Stansbury, a Democrat and New Mexico state representative, was elected to New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which includes the city of Albuquerque. The seat had previously been held by Deb Haaland, who now is serving as the U.S. secretary of the interior.
Stansbury earned her master’s degree in community and regional sociology from Cornell and went on to a career in public service. She worked on science, natural resources and tribal issues in the White House Office of Management and Budget, and as a staffer in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
While at Cornell, she served as a teaching assistant for the course Introduction to Sociology with Tom Hirschl, professor of global development.
“Melanie was dedicated to understanding how students learn and listened carefully to student responses in the classroom in order to better connect the curriculum to student learning,” Hirschl said. “She is dedicated to the concept of education as the way to attack real world problems including human-caused environmental destruction and economic and social inequalities.”
The concept of “education with impact” is central to the Global Development department, said Lori Leonard, chair and professor of global development. The department — which includes graduate, undergraduate and professional development programs — prepares students for careers in public service by providing deep content expertise and the skills to translate that knowledge into policy and practice, Leonard said.
Stansbury’s decision to go into public service was heavily influenced by her time at Cornell. In a story published by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2018 shortly after she won an election for a seat in the New Mexico State House of Representatives, she described how her field of study at Cornell had influenced her campaign.
“One of the things the field of development sociology does really well is train people how to do engaged scholarship and empower and lift up the knowledge of communities to help bring social change,” Stansbury said in the article.
“I was deeply committed to running a campaign built on the highest principles of community organizing – and building a campaign that we all could believe in, grounded in community ideas," she said.
Stansbury said that a Cornell in Washington course first sparked her interest in public policy. “I was always interested in community development and policy, but through that class I got to see how accessible policy makers are and how academic knowledge and community work can be put to use in the public policy space,” she said in the article. “And that was really transformative for me.”
Hirschl said he’s not surprised to see Stanbury’s success as a public servant and politician.
“Melanie is a top-drawer intellectual and solves problems quickly and efficiently," he said. "Perhaps most importantly, Melanie is fearless and unfazed by attempts to defeat her own purpose."
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