Wanting to make a difference in her former school district, this recent graduate became the youngest elected member of the Park Ridge Board of Education

Headshot of Lauren Sum

With her roommate serving as her campaign manager, write-in candidate Lauren Sum ’21 ran for the Board of Education in her hometown of Park Ridge, N.J., from her dorm room—and won.

After being sworn in as the youngest member of the board in January 2021, she set out to make good on her election promises. Lauren, who graduated from Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in May 2021, offers these thoughts on jumping into politics.

Q. What inspired you to run for public office?

A. I wanted to show students that you’re never too young to get involved, especially when the decisions affect you. The big idea was that I knew what it meant to be a student at Park Ridge because I experienced firsthand the school district from K through 12.

Q. What are some of your job responsibilities as a school board member?

A. I was involved in generating the communication plan for reopening the school district during the pandemic. As a part of the Community Relations Committee, I focused on rewriting the mission and vision statement this summer, which was an important opportunity to make sure it really was representative and reflected the students and staff.

Q. How are you focusing your efforts in your new role?

A. I want to advocate for inclusion and mental health and creative spaces. I want students to feel supported and that they’re in an environment where they can speak up and feel safe. Making sure all students are seeing themselves in the teachers, the staff members, the curriculum—that’s the biggest way of creating a safe environment where students from marginalized groups feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their experiences.

Q. What's one of the biggest lessons you've learned?

A. Do small things, and then build off of that. Knowing that my work is impacting students on a daily basis helps me stay positive because change can take so long. It’s a matter of being persistent and pushing through with your ideas.