senior PIRG staff to become advocates or directors of a public interest group in the future.

"PIRGs started in the 70s on college campuses with students who had the know-how and idealism to take on issues in the country," Walker said. "But students are susceptible to breaks and exams, and those times are when the opposition would mount their campaigns. The PIRGs trained the students to keep up their activism at these times."

Here in Maine, the PIRG has started a group called Environment Maine, which is concerned with clean air, clean water, and clean energy in the state.

The PIRGs have also started the New Voters Project, an enormous voter registration program that Walker describes as "Rock the Vote minus the rock, but more important."

Walker first found the position when he applied to be a PIRG fellow, then accepted a position as a campus organizer. During training, his director offered him the position of hiring campus organizers and fellows in entry level positions around the country. "I'm still training on the fly," Walker said, "because I'm coordinating recruitment under a director in Denver."

Bowdoin helped prepare Walker for much of the work he is doing now. "It's vindicating for spending all that money," he said with a laugh. "The academic intensity teaches you responsibility and how to work under stress, and balancing and running with a wide diversity of different tasks." Walker also emphasized that Bowdoin had helped him to go out of his comfort zone and thrive, which his position at PIRG requires.

Walker isn't the only '04 grad to join PIRG; Paul Hastings '04 is a campus organizer at the University of Maryland, which has 32,000 students. "That really speaks well for liberal arts colleges and Bowdoin preparing students for seemingly overwhelming tasks," Walker said.

Walker visited Bowdoin's Career Planning Center last night to encourage students to follow his path. He described political discourse on campus as "imperative, and something that Bowdoin is lacking. I'm hoping that Bowdoin will keep it [the discourse] up after the election.

"The tough thing about colleges is that they are good about teaching civil engagement, but they don't often give students the opportunity to put the skills to use."

The job of the PIRGs is to inform the students so they can vote; their hope is that politicians will start looking at issues that affect students once they see that the students are active. "We can't keep going down this path where democracy is elected by fewer and fewer people," Walker said.

"The environment was brought up once in the debates. Bush didn't address it, and Kerry didn't get him when he could have. All that will change it is voting?there is no excuse not to vote."