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From Development Sociology to the State Legislature – Alumna Melanie Stansbury wins big in New Mexico

A wave of elected women politicians is transforming legislatures across the country. The decision by Melanie Stansbury M.S. ’07 to go into public service was heavily influenced by her time at Cornell. Photo provided.

Record numbers of women ran for and were elected to public office in 1992 in the aftermath of Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress. The 2018 election has many echoes of the 1992 “year of the woman” at both state and national levels: This year marks a record number of women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, as well to many state legislatures, including New Mexico.

A wave of women legislators elected in New Mexico this year now brings the state within four seats of gender parity in the State House of Representatives. Melanie Stansbury M.S. ’07, former Ph.D. candidate in the field of Development Sociology, helped lead the charge in this transformation, unseating a seven-term incumbent in House District 28 in her hometown of Albuquerque.

Representative-Elect Stansbury has had an established career in public service, working in the Executive Office of the President and in the U.S. Senate.  This includes working on science, natural resources and tribal issues in the White House Office of Management and Budget and as a staffer in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Her decision to go into public service and her campaign were heavily influenced by her time at Cornell.

“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,” said Stansbury. “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. We ran on a platform of bringing change as opposed to winning in politics, and I think that inspired a lot of community participation and ultimately a lot of people to vote. It takes a village to get elected."

Stansbury

Her involvement in politics was seeded in part by her experiences at Cornell. “It was a Cornell in Washington course that got me directly involved 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. And, that was really transformative for me.”

Stansbury’s endorsements ranged from local community groups to Barack Obama. She was also endorsed by Emily’s List, which is a national organization that works to get more women elected.  As an indication of the historic number of women who ran in 2018, EMILY’s list saw a more than 45 fold increase in the number of women seeking campaign assistance, jumping from just over 900 in 2016 to over 42,000 women in 2018.

“This is real, substantive and historic change,” Stansbury said. “Women are still not well-represented in leadership in nearly every sector of our society, and we are still working to build parity across our social structure.” But for Stansbury, the story of change is even broader. “Having more community-minded people in politics is important – women as well as men and transgender people are entering political office with a community-mindset, and that will transform politics for generations to come.” 

This is why Stansbury believes more young people should consider a career in public service.  “Our country and communities need you. Whether your passion is the arts or sciences, whatever it is, there’s a place to do so through public service to the country, your state, your tribe or your community," she said. "I encourage people to think about that route. You can do something that not only follows your passion, but also a higher calling in serving the public good.”

You can follow Representative-Elect Stansbury’s time in the Legislature by following her on Facebook or on Twitter.  She can be reached by email at melanie.stansbury@NMlegis.gov.