Sean Kellas will be graduating in May, but he won’t be sitting behind a desk making cold calls or shucking aluminum siding door-to-door. The 21-year-old has given himself an ultimatum: No sales offices.
“My lifetime goal is to be in Congress, either in the House of Representatives or as a senator,” Kellas said. “Right now, I’m just looking for a job that can put me on the path that I need to be at.”
Kellas graduated from Webster Thomas High School in 2015, and entered SUNY Brockport as a Physics Major. It was during his sophomore year—and in the midst of the most controversial election of his lifetime—that Kellas decided to switch majors.
“I was miserable as a physics major,” Kellas said. “Calculus three and physics three were killing me, and I was tired of getting bad grades and sitting in the library all the time. I had to make a choice, and it was the last day to drop classes, so I dropped my physics class ten minutes before the deadline.”
Kellas switched majors the next day.
For the standout Political Science major, Kellas’s interest in government began during the 2016 presidential election. The election was a catalyst for political debate for the then sophomore, as he supported democratic socialist and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, and his roommates supported the campaign of Donald Trump. The in-house tension pushed Kellas to develop a passion for debate.
At the end of his junior year, Kellas began looking into The State University of New York Washington Internship Program that is offered through the College.
“I applied to 20 different places in D.C.,” he said. “I tried to stay more toward think tanks instead of working on the hill, because I had heard some rumors about hill interns sometimes not doing much.”
Internships in D.C. are notoriously competitive. After receiving rejection letters from all the think tanks he applied to, Kellas landed a job working for former Congressman John Faso, who graduated from Brockport in 1974. According to The Port, Faso also interned on Capitol Hill as part of the Washington Program—attributing much of his political career to this internship experience.
Another former student and Brockport graduate who worked as a staff assistant in Faso’s office helped get Kellas’s foot in the door that eventually led to the congressional internship. In terms of the experience, Kellas described it as extremely valuable and eye-opening.
“I’d met the Congressman before, because he came to speak here,” he said. “I didn’t agree with everything he stood for, but he was a pretty moderate republican, so I had no qualms working for him. As I worked for him, I started to pick up on different things that I hadn’t really noticed before from Republicans. I’m very happy that I did that.”
According to Kellas, interns worked between eight and nine hours a day, and spent their off days attending seminars. During this time, Kellas toured the Pentagon and the Lockheed Martin headquarters, and made many connections with people involved in government. He was also able to bear witness to intricacies of the legislative branch—a rare glimpse for the average person—first hand.
“While I was there, I was able to watch a lot of [members of Congress] vote,” Kellas explained. “I was able to go into the House Assembly—which overlooked the floor—and about 50 to 60 percent of the time, [members of Congress] on both sides agreed with each other. They aren’t really getting into fights about most things. It’s usually the things that the media portrays, like gun control, that create the most discourse. A lot of bills pass with overwhelming majorities coming from both sides.”
The Washington Internship also provided practical experience beyond political exposure. Not only was this Kellas’s first time living in a big metropolitan area, but he was also sharing his living space with fourteen other interns.
“I grew up in a suburban area,” Kellas said. “I’ve never been in a big city for longer than four days, so living in D.C. for four months was a huge challenge on my part. I had to budget myself. I made $2,600 last me three and a half months with [the price of] milk at $4.50 a gallon.”
Now with his final semester underway, Kellas intends to continue to pursue a career in politics. Since returning from Washington, he has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way. This includes involvement in four Scholars Day presentations—one of which will detail research he collected during the Washington Internship.
“I did research on the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina—on why the country is spiraling downhill, and what needs to be fixed,” Kellas said. “I’ll also talk about the D.C. program and my experience with that.”
Beyond that, Kellas will attend the Theater and Politics presentation as the classes teaching assistant, and he will on a panel discussing his experiences working on a political campaign.
“I helped [Faso] with aspects of his campaign,” he said. “Dr. Levy wants to get people who worked for a Democratic campaign and a Republican campaign to both be on a panel and share our experiences with people on scholars day.”
Kellas’s final appearance at Scholars Day will be detailing his experiences in the upcoming, four day long European Union Simulation at St. John Fisher. Kellas will be representing Brockport as vice president of EuroSim club.
As for the immediate future, Kellas said he’d rather work for an organization that is focused on doing meaningful things within the community, rather than working in sales.
“That stuff doesn’t interest me,” he said. “I’ve done that already. I’ve sat in an office and answered phones all day, and it wasn’t fun.”
Kellas remains deeply involved as a student within the Department of Political Science and International Studies. He has been a peer mentor for the last two years, a departmental tutor and has an on-campus job with Student Accessibility Services.