Meet Margaret Koenig '12
Associate project director of school board elections for ballotpedia.org with the Lucy Burns Institute
— philosophy major
Q. How did you choose Augustana?
A. I didn’t choose Augie for myself initially. However, the relationships I developed with staff and students helped me make the choice several times over the course of my time there.
Q. Favorite class and why? Favorite professor and why? Best Augie memory?
A. There were unique aspects to every class and professor that made them incomparably important to how I see the world now. I will always remember the people who, again and again, demonstrated to me that my well-being as a person was more important than any paper I wrote or grade I received. The Distinguished Scholars trip to Greece my freshman year broadened my view of the world and I made many of my lasting friendships there; chemistry and political philosophy were among the most rewarding intellectual stretches I have had thus far; Violence and the Sacred, a Civitas course, was one of the greatest challenges to my assumptions; writing my senior thesis taught me about being my own teacher.
Q. Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana – first job, grad school, travel, etc.?
A. After leaving Augie, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to live with my aunt and her family. Initially, explored archiving work at the Nashville Public Library and political organizing through door-to-door canvassing. I later left those positions to volunteer on prison reform issues, including Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Better Decisions, a program that teaches decision making skills to prisoners at the Tennessee Women’s Prison.
I briefly worked in a grocery store during this time to save up for a trip to Ireland with my mother to celebrate her 60th birthday in the spring of 2013. While we were dealing with the anxieties of driving on the left side of the road and enjoying pints of Guiness and the many splendid views, I did a long-distance interview with the nonprofit I work for today, the Lucy Burns Institute.
I was hired as a temporary assistant staff writer for the online political encyclopedia Ballotpedia.org for the summer of 2013. At the same time, I had applied graduate school in philosophy. I decided to return to Denmark, where I had studied as abroad while at Augie, to do a master’s in phenomenology and philosophy of mind. At the end of the summer, I wrapped up my temporary job with LBI and moved back to Copenhagen.
My time there at the University of Copenhagen taught me more about myself than it did strict philosophy. I discovered that while I have learned to love the world and love being a global citizen, there are some things about the places and the people I call “home” that are very hard to replicate. Unsatisfied with the program and looking to have a more emotionally fulfilling life, I came back to South Dakota.
I stayed with my parents for a while where I refinished furniture and spent time with my parents and siblings. It was a difficult time for me as I had come back looking for “home,” but also realized how much that concept had changed over the course of college and my time in Nashville.
I reached out to my old boss at LBI and expressed an interest in returning. Eventually, a part-time writing position covering historical statewide ballot measures from 1900 to the present opened up. My role on that team slowly expanded in terms of hours and content. Then, in August of last year, I moved into my current position with the company.
Q. Tell us about your career – what’s an average day like?
A. My team covers the top 1,000 largest school districts in the country by enrollment, their school board elections and the candidates that run in them. Beyond the basic research, content creation and team coordination, we do original analysis into trends in these elections. In addition being responsible for the planning and organization of our elections coverage, I also personally cover school board recall elections nationwide and volunteer on our website’s help chat service.
Q. Greatest challenges and best rewards of your current role?
A. The greatest challenge of my current role is finding the most efficient ways to produce our content at a high quality level so as to allow us more time to do original analysis for our readers; the greatest reward is resisting partisanship and political ideology in favor of education and informed discourse.
Q. Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
A. Becoming part of a team that has great open communication, cares about one another and believes in being thoughtful public servants to our readers. I can’t really claim this as a personal accomplishment as I am indebted to the great people I work with, but I hope that I add something to the culture and community we share.
Q. What’s next for you professionally?
A. I think whatever comes next will remain connected to education and citizenship. Going back to graduate school to get a doctoral degree in philosophy is still something I am aspiring towards, and I would love to teach at in a secondary school, community college or liberal arts setting.
Q. If you could offer a prospective or existing Augie student some advice, what would you say?
A. Take on as many opportunities as you can to learn with your whole body, whether than means throwing yourself into a new physical activity at the Elmen Center, rendering what you see through ink and charcoal in drawing or mindfully appreciating the tranquil space of the library while studying for a test. Remember with every moment that your whole embodied self is in college, not just your brain.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. Once I begin to love people I find it impossible to stop, which makes for difficult answers to questions like these. My immediate family members reside relatively close to our family farm in south-central South Dakota. Additionally, I lived with my mother’s sister and her family while in Nashville. My family is also my good friends from Augie, including my current flat-mate.
Q. What’s given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?
A. All of the little pieces and experiences that come together to form my understanding of myself and which have, as a whole, allowed me to accept more love into my life. There is not one moment that I can say has been the most satisfying, but I would say that my life has continued to grow more satisfying as I come to understand myself, my place in the world and how I can be of service to others.
Q. A foundation for life at Augustana begins with our five core values – Christian Faith, Liberal Arts, Excellence, Community and Service. How did your time at Augustana help to ensure those values remain central in your life?
A. The genuine curiosity and wonder at human being in the universe expressed by so many of the people who make up the Augustana community helped form my perspective as a citizen-student of the world. The list of people at Augie who modeled for me how to be a skeptical observer simultaneously encouraged me to approach the world from a place of love, friendship and faith in the good intentions of others. The fastidiously thoughtful habits of so many in this community, both in words and deeds, have crystalized compassion in service and longing for a better world into excellence. I am especially grateful to those who demonstrated an open and accepting Christian faith that does not leave love behind when encountering other perspectives.