From Emporia State to the White House
Michelle Corkins thought she would be extremely nervous, so she carefully practiced what she wanted to say.
And who wouldn’t have some anxiety? It is not every day you get to meet the President of the United States.
An Emporia State graduate — Corkins has a bachelor’s in Business with a major in marketing — and is now assistant director of donor relations for the Emporia State University Foundation. In 2012, she was selected to have a personal audience with President Barack Obama because of volunteer work she did for his campaign in Denver.
Once ushered through security to have her moment with the President, Corkins did fine and later admitted to being surprised she was not “star-struck.”
“I introduced myself and (the President) said, ‘Michelle, I’m very fond of that name,’” Corkins wrote in one of her blog posts at http://goo.gl/2SE3RX. “I then proceeded to share with him that I grew up near El Dorado, Kansas, where his grandmother lived. He replied with ‘Wow, we could be cousins.’ Our picture was taken and we were ushered on.
“It was that short. But in that short time, I felt like I had just spent a few moments with a long lost friend.”
Corkins added in her blog post about the experience that the work she did in Denver, where she was a Neighborhood Team Leader for the campaign, was “very rewarding and I am so proud to be working to re-elect this amazing leader.”
After meeting the President, Corkins got a front-row spot in the standing area right in front of the podium where the Commander-in-Chief would be giving a speech.
“Being there listening to our President speak was amazing,” she said. “ I was so moved by his speech and the things he stands for, I was crying.”
Corkins said she “truly believes that every American should witness an inauguration once in their lifetime.
“More than anything,” she added, “when I think about my time on the campaign and my time in D.C. for the inauguration, I think of the people I met along the way. My ‘Obama Family.’ We will forever be bonded by those experiences. I still keep up with several of them to this day. We support and encourage each other as all our lives move in different directions. We are family.”
Corkins credits her journey into the political realm as being sparked by a macroeconomics class taught by Emporia State assistant professor Rob Catlett. He is campus coordinator for the American Democracy Project (ADP) and encouraged the class to take part in an online Twitter debate during President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2010. According to the organization’s website, the ADP “is a multi-campus initiative focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.”
Emporia State and Fort Hays State are the only two Kansas universities with ADP chapters.
Corkins is sold on the value of involvement with ADP and believes Catlett’s prodding to get involved in the Twitter discussions was monumental. Though she could not recall the exact wording, one tweet she posted is an illustration of what can happen with a simple tweet.
“I wish I could better recall one of my tweets,” she said, “but I had responded to someone’s tweet about the economy; something along the lines of ‘we have to spend money, get it moving, to get the economy back up’ in regards to recovering from the recession. Little did I know that the individual I was responding to was an economic advisor in Washington, D.C. Holy cow, I had no clue people like him were following the same debate as Emporia State students. It was memorable.”
Corkins had moved to Denver two weeks after graduation at Emporia State because she wanted to start her career in a bigger city. Having worked at Staples in Emporia during her time in college, she was able to land a job at a Staples in Denver. Corkins was then recruited to join the Haugen Consulting Group of Denver after building a relationship with the organization through her work at Staples.
A bad day at work led her to join the Obama campaign.
Having lived in Denver for about a year, Corkins said she still didn’t have many close friends to call on to visit about a bad day at the office. Then she saw a post about canvassing your neighborhood on a campaign Facebook account she was following.
“I have always found joy in volunteer work and saw this as a great opportunity to get involved in my community and meet people with like-minded values,” she said.
The next morning she attended a campaign meeting and within a month had taken a leadership role as a Neighborhood Team Leader. Her duties included recruiting volunteers; planning and producing events; and training and managing volunteers, phone banks, and neighborhood canvassing. She spent weekends from May through November canvassing door-to-door to update voter registers, talk to undecided voters, and remind voters who received mail-in ballots to send them in. Weeknights were spent in the field office running phone banks and helping out the field organizers.
The campaign experience proved to Corkins that community organizing and non-profit work was her true calling. And that led her back to Emporia in August of 2013 to take a job as development and stewardship coordinator at Emporia State. She was promoted to assistant director of donor relations in June of 2014.
She called the return to Emporia State, “a dream come true.”
“You always fear that once you reach a goal, it won’t be as good as you imagined. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? I can honestly say working for the Emporia State Foundation has further confirmed that non-profit organization work is for me. I get to meet amazing alums and friends who just want to support the next generation of Hornets. I get to hear their life stories, learn about their passions, and help them to make a difference in the lives of students Now & Forever.”
Corkins said she is enjoying the non-profit sector work so much that she is looking into graduate school to obtain a master’s in Public Administration and a certificate in non-profit management.
A graduate of Circle High School, Corkins grew up on a farm near Benton, Kan., and then left an impressive mark as a student at Emporia State.
“Michelle is one of the best students I have ever had,” wrote Joyce Zhou, assistant professor in the School of Business, in a reference about Corkins.
And Catlett still has Corkins speak to his students about the value of being involved.
As for continued political involvement, Corkins said during the last state election in Kansas she attended some rallies, supported a candidate, had yard signs up, “but wasn’t able to provide much in the way of ‘boots on the ground.’
“As our nation gears up for a 2016 presidential race, I feel myself wanting to get more involved,” Corkins added. “So who knows what that might look like? But I know that I’m not the type to sit on the sidelines.”
And with meeting President Obama scratched off her bucket list, Corkins would still like to someday meet his wife.
“Not yet,” responded Corkins, when asked if she had the opportunity to meet Michelle Obama when she was at the inauguration. “But there is still time.”