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From Promise Scholar to Policy Researcher

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Justin Gardner

One of the many benefits about The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise) is the freedom it gives students to follow their career aspirations. To illustrate this point, we connected with a Promise Scholar who has used The Promise to pursue a career in creating impactful public policies.

In 2013, Justin Gardner graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School (Kalamazoo Central) and used The Promise to embark on the next chapter of his education. Having always gravitated towards subjects like United States government, law, and world history, he decided to attend Michigan State University’s (MSU) James Madison College and pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations and Policy.

Although excited for a new chapter, Gardner admits that the transition from high school to college was challenging at first.

“It was hard balancing coursework, a social life, and being employed,” he said of his early days in East Lansing. “Eventually, I found my footing through prioritization and that made my remaining time manageable.”

After getting into the swing of college life, Gardner was able to really appreciate his time as an undergraduate.

“My experience at MSU is one I hold close to my heart,” he reminisced. “I met lifelong friends, created countless memories, grew as an individual, and learned many lessons.”

Gardner’s experiences as a Spartan and connections with The Promise steered him toward a career in government. In 2019, he earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University. Since graduating, he has carved out a career in policy research.

“My favorite part about my job is seeing the positive impact policy can have on people’s lives,” Gardner revealed. “Knowing I aid in this kind of change inspires me to keep going.”

Someday, Gardner hopes to parlay this experience to a career in politics.

“Eventually, I would like to run for public office,” he declared. “I am not sure when, where, or at what level of government, but I am confident that it is something I would excel at.”

It has been nearly a decade since Gardner graduated from Kalamazoo Central and put The Promise to use. Looking back on all he has been able to accomplish, he is appreciative of the foundation it has given him.

“The Promise has impacted my life fantastically,” Gardner explained. “Aside from paying for half of my undergraduate tuition, it also afforded me the opportunity to study abroad and work in various branches of government. It also serves as another community that I can look to for unwavering support.”

As far as words of wisdom for future Promise Scholars, Gardner stressed the importance of seeking support when it is necessary.

“The advice I would give to soon-to-be graduates is if you want to be successful, never be afraid to ask for help,” he shared. “No one becomes successful on their own.”

“That is part of why Kalamazoo will always be special to me,” Gardner added. “The community becomes your family and we all root for one another to succeed.”

Your community will continue to root for you and your success, Justin. Thank you for sharing your story!

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