Learning to Govern, Learning to Live

By Coby Chase

From time to time, investors like to know if they’re getting a good return on their money. Midway through my college career my father naturally called to check on his investment.

“So what are you going to do with a government degree? Teach?” my father asked me.

“No. I’m going to govern. It’s clearly stated in the name. I need $100.”

He got his answer, and to put the topic to rest for good, I slapped on the student tax. This degree was already paying off.

I knew then that UT-Austin was an outstanding place to practice governing. It still is. The campus has been an integral part of the state’s political history since the day the University opened its doors in 1883. And besides, the state capitol is just down the street. There’s no excuse whatsoever to leave school without any practical experience.

The Department of Government also has a stellar faculty that builds on itself each year. Every time I turn on any sort of media these days I find myself, along with the rest of the nation, absorbing the top-rate analysis of Bruce Buchanan, Jim Henson, or Daron Shaw. If you don’t know who these guys are the honorable thing to do is to return your degree. Really.

In the first half of the 1980s, student government was reborn, and local, state, and national candidates had operations on campus. Still, since leaving the University in 1986 and being unleashed on our broader democracy, I’ve enjoyed some terrific experiences that I couldn’t have imagined as an undergraduate. I’ve worked on a project for a governor, collaborated with some of Texas’ and the nation’s intellectual leaders on major initiatives, and built relationships with members of Congress and the Texas Legislature. And these days, I’ve expanded my government career portfolio to include large-scale public affairs, international relations, strategic planning, and media relations.

That’s what college is supposed to do: prepare you for the bigger, bolder challenges. But you still need to bridge the gap between college and a satisfying career.

For me, there were three basic elements that made it all work properly. To start with, I was lucky to have a family who never lost faith that I was capable of success, even if it came about on my own terms. Second, UT is a bottomless diamond mine of people who change the world, and I accessed every one of them I could. This included administrators, professors, fellow students, and alumni. Those relationships still push me places today. And last, every day I pursued what I enjoyed. Unrealized passion is a person’s worst enemy.

If I’ve left you with the impression that I planned my life to happen exactly the way it has, then let me disabuse you of that right now. No one is that good. Just be sure to keep your mind and your eyes open to new opportunities, especially ones that take you off the path you think you were on. Those are often the best adventures, and the University of Texas Department of Government prepares you to think your way through it.

Coby Chase received his B.A. in government in 1986, graduating as a Dean’s Distinguished Graduate. He is director of government and public affairs at the Texas Department of Transportation.