James Jelin ’16 has never wanted to go into politics. Yet, he took a leave of absence this semester, postponing a semester abroad in Germany to work full-time as the York County Field Organizer for Shenna Bellows, Maine’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

“I actively did not want to go into politics because I didn’t think I was going to come across a candidate like Shenna,” said Jelin.

For Jelin, the position offered the opportunity to be involved in national politics and filled a void he had felt on campus.

“I was interning with her over the summer and I was having a really good experience,” said Jelin. “I feel like I’ve been looking for an opportunity to really be able to create positive change. I’d been exploring opportunities on campus, but nothing quite seemed like the thing that I was really so passionate about.”

As an intern, Jelin worked in Bellows’ Portland office while living on campus. His responsibilities included making calls, tracking event turnout and looking up events in the area where the Bellows campaign needed to have a presence.

With summer winding down, Jelin started to consider a full-time job instead of going abroad to Germany in the fall.

The campaign’s field director Debbie Atwood offered Jelin the job, and he chose to accept it. Bowdoin was also supportive of Jelin’s decision to take a leave of absence and postpone his study abroad plans.
In an interview with the Orient last fall, Dean of First Year Students Janet Lohmann emphasized the College’s support for students who take a leave of absence.

“Students who spend time away are served well,” she said. “They grow in wonderful ways. When they come back here, they’re ready to get the best of what Bowdoin has to offer.”

In order to take a leave of absence to pursue nonacademic interests, a student must acquire their dean’s approval, continue to consult with his academic advisor and be in good academic and social standing with the College.

“It was so much easier than I thought it would be,” said Jelin. “I wasn’t going to be there [Bowdoin] this semester because of Germany. So it just sort of became about what I was going to be doing instead.”

Although now he will graduate in the fall of 2016, Jelin says that he feels that his work for Bellows is worthwhile, especially because it will allow him to address what he finds problematic in the political system. 

“What I’m doing in this job is fighting for working class representation in our government, and I can’t think of something more inspirational than that,” he said.

The biggest difference between his internship and his position as the York County Field Organizer is an increase in time and responsibility. Jelin currently works every day and up to 80 hours per week. 

As a field organizer, he is in charge of voter contact for the campaign in his region. This includes delegating field assignments, training and managing volunteers, organizing events and making calls.

“It’s a huge responsibility to be managing this because there are people all across the county who are really passionate about Shenna Bellows and it is my responsibility to make sure that they get into the office—and that I’m there to train them,” said Jelin.

At this point in the campaign, however, he is most focused on making persuasion calls.

“That’s how we reach voters. That’s how we get people to change their minds. You have one-on-one conversations with them and it works,” said Jelin. “It’s really exciting to learn how to really have a conversation with somebody in a way that they will listen.”

Jelin also feels that his semester off has made him better appreciate his time at Bowdoin. 

“It’s made me realize what Bowdoin is for, why it is important to get an education at a place like Bowdoin,” he said. “I think more people should take breaks. And I feel like a mid-school break has been so much more useful than a gap year.”

“So now I’ve had some of it [Bowdoin], and I know what that experience is, and now I’ve left and I’ve had a taste of what the real world is and what I want to do,” he added. “And now I can come back to Bowdoin and focus on the things that are going to equip me to be even better at that when I go out into the real world.”

As the November 4 election grows closer, Jelin is excited to rally more support during the final leg of the campaign.

“It’s so clear to me that this is what I needed to do,” said Jelin. “A lot of people don’t know what to do so they’re not going to do anything, but that is why Shenna Bellows is so important. With a grassroots campaign, it is important that we get the support now.”

Jelin plans to return to Bowdoin this spring, fulfill his plans to study in Germany next fall, and graduate in the fall of 2016.

“Frankly, when I get back on campus, I don’t know what I’ll do next because it’s a lot less obvious,” said Jelin. “But the next time I see a problem and I have an opportunity to be a part of the solution, I intend to take it.”