Megan Crane graduated from the University of Michigan in 2019 with majors in the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and Psychology, and a minor in Music. During and immediately after her time at U of M, Megan worked as a campaign staffer on several state and federal races. After serving as an Americorps Student Success Coach in Chicago, Megan returned to Michigan in late 2019 to serve as Finance Director on Gretchen Driskell’s 2020 campaign for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District.
Tell me about yourself, and about how you chose PPE as a major.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in Skokie, where I attended the most diverse high school in all of Illinois. That was really formative for my upbringing. My public high school was a really good one, but I grew up six minutes from the Chicago border, and I saw that CPS [Chicago Public Schools] was often under-resourced and undervalued. And that's what led me to seek some sort of political degree in undergrad.
I have a lot of different interests, and I didn't want to just do one thing. I actually double majored in PPE and psychology and minored in music. I liked PPE because it was a combination of three things that I was interested in. And I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. I prefer harder classes that are going to help me grow and develop. I never looked at the grade distribution or Rate My Professor. I just looked at whether or not I thought it would help me grow as a learner.
What have you been up to since graduation?
Before I graduated, I actually worked full-time while going to school full time. I was on the 2018 cycle as a Deputy Finance Director for a congressional candidate. And then I took my first semester senior year off to finish that campaign. Then I finished college and I was the Finance Director on a State House race. I really, really loved it. And then I moved to Chicago and I did an AmeriCorps program. I was a little burnt out from campaigns and thought that I needed a break, but you kind of catch the campaign bug, and it always comes back to you.
It was important for me to give back to Chicago, because again, that discrepancy between CPS and my own public school is what made me get involved in politics in the first place. Then I got a call from Gretchen Driskell, and she said, “hey, I want you to come [back].” So I finished that one full semester in my AmeriCorps program, and then I moved back to Michigan to do this race.
Wow. Working full-time while also going to school full-time must have been intense.
Yep. I was doing 30 to 35 hours a week on the congressional campaign while going to school. I don't really know how to slow down. That's kind of a problem of mine. I really prefer to be busy. I missed some of the traditional college things — I missed my senior year football season, which was tough. And I didn't have as much free time as a lot of other college folks, but I knew that I was making a difference and I've always excelled at time management. So it was doable, and I wouldn't have done it any other way.
How did you first get into working in politics and campaigns?
I'm a Democrat through and through, and my community is very liberal. But when I was young, I didn't really understand why I identified as a Democrat. It wasn't really until my senior year of high school that I considered it. I was going to go into music. My parents were professional musicians. I've been playing piano since age six, and I’m very passionate about it.
My senior year, I took AP Government and I had this phenomenal teacher who I really, really looked up to and he forced people to consider the other side. Even though our school is pretty liberal, he made you question your beliefs. His investment in me is what moved me to do politics instead of music.
I also credit so many people at the university for teaching me so much. I joined the College Democrats as a freshman here, and those folks taught me a lot about identity, and about systemic injustice and systemic racism. My second semester of freshman year, they linked me with an internship with a state representative. From then on, I just became more interested in the work, and did a lot of other internships. And when Gretchen Driskell ran for Congress in the 7th district, she asked her former campaign manager who would be good for the campaign, he mentioned me, and then one campaign leads to the next leads to the next. I don't know long-term where I'm headed in the campaign world, but I've enjoyed it so far.
Is there anything about PPE in particular that has informed the way you approach this work? Were there particular courses or instructors that were especially influential for you?
I loved Professor Krishnamurthy, though she no longer teaches here. She was my PPE 300 and 400 seminar teacher. PPE 300, especially, was really formative. We talked about collective action problems, especially in relation to the environment. That helped me connect with people in the districts that I've worked in — talking about “how we can work together towards solving a bigger problem?”
Also, I met a friend of mine through the PPE program who was very conservative. He was a Trump [supporter] and we always took lots of our classes together. We would really stir up the class, because I was very vocal Democrat, and he was a vocal conservative. I think that helped me in my work in rural districts, to be able to speak with Trump supporters and say, “why do you feel like you're not being represented? And what does good representation look like to you?” I’m grateful for all of our arguments, and that PPE was a catalyst for those. I had a lot of great discussion classes that allowed us to get into those constructive conversations.
PPE helped me connect with people in the districts that I've worked in — talking about “how we can work together towards solving a bigger problem?”
We just wrapped up a very unusual election — one that I think we’ll all remember as historic, because of COVID and just because of the current political environment. What was it like working on a campaign during the 2020 election cycle?
Interpersonal relationships are really important to me. I was the Finance Director on this race, and we actually didn't have a formal campaign manager, so it was me and the Field Director serving in that role. I think it's really important to connect with interns and empower them, and that was a lot harder remotely.
We weren't in the district, and that was also really hard. I'm more of a “city slicker”, and the district is really rural. When I worked there last cycle in 2018, it was a culture shock, and I learned so much about the pulse of rural communities. We went to county fairs where rabbits were sold for, like, $3,000 — the whole nine. I think that made me better equipped to do my job well this time around, but it’s a lot harder over the phone, which is how we were doing our voter contact.
In terms of the rural work, I think that our country has a lot to do to advocate on behalf of the white working class. Minority communities have been getting the short end of the stick since before the beginning of this country, and I do not at all mean to say that they’re no longer important. That would be a complete misread of where our country needs to go. But with that said, I think —well, Trump still performed relatively well in the Midwest, and we see this lack of communication with these communities. It just reminded me even more that we can't take these communities for granted.
What advice would you give current PPE majors? Is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were a student?
Invest in your school, and get the pulse of local communities. I think 100% you should be civically engaged: in the very least vote, but also go volunteer on a campaign — for a Republican or Democrat. See what that's like. Get as many internships that make sense given your time as possible, but also you can do a lot more than you think you can.
You don't have to go to law school. I know a lot of PPE people always want to go to law school, but at the very least, take time in between undergrad and whatever program you're pursuing next. See the real world. Get out there and refine your interests a little bit more. You don’t want to spend all that money and not really know what you're doing it for. In the past, in order to do politics, you needed to go to law school. You don't need to do that anymore. So you should only go to law school if you want to be a lawyer.
Have fun. Do things for yourself. It's hard during COVID. But get creative. Pick up a new hobby — any way you can find that helps you get through.
Use your advisers. They're wonderful. They will help you find the next opportunity. And I really just encourage you to think outside the box. I had all these four year plans post-graduation and I didn't do a single one of them. Every iteration was constantly changed, and if you are closed off to alternative paths, you could miss out on a really good opportunity.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I don't know if it's possible to provide my contact information, but I really love chatting with people. I led a professional development series for our interns when the campaign was done and we talked a lot about networking, and the analogy that I drew is this: think about something that you're an expert in. And if a random stranger reached out to you and asked for information on it, it would probably make you feel really good. So you in turn should reach out to others to expand your own network. That's going to make them feel great about their experience, and they want to help. So it is not weird to blindly reach out, especially in the PPE alumni network, but really to anyone. Paying it forward is a part of what makes you good at whatever you’re doing. And thank you to the PPE Program for making this interview possible!
PPE alumni and current students can find Megan's contact information, along with contact information for 75+ other alums of the PPE Program, in our Alumni Directory. To access the Alumni Directory, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.