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Go-Getter Jayden Sheridan Uses Arts and Sciences Resources to Expand Her Opportunities in Political Science

By Jennifer T. Allen

Jayden SheridanLast year, Jayden Sheridan worked 70+ hours a week to make ends meet while taking a 19-credit hour course load. A first-generation student from Findlay, Ohio, majoring in political science and minoring in gender and women’s studies and criminology while also working on a peace studies certificate, Sheridan has no lack of motivation.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I was doing that,” she said. “I don’t know how I was keeping my grades up and also working that much. Honestly, last year was a blur.” 

Being the first in your family to attend college means navigating the world of higher education without much guidance from home. Sheridan knew that to get the research experiences she wanted while in college, she was going to have to look for funding opportunities. 

“First-generation students don’t know where to go for scholarships or who to ask. We don’t have family that know these things and we don’t know these things,” Sheridan said. “First-generation students think differently and it’s a different kind of struggle.”

Sheridan knew she wanted to gain internship experience but couldn’t just quit her job.

“I want to do these internships, but I cannot afford to quit my job and have no income,” she said. “Internships and research experience aren’t paying the bills, and it comes down to either choosing an experience that really benefits me in the long term or I survive.”

This is where connections make a difference. Through the Department of Political Science, Sheridan learned about an internship opportunity for political science majors that aligns with the Commonwealth’s legislative sessions in the Kentucky General Assembly – the Kentucky Legislative Internship Program (KLIP). She landed an internship for the spring 2023 semester that had her working with MML&K Government Solutions, a government services firm. Sheridan received a Robert and Anne Trunzo Scholarship, which allowed her to cut back on work to 24 hours a week while working 40 hours a week in the internship and attending classes. 

“The internship paid minimum wage, but that only paid for my gas to and from Frankfurt and a few of my smaller bills,” Sheridan said. “The Trunzo Scholarship was essential to allow me to start focusing on opportunities that benefited my future.” 

While working at the internship, Sheridan decided to reach out to political science professor Tiffany Barnes to ask about additional research opportunities. 

“I was interested in getting my foot in the door, and I just went up to her and asked her,” she said. 

Barnes recommended a research opportunity with the Washington University (in St. Louis) Summer Training Experience in Political Science for summer 2023. The program offers students an opportunity to train with leading political scientists as they prepare for graduate school. The key for Sheridan: The program included an honorarium so she could quit her job. 

“Getting the honorarium for the summer internship was perfect timing. I was going to have to either quit my job or stop doing the KLIP internship,” she said. “I really enjoyed the internship at MML&K, and it helped me a lot. It laid the groundwork for me getting into the Washington University summer program, doing research with Dr. Barnes and getting into the Washington, D.C., program. They could see that I already had some legislative experience and had been a part of the legislative environment.” 

And the Robert and Anne Trunzo Scholarship was key in turning the tide in the types of internship and research opportunities Sheridan was able to accept. 

“That scholarship was one of the defining points in my life that helped roll the availability of all these other experiences,” she said. 

Sheridan began doing research with Barnes in July 2023. They looked into whether NATO members updated their military policies when women held positions as the ministers of defense. Her work was made possible by the John W. Boone Fund for Summer Internships. 

“I knew Dr. Barnes studied women in politics and I was interested in that topic. It was interesting to investigate if having a female Minister of Defense changed what was happening in the defense system,” Sheridan said. 

During the summer, Sheridan was selected to participate in WilDCats at the Capitol, in which she received money from the College of Arts and Sciences Workforce Ready Fund and an additional Robert and Anne Trunzo Scholarship through the help of Clayton Thyne, associate dean of academic affairs in the College. The WilDCats at the Capitol internship program allows students to spend a semester interning in Washington, D.C., so they can gain experience in and around the highest levels of government while living in the nation’s capital. Sheridan spent the fall semester working for U.S. Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio.

“It was really awesome because I got to see everything,” she said. “It was also interesting to see how things became conflicted when the Israel-Hamas War began. It was an insightful experience. I hadn’t gotten into international relations yet, so it was eye-opening. I also learned a lot about D.C. and what it means to work in D.C.”

This semester, Sheridan is focused on the capstone project for her peace studies certificate. She received a scholarship as part of the Lunsford Scholars Program, allowing her to focus on her academics and additional research opportunities. 

“If I didn’t have this funding, I would have to work full-time again and I won’t really get to produce what I want in this capstone project,” she said. “It’s been really great to be able to commit my time to academics this semester and not worry about how I’m going to eat and all of those things.” 

Having real world experience is key as students begin navigating opportunities after graduation. 

“Being able to do an internship and use what you know from your degree before you go out and step into the real world is extremely helpful,” Sheridan said. “I have doors open now. Now I can go to graduate school and explain that I can do research, or I can go to D.C. and tell them that I’ve worked here before.” 

Sheridan wants other first-generation students to gain these experiences and opportunities and has begun taking part in a new First Generation Trailblazers Program in the College. The program, led by Christia Spears Brown, associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, will offer opportunities such as peer-faculty mentoring, networking, scholarships and internships. 

“I was able to sit on a panel recently where I explained my experience as a first-generation student and the things I wish I would have known,” Sheridan said. “Being a first-generation student is a different kind of struggle and we don’t know who other first-generation students are – it’s not something we really talk about. But with this program, I’m really hoping we can.” 

Looking to the future, Sheridan is weighing options among graduate school, law school and opportunities in Washington, D.C. Whatever the next step, she attributes the many options she has to the scholarships and internship experiences she has received. 

“I personally would not have been able to do the multitude of things that I have already done without the scholarships I’ve been able to have access to. I would not have been able to make this impact on my own life,” she said. “I am very grateful for the people who give to make these opportunities available for students. I hope one day to be able to pay it forward in some way.” 

Donors can contribute to the Arts and Sciences First Gen Trailblazers Fund here