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Pursuing the Public Life

Senior Jake Espeland’s Journey to the Nation’s Capital Goes Through U of I

Since high school in Coeur d’Alene, Jake Espeland fostered political ambitions which, after graduation, landed the Lake City High graduate in the state’s capitol.

Moving to Boise wasn’t a hard decision, Espeland said, because it was after all the hub of Idaho politics, and he wanted to be in the middle of it.

“I thought by attending college in Boise, I would have more opportunities and land at the Capitol a lot sooner,” Espeland said.

He was dismayed. The opportunities didn’t show up and Espeland, who comes from a family of northern Idaho attorneys, dropped out of school, took on a series of odd jobs until the bug to continue his education became too much to brush off.

He moved north and enrolled in U of I where his career path materialized under his feet like the rich, Palouse sandy loam.

“Most of the people I knew of in politics and in law are Vandals, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to come here,” he says in hindsight.

Almost a decade after graduating from high school, Espeland is an intern in the Washington, D.C. senate office of Jim Risch — a University of Idaho College of Law graduate — where he conducts research and supports staff operations.

Moving to D.C. in Fall 2022 to work for Sen. Risch’s office is another facet of Espeland’s U of I education.

“Every day is different,” he said. “I have met so many people and made so many contacts in the field I want to work in, including here in the nation’s capital, which I would not have met if I hadn’t transferred to the University of Idaho.”

The internship is the latest in a series of roles Espeland has found himself in since working toward a political science degree as a nontraditional student.

A year earlier, Espeland took advantage of an opportunity to become a McClure scholar. 

A group of people stand on the steps of the nation’s capital.
Political science senior Jake Espeland of Coeur d’Alene worked as an intern in Fall 2022 for fellow Vandal, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in Washington, D.C.

James McClure, a U of I graduate and three-term member of Congress, established with his wife, Louise, the James A. And Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research which provides a variety of research and public policy scholarships to Idaho students.

“At U of I you can build your own adventure.”

 Jake Espeland, Senior, Political Science

Espeland’s research sought to provide law makers insights into the shortcomings of Idaho’s public defender system. He presented his brief to legislators in Spring 2022.

“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “When you spend a whole year researching a topic like this, you not only gain familiarity with Idaho politics but feel confident conversing with elected officials. These skills are much harder to attain in a classroom.”

A few months later, Espeland traveled to Germany where, at the nation's capitol in Berlin, he met with members of the Bundestag, the country’s governing body, and senior U.S. diplomats. He was accompanied on the trip by two professors and classmates from the Department of Political Science.

One of those professors, Markie McBrayer said that since arriving at U of I, Espeland has taken advantage of the many programs her department offers.

“A lot of students may try for a McClure scholarship, or they will go on the Bundestag trip, or maybe apply for a congressional internship,” McBrayer said. “Jake did all three.”

Espeland said being a Vandal enlivened him and pushed him to broaden his goals. He co-founded the Amnesty International Club, which led to an affiliation with the ACLU.

“And then more doors opened,” he said. “Pretty soon I was a McClure scholar and now I am an intern in Washington D.C. sitting in meetings with foreign dignitaries and industry leaders.”

In addition to working at the campus IT department, Espeland makes time to meet with prospective students and their parents.

“When parents ask me, ‘Why would you recommend that my child comes here?’ I always tell them, because the University of Idaho has so many opportunities that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s like a theme park,” he said. “At U of I you can build your own adventure. You can tailor your education to your own future, and you will have the full support of the faculty and staff.”

After he graduates next spring, Espeland will continue his education by attending law school.

“I’ve had this goal since I was a kid, and U of I is helping obtain it,” he said.

If the department didn’t have specific programs geared toward Espeland’s wants or needs, he said, professors made things happen.

“All I had to do is ask, and they would get something rolling,” he said. “That’s my experience and my biggest advice do somebody wanting to follow a similar path here at U of I: Just show up. You’d be surprised at how far it will take you.”

Markie McBrayer

Assistant Professor of Political Science

205H Administration Building


Article by Ralph Bartholdt, University Communications.

Photos by Melissa Hartley, University Visual Productions.

Published in January 2023.


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