Westminster Senior Earns Four Degrees, Receives Numerous Accolades, and Heads to Graduate School in Washington, DC

The New England Political Science Association invited Cameron Gehlert, ’22 ΦΔΘ, to present a scholarly paper at the organization’s annual conference on April 30, 2022, in Bretton Woods, NH.

Gehlert additionally was named a Senior of the Year during commencement, was accepted into Stanford University’s Hoover Institution Summer Policy Boot Camp that takes place later in August, and will be attending American University in Washington, DC, this fall to study public administration.

Topping off those achievements, the Linn, MO, native received four degrees from Westminster in May: environmental studies, global and transnational studies, political science, and philosophy and religious studies.

With such a heavy academic workload, one might assume Gehlert spent his Westminster education buried under a pile of books at Reeves Library. But that was not the case.

Instead, he found time to serve as grand scribe of the Skulls of Seven, as president of the Global and Domestic Progress Club, and as an executive team member of the College’s 2020 Get Out the Vote campaign, to name just a few leadership positions.

Gehlert also volunteered for Preferred Hospice, raised money for the ALS Foundation, launched a community recycling initiative, promoted stream health policies, and worked behind the scenes on a bill to establish a new Missouri state symbol. Today the hellbender salamander is the official endangered species of Missouri as a result of Gehlert’s efforts.

“It’s also called the snot otter,” Gehlert says, adding, “I became known at the Capitol as the Snot Otter Kid.”

Gehlert’s commitment to peculiar Missouri aquatic species, other environmental and social causes, and academics ultimately makes him a Westminster standout. Yet he emphasizes that the College’s academic structure and faculty support made his achievements possible.

He explains, “Some of my professors asked why I wanted to work so hard and maybe sometimes doubted I could graduate with four majors, but they remained encouraging and worked together so that it was possible.”

Read further to learn more about Gehlert as well as his advice for incoming Westminster freshmen.

How did you feel about your paper being accepted by the New England Political Science Association, and how did your presentation go?

I was honestly surprised that the letter of acceptance was not a rejection. I was ecstatic to be able to present my work at a conference to other undergraduate peers as well as professors who could give valuable advice and critiques. I was also excited that I was getting to go all the way to New Hampshire. The presentation went well and I had many comments of interest by professors.

Please tell a little bit about why you are interested in the Hoover Institution Summer Policy Boot Camp.

The Hoover Institution is one of the top research institutions in America. I really would like to be a part of the public policy formation process someday. I can see myself as working at a think tank or as a person who works directly in the field with attempts to realize various policies. The Summer Policy Boot Camp really caught my attention, as I love learning more about the process and developing my own professional skills. It will be one week and focused on national and international policy pertaining to economic, political, and social aspects.

How did your interest in public administration develop?

I always wanted to be a lawyer, but then the pandemic happened, which derailed being able to take LSAT classes. I also started looking more into law, and while I find it interesting, I really wanted to do something where I feel I can be most directly involved and engage with others.

Are you excited about attending American University in the fall?

I am very excited and nervous. It is a smaller campus of around 8,000 students and in a quieter area of DC that I think will be a nice transition from a hometown of 3,000 people to a city of almost 700,000. I’ve been to DC a lot but look forward to being fully immersed in it.

What are your career aspirations?

My ultimate goal is to become U.S. Secretary of State or an ambassador, but I think I will be pleased if I make it to the status of a senior level foreign service officer. Honestly, I think I would like to do lots of things. Wherever life takes me, I do not want my life to become boring or stagnant.

What was your favorite leadership position at Westminster?

My most favorite experience was being the grand scribe of the 125th August Society of the Skulls of Seven. I had wanted to be a Skull ever since I saw them that first day of New Student Week and was honored when I became one. It was a great experience.

Who was your favorite faculty member?

Well I’ll have to go with Dr. John Langton, since he’s retired and I have so many professors and staff that I adore here and wouldn’t want to just pick one. Dr. John taught me a lot on how to persevere in academic work and always try my hardest. He had very high standards, but that is what set me on a good path my freshman year

What is your favorite Westminster memory? 

My favorite memory was meeting the late former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was invited to be the John Findley Green Foundation lecturer in 2019. I was invited to a lunch honoring her before the lecture, and a I was able to give her a traditional Tibetan offering scarf, called a khata, which symbolizes purity and the absence of ulterior motives and shows your appreciation of someone. The movement to free Tibet holds a close place in my heart. Secretary Albright was really the first major U.S. official to lead relations with the Dalai Lama, and she was a supporter of Tibetan rights. I never thought I would get to meet her or talk to her, so at the event, I asked Dr. Carolyn Perry to give the scarf to her. However, she said I could just present it myself. Secretary Albright was very kind, stood up from her seat, and let me formally bestow the scarf around her while saying a prayer. She then smiled and told me how she had talked with the Dalai Lama many times. I was absolutely starstruck.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Find balance in your college career. I see freshmen gravitate to one end of the college experience spectrum, completely obsessed with grades or majoring in partying. I think the best college experience is focusing on grades and academics, but allowing oneself some freedom to enjoy life. Getting involved in clubs and going out every now and again helps make the experience more positive and helps you grow as a person. And from this advice, I will say a 4.0 is not worth the headache. And there will always be more parties or events, so find the balance to be successful in academia, and have a well-rounded social life with friends. If you choose good ones, they will become an invaluable part of your life.

What do you do in your free time?

I don’t really have a concept of free time, but I enjoy sleep, because I don’t have a great sleeping schedule, and looking at memes. When I have a free day, I enjoy gardening and making art, particularly watercolor painting.

If you could be a vegetable, what would you be?

A tomato because I’m a little plump, get red in the face when I’m really happy or angry, and I’m sweet and sour at the same time.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.