The extra mile
UCI triple major Nicholas Swink secures life-changing internships assisting formerly
incarcerated students in Orange County and working for the Executive Office of the
President in D.C.
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” Nicholas Swink was a middle school student when he first heard this famous call to action from his civic-minded teacher. As a junior at UCI, the same words were repeated by his mentor, social sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies Jeanett Castellanos, and the seeds of political awareness and activism that had been planted began to take root.
“Hearing that quote again my junior year really stuck with me. The education I received up to then had been steering me toward giving back to the community and supporting those who have not been as fortunate,” says Swink.
Now a fourth-year triple major about to graduate with degrees in political science,
social policy and public service, and education science, Swink is eyeing a career
in government and/or law, bolstered by his experiences working for the Office of the
President in D.C. through UCDC and assisting formerly incarcerated students in Orange
County transition back to school as part of his undergraduate major requirement.
Last year, Swink worked as a case manager for over a hundred formerly incarcerated students through Project Rise at Santiago Canyon College in Orange. The internship fulfilled a requirement for his year-long field study project in his social policy and public service major, and the role put him in a position to help formerly incarcerated students transition back to school. Throughout the year, he helped the students navigate which courses to take, find tutors, and locate areas that were open for study during the pandemic.
“A vast majority of the students I worked with had bad educational experiences and were trying to reenter school after being out for, sometimes, decades,” he says. “Having a support system not only helped with the more administrative tasks, but with their motivation and self-esteem too.”
Castellanos calls Swink’s work in her class “outstanding“ and admires his community-mindedness.
“He is a collective thinker with community at the forefront of his work,” she says.
The experience helped him complete his research project on the factors that keep formerly incarcerated students in school—a work he counts among his most rewarding collegiate accomplishments thus far.
“When I finished my paper, my jaw dropped when I saw how many pages it was. Of course,
I had a lot of help, but that was my research, my writing. The project was like my
baby,” he says.
Hearing that quote again my junior year really stuck with me. The education I received up to then had been steering me toward giving back to the community and supporting those who have not been as fortunate.
Swink grew up in San Diego and attended “good public schools” from elementary through high school. He was accepted in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) seminar program and would be in a class with the same students from fourth grade until freshman year of high school. In high school, he already recognized the systemic factors that placed students in different educational trajectories.
“I was lucky from elementary school forward to have a really good education. Even within my own high school, I saw the same faces in my classes. I realized there’s a reason for that. I want all students to have access to the quality of education I received,” he says.
While Swink modestly points to luck as the source of his academic success, so much can be attributed to his dogged work ethic. During his sophomore year at UCI, during the height of the pandemic, he worked full-time as a shift manager at Rubio’s while balancing a full-time course load.
“The Swink family jokes that we all love to be work horses. It’s in our blood. It’s ingrained in me,” he says.
He also attributes indecision as one of the factors behind his three majors.
“I couldn’t decide, so I thought I might as well add the extra majors and drop one in the future. But then I never did,” he explains.
Swink followed his year at Project Rise with another impactful internship with the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy. His internship was arranged through the UCDC program, which gives students an opportunity to study and work at the nation’s capital. During the summer internship, Swink lived in an 11-story building with other students from the UC system, located only a few blocks from the White House. While he was there, a floor of the UCDC building housed non-UC students, so Swink also got to know students passionate about politics from across the country, as well as throughout the state.
The Swink family jokes that we all love to be work horses. It’s in our blood. It’s ingrained in me.
One of Swink’s biggest internship feats was leading a meeting about grant funding with about 20 federal bureaus in attendance.
“That was scary. It was definitely the most intimidating part of it,” Swink says of the experience.
In addition to the unexpected public speaking, Swink admits the move across the country for a professional position was a little overwhelming, but worthwhile. Pushing himself beyond his comfort zone led him to one of his most gratifying experiences—intellectually, professionally, and socially.
“Nicholas is resilient and always seeks ways to expand his educational portfolio,” Castellanos says.
A force for good
This year, Swink helped his fellow social policy and public service majors with their field study projects as the course assistant for Castellanos’s course.
“Nick goes the extra mile—he is committed to helping, making social change, and being an active student leader. He loves to learn, be engaged, and help other students maximize their educational experiences,” says Castellanos.
Swink had another role guiding his fellow undergrads as a peer educator for the Civic Engagement Office. The office houses the UCDC and UC Center Sacramento programs and the civic and community engagement minor.
After he graduates in June, Swink hopes to work in government while deciding whether to attend law school. If he does attend law school, he sees himself serving as legal counsel for a government organization or clerking for a judge.
Whether he attends law school or not, Castellanos is confident about Swink’s future.
“As top students navigate higher education, they work proactively toward their dreams and aim to share resources and opportunities with others as they move through their trajectories,” she says.
Whichever path he takes, it’s clear that Swink will be a force for good, elevating those lucky enough to surround him
- Jill Kato for UCI Social Sciences