Anyone who thinks
that none of today’s college students are 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
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
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
“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
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Jessica Eastburn