March 5, 2018

Nebraska experience aids Casas Ferguson's legislative ambitions


Nebraska's Jesse Casas Ferguson is a first-generation college student working toward a degree that will help him work in a public policy field. He's also found success in earning internships with some of the state's legislative leaders.

In an era defined by political extremes, Nebraska’s Jesse Casas Ferguson is eyeing a career to develop public policy from the middle.

A sophomore political science major, Casas Ferguson has interned for some of Nebraska’s top political leaders, currently works at a law firm led by a former state attorney general and recently returned from a prestigious leadership conference hosted by Harvard University.

His passion for public policy — fueled by family experiences and a desire to make the world a fairer place — has set him on course to earn a public policy analysis certificate from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with law school and other opportunities waiting on the horizon.

“Ultimately, my goal is to work behind scenes to develop policy and implement real change, even if it’s incremental,” Casas Ferguson said. “As a moderate, I’m interested in formulating how we can find the middle ground when creating new public policy.”

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A big influence on Casas Ferguson’s public policy focus was time spent as an intern to Sen. Jim Scheer, speaker of the legislature, during the 2017 session. The internship allowed Casas Ferguson to work behind scenes and see how bills are formed and selected to go to the floor for debate.

“Getting to see ideas and policy shaped into practical legislation was an amazing opportunity,” Casas Ferguson said. “It was also great experience to witness first-hand how the legislature balances time spent on each bill, allowing proposed legislation to move through efficiently.”

An area of focus for the Norfolk native is the criminal justice system. Those motivations stem back to legal troubles faced by his family members and difficulties they had adapting after justice was served.

“A couple of members of my family had some trouble with the law when they were younger,” Casas Ferguson said. “They came back from that and are living fruitful and productive lives, but it was a struggle for both of them.

“The criminal justice system is not built to help people move beyond it.”

He would like to expand programs that help inmates prepare for a return to civilization and better succeed after sentences are complete. He also sees potential in offering education and support programs to individuals in neighborhoods with high levels of incarceration.

“I’m a strong proponent of offering opportunities that give people the greatest potential to succeed,” Casas Ferguson said. “We need to be working to ensure that opportunities are available, that people know that they exist and do whatever we can to help them connect.”

In February, Casas Ferguson was one of 73 students nationwide selected to participate in the 18th annual Public Policy and Leadership Conference at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. More than 800 students from 220-plus colleges/universities applied to attend the program.

The conference introduces undergraduates — primarily first-generation college students like Casas Ferguson and those from underrepresented groups — to the field of public policy and includes a variety of speakers, workshops and exposure to public service careers.

While reinforcing the idea that graduate school is an obtainable goal, the Harvard visit inspired Casas Ferguson to create a new networking seminar for Nebraska students. He is working with Laura Damuth, director of national and international fellowships, to implement the idea.

“I thought the networking skills workshop offered at Harvard was extremely beneficial because it’s not something we really offer here at Nebraska,” Casas Ferguson said. “The goal would be to show undergraduate students the practical implications and importance of networking with fellow students.”

Details about the program continue to be developed.

Casas Ferguson credits his campus success on taking part in Nebraska’s First Husker program, working with faculty and his internship activity.

Last fall, he was an intern in Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office, working primarily in the consumer protection division. This spring, Casas Ferguson is an intern in the Bruning Law Group, a law firm led by John Bruning, a three-time Nebraska attorney general.

“I’m doing research related to laws as well as creating and maintaining databases,” Casas Ferguson said of his work with the Bruning group. “It’s providing a lot of good experience in working with research.”

Long term, Casas Ferguson plans to finish his undergraduate degree and gain a couple of years work experience on Capitol Hill before applying to graduate and law schools.

“The experiences I’m gaining here at Nebraska are invaluable for my future,” Casas Ferguson said. “The programs and faculty here have helped put me on a path to really make an impact through policy research and/or policy writing.”