Tom Choske graduated from Michigan State University in 2008 with degrees in International Relations and German. Currently, Choske is a Democratic candidate for the Michigan State House of Representatives. We recently caught up with Choske and asked about his campaign and MSU experiences.
What are the responsibilities of your current position?
Go into the community and chat with constituents, stakeholders, and policy experts; recruit team members and volunteers; raise money for the campaign through phone calls and solicitations; plan campaign budgets and field plans; help formulate and execute communications strategy for the team across in-person speaking engagements, media interviews, press releases, web content, and social media.
How did your MSU education help prepare you for your career?
In my time at MSU, I had the opportunity to study policy in my James Madison College courses and work on campus to organize and engage with other students on key policy positions. I mobilized students on campus to push Michigan to divest from companies complicit in the Darfur genocide and organized Democratic groups around the 2008 presidential election.
I also was an editorial writer for The State News, which helped me hone my writing skills and deal with public opinion.
What motivated you to run for office?
I’ve always had a desire to serve others, ever since I was young. When I was at MSU, I had the opportunity to do several internships with the government, but one in particular set me on this course. While interning for then-State Senator Hansen Clarke in 2006, I got my first real introduction to helping people at a large scale. It got me hooked on government service, and after returning from Berlin, Germany, where I did a summer internship in the U.S. Embassy, I was hired on as a legislative staffer. Being able to work in the State Legislature, and later as a Congressional staffer, solidified my belief that, despite all the bad and ugly we often see in government and politics, there can still be places where we come together as a community to be a force for good.
Did you have any internships or study abroad programs that influenced your career and/or life?
The two that had the biggest impact on me were my time working with then-State Senator Hansen Clarke and when I went overseas to intern in the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany.
I started doing internships in Lansing after my freshman year, when I worked in the State House of Representatives, and I then went on to work in then-U.S. Senator Carl Levin’s office as well as with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign. However, working in Sen. Clarke’s office propelled me to become a candidate and pursue elected office as my way to serve the public.
Going overseas to Germany was the crucible in which I fell where I really became an adult. Being separated from my friends and family by thousands of miles in a country where I was only mediocre in the language (at the beginning) forced me to become self-reliant while giving me unique opportunities and space to come into my own. The experiences I had over there are now memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and they helped foster in me a passion for exploration.
No one will ever give you an invitation to your dreams — you have to make your own opportunities.
How did your German studies and specialization in Muslim Studies benefit your experiences and career?
Learning another language opens up the door to learning even more, and every new language helps you better understand a new facet of our world. German was my gateway to learning a foreign language and a foreign culture that inspired me to learn even more. Muslim Studies has helped me better understand other monotheistic faiths, world events, and also to better understand and relate to our fellow Muslim citizens.
Why did you choose to come to MSU?
I was drawn in by my love for public policy and international relations. When I was in high school, I was very heavily involved in Model United Nations and developed a passion for foreign affairs. MSU’s James Madison College offered me an unparalleled ability in the state to study international relations while having an amazing campus, vibrant student life, and top sports teams.
Did you receive any scholarships or grants and how did that help?
My scholarships were minor, helping to defray the room and board costs of my first year. What really helped was the Michigan Education Trust, a program originally initiated in the 1980s that allowed parents to pay a certain amount and receive a guarantee that, when their children entered a Michigan public college or university, they would have their tuition covered. Coming from a union household, where my father was a Detroit Public School teacher and my mother worked in school support staff, this greatly eased the financial burden on my family. This program was unfortunately canceled about 20 years ago and reconstructed as the Michigan Education Savings Program, which is much less robust.
What should students take advantage of while they attend MSU?
Reflecting on my time, I’d say my biggest regret from MSU was not taking advantage of my professors’ office hours. Starting out after college can be difficult at best, and professors have a myriad of experiences and connections that can help students not only while in their studies at MSU, but also open the doors to additional opportunities that they otherwise may not be able to access.
What advice do you have for new graduates entering the workforce?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. For those of us who graduate with Public Policy degrees, there aren’t a lot of glamorous, high-paying job opportunities right out of undergrad. Sometimes, you have to take a job that’s not related to your degree and then pursue your passions outside of work to get to where you want to be.
After graduation, I had to take a job at Google in digital advertising — not related at all to my studies — in order to make ends meet. However, I stayed involved in my political party organization and maintained relationships with my former co-workers, so when my former boss ran for Congress, I was able to secure a position on his campaign and, later, his staff. And, after my boss lost reelection, I went back to advertising but laid the foundation over several years for my current campaign.
What advice would you give to a student that is interested in public service and politics?
No one will ever give you an invitation to your dreams — you have to make your own opportunities. Politics is an extremely rough-and-tumble world, but it is rife with opportunities for hungry people, regardless of their work experience or educational pedigree. With hard work, you can advance quickly, but it’s up to you to seize the opportunities.
Public service can also be very rewarding, though it’s a much more measured environment than then frenetic and hectic environs of a political campaign. It may be harder to get into a non-political public service role right out of college, but it can be much more stable than a political one.
Is there anything you’d like to add about MSU and your time on campus?
Despite getting a graduate degree from ‘another school’ (one with blue and yellow as its colors), I’m still a Spartan through-and-through. The MSU community is strong and supportive, and Spartans do great things to help their communities and the world. It’s up to us as alumni to continue to uphold our Spartan values and support those in need as we work to rebuild our school’s image in the wake of the Nasser travesty.