A Teacher, In One Sense of the Word

June 5, 2014

Our new Program Director, Jennifer Sconyers, planned to become a teacher. “I was going to school, and working in the Springfield, IL Schools, planning to launch my career as a teacher. And then one day I realized that I loved the kids, but not the administrators,” explains Jennifer, “So I thought, ‘now what?’”

It just so happened that the Illinois Attorney General Office was hiring research interns for their law library around the same time. It was a job, and a pretty interesting one at that. So she took it. With that, Jennifer launched a career as a researcher, a communicator, and a change-maker.

“I spent a year out of college working in private sector public relations (PR), but then the 2000 election happened. And I was working in Sterling, IL, a steel mill town. One mill closed, the other was about to, and it was a moment in time when I couldn’t understand why I should care about PR when real problems where happening all around me. So I made a decision to follow my passion.”

She returned to Springfield for a while, but quickly found herself in D.C. for a series of unpaid internships, first with a United States Senator, and then with the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“I worked hard, hung on by my fingernails, and after interning eventually landed a paid job coordinating African American radio for the DNC. I got to spend time in places like Ohio doing advance work for a Democratic Black Caucus bus tour,” Well, the 2004 election didn’t end up any better than the 2000 election. Jennifer would’ve spent the next day refusing to leave her bed, but her dad was coming for a visit, “And he told me to get up and get back to work, following my passion. Both of my parents really gave me a healthy amount of agitation.”

Jennifer spent the next few years working with a small media firm, the ACLU, and then for the Maryland Democratic Party. After 2006, feeling burned out from yet another election cycle, Jennifer took a television market research job with a Fox TV affiliate. From the ACLU to television market research, it was a time when she could hone her skills as a communicator, a leader, and a researcher.

After a few years out of the political game, and after 5 years in D.C. (which was 4.5 years longer than she had planned), Jennifer reasserted her Midwest roots and took a job as Research Director for the Ohio Democratic Party, “I wanted to do political work again, and I wanted a job outside of the beltway where real change was happening. The Ohio Democratic Party was building something really powerful and expansive. I wanted to be a part of that.”

The 2010 election didn’t end up how she wanted; a conservative Republican beat the incumbent, Democratic, Governor. But it was a time that proved to be the spark for something bigger in the Buckeye State.

It didn’t take long for Conservatives to pass Senate Bill 5, a law that limited collective bargaining for public employees. After years of losing, of being beaten down, and left out, progressives stood up. They gathered signatures and put Senate Bill 5 up for a referendum, the people of Ohio would have a chance to repeal the law in November 2011 by voting no on Issue 2.

Jennifer, still working with the Ohio Democrats, helped the movement spring, “Senate Bill 5 sparked an unprecedented movement. Thousands gathered on the Capitol lawn, even during the coldest days of Ohio’s winters. People were pissed, and tired, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was teachers, cops,  firefighters, and just regular every-day Ohioans coming together. And I thought, ‘wow, this is something.”

The tides were turning in Ohio, and Jennifer was a part of it. She joined the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, initially as their Communications Director. The group connects the state’s leading unions, faith organizations, and progressive policy centers, to organize everyday Ohioans to build collective power. “We needed to change the landscape. There was no collective voice for progressives, and I knew we needed to change the narrative over the long-term”, says Jennifer. “It’s hard work. It’s a long game. But If I had to think of my purpose on the planet, it’s that: to build power and a voice, for progressives over the long-haul.”

All the while, in the back of her mind was an organization called Wellstone Action. “I remember hearing about Wellstone 10 years ago when some colleagues attended a Camp Wellstone. I was mesmerized that there were people in the world who teach regular people to be organizers, staffers, and candidates in a focused way. It sounded like a dream somewhere. When Wellstone came to the Ohio Democratic Party to lead a few sessions in 2010, I remember sitting in the room and thinking, ‘this is my dream job.’”

Lucky for her, and really lucky for us, Jennifer is our new Program Director where she’ll manage our program staff as they travel to over 20 states in 2014 alone to lead over 125 trainings. “What I find refreshing and exciting is that, because Wellstone is not in D.C., we have a very down-to-earth perspective, a connection to the work in a real way. We’re a national organization that is based in the states. And there’s no one else that can do that authentically.” 

Jennifer didn’t become a teacher, in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, in a career spanning from Illinois, to D.C, to Maryland, and to Ohio, she has taught a movement to have a voice, and a strategy, to win with Wellstone values: inclusion, empowerment, a movement built to last. Now she’s doing this work right along with us, teaching progressives to fight, and campaign, and win, the Wellstone Way.

She has her dream job at Wellstone. And we have a leader who will shape our work for a generation to come. Ready to join her? Sign up to be part of the Wellstone movement today.