Two summers ago, Leesburg resident Ryan Coughlin decided to get his first job. He was not content to sit by the pool as a lifeguard, however, or wait tables. Instead, he found inspiration as a volunteer for then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
“I didn't have a lot else to do and I didn't feel like kicking around and wasting time all summer,” the Loudoun County High School senior said. “I saw reason in the Democratic platform.”
During the local Obama rally at Loudoun County High School, Coughlin helped with parking. Other days, he canvassed door-to-door and passed out campaign literature.
The following year, Coughlin tried something different. He went from campaigning for “the biggest guy to the smallest guy.” He became an intern for Monte Johnson, the Democratic nominee for the 10th District in Virginia’s 2013 House of Delegates. Although Johnson lost the election to incumbent Randy Minchew, Coughlin still found the experience rewarding.
“We got to go to Town Council meetings, issue press releases,” Coughlin said. “It was exciting to be there. I was the youngest person in the room.
“It felt good to be committed to something. I felt like I was directly impacting the community.”
With the Johnson campaign, Coughlin helped develop grassroots campaign strategies. He mapped out canvassing opportunities, worked phone banks and drafted news releases.
In school, Coughlin brings his political acumen to both the debate team and the Young Democrats Club. He holds leadership positions for both groups.
Coughlin and the debate team also cultivated an organization to mentor middle school students at J. Lupton Simpson middle school in the art of debate.
While Coughlin has a decidedly focused interest in politics and debate, his career aspirations take a different route. A well-rounded student with an aptitude in math and science, Coughlin hopes to study computer science, possibly with a double major in mathematics.
“I think computer science is just really interesting,” he said. “There's so much problem solving. I'm really against classes that are really formulaic. Even math can be formulaic, plug-and-chug. And while computer science has a lot of variable names you have to memorize, at the end of the day you're using a system and solving problems.”
Coughlin offers some advice for others, based in part on his time spent working on campaigns.
“It may seem daunting to get involved, but you have to put yourself out there. A little bit of confidence goes a long way.”