Sam Parkinson

Nicole Griffith

Executive Director, South Dakota Democratic Party
Sioux Falls, SD
B.B.A. Political Science, 2015

"The biggest piece of advice I could give a student or recent grad is get involved. Getting involved introduces you to people that you wouldn’t interact with in your day to day life. The more people you get to know and the more people that get to know you will only benefit your personal and professional life. Getting involved is one of the main reasons that I’ve been able to move up in my career and learn, because I put myself out there."

Q&A with Sam:

Describe your current educational or professional pursuits.

I currently work at the South Dakota Democratic Party as their Executive Director. I started with the party in August of 2015, following my graduation from USD in May. I took over as the Finance & Compliance Director. I managed fundraising, events, and compliance, aka making sure we don’t break any laws. I worked through the 2016 cycle, which although wasn’t ideal for us, taught us a lot. The former Executive Director left in April and I became Interim Executive Director before being named Executive Director in June. Right now I’m working towards the 2018 election and at this point, November is my professional pursuit.

For nearly my entire life I’ve wanted to be involved in politics and government. It was the focus of my educational path at USD and has interested me my entire life. Working in state politics has allowed me to work with everyday South Dakotans and work with them to improve the state. I’d like to continue working in this field as long as I can so I can continue to give back to my community.

USD gave me the education I needed to succeed. I valued the education I got at USD and would like to continue that at some point. Right now I’m caught up in a career that doesn’t leave much time for the classroom, but I understand how important it is to continue your education. I hope to come back to USD at some point to further my education.

How did your USD experience influence your career path?

I credit my career path to my experience at USD. Although I knew what I was interested in when I got to USD, my experience on campus sent me in this direction. I knew that I wanted to work on campaigns and in some form of government, but I had no idea that it would send me to the state level. Professors at USD taught me the value of working at the state level that I would not have understood had I not attended USD.

During the beginning of my junior year at USD, a professor suggested that I apply for an internship with the Legislative Research Council in Pierre during the state legislative session. The internship opportunity would allow me to work alongside state legislators and learn about the state of South Dakota. Until this opportunity, I hadn’t given much thought to state politics or the significance it plays in our day to day lives. I was lucky to be chosen for one of the few spots for Democratic interns and spent the Spring semester of my junior year in Pierre.

This opportunity existed for me because of my professors at USD. They motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and experience something new. They taught me about a subject I did not know much about, but something that I now spend every day thinking about. This one experience set my entire career in motion.

Tell us about your proudest achievement.

My proudest achievement is becoming the Executive Director of the South Dakota Democratic Party. When I was named to the position in early 2018 I became the youngest Executive Director in the country at the age of 23. Although I haven’t been out of school for too long, I feel prepared because of the education and experience I received at USD. Not a lot of young people get an opportunity to lead, let alone a political organization, so I’m excited about the opportunity that I have.

What was your USD experience like? Were you involved in any campus organizations or activities?

One of the best things students can do when they step on campus is become involved. It’s the way to get to know USD, the community you will spend your next few years in and there is no better way to get to know your fellow students. Becoming engaged on campus lead me to where I am today.

Getting involved on campus allows you to make connections, which I have no doubt benefitted me today. My first few days on campus I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the USD Club Baseball program. I spent four years involved with each organization and they both taught me about life. My job requires me to know and understand South Dakotans and these two organizations taught me just that. I met people from all over the state that I would have never met had I not joined either organization.

I spent 4 years heavily involved in SAE. Before coming to campus I heard from numerous peers about the positive college experience they had because they joined a fraternity, and I’m glad I listened to them. If I wouldn’t have joined Greek life I don’t believe I would have enjoyed my USD experience as much. Joining SAE allowed me to interact daily with over 100 men who helped me become who I am. Additionally, it helped me meet all the other great people in the Greek community at USD who were there to better their community and themselves.

Most of my life I had spent playing baseball and when I got to college I knew that it would be a nice hobby to have to balance out my education, USD Club Baseball gave me that outlet. I joined a group of guys that were happy to play somewhat serious baseball and have a good time. I was able to lead the organization for a couple of years, and while we had some ups and downs, we always made sure we were having fun. Playing club baseball allowed me to meet guys I never would have got to know through classes or my fraternity. I met guys from every corner of the state and that gave me connections I still use today.

Although I was heavily involved in SAE and club baseball, I did try to find time to do a few more things around campus. I figured the better I could get to know people the better off my experience would be. I probably spent too much time in the MUC my first couple years on campus, but I wouldn’t take that time back. Having casual conversations with people you somewhat know as they walk by is beneficial to who you are because you get to know what’s going on with your fellow classmates.

One of the best experiences I had on campus was somewhat off campus, studying abroad. I had the ability to travel a lot growing up and it lead me to have an interest in international politics. During my sophomore year I had the ability to apply to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and set off for South America for the Summer between my sophomore and junior year. No experience in college taught me more than this trip.

While in Argentina I was able to study Spanish and learn about Latin American history. I spent as much time as I could exploring the city, country, and South America. I made friendships with American students from across our country, as well as a few Argentinian relationships that I still have today. Studying abroad gave me a different insight into the world and a different understanding of people. The Farber Fund helped me take on this adventure, and I’m very thankful for that.

When I was thinking about where I attended college USD never really crossed my mind. I may have went to high school in South Dakota, but never considered myself a South Dakota kid because I never thought that I grew up in SD because I wasn’t born here. My dad, a USD alum suggested I take a tour of campus and give USD a shot, so I did; it was the best decision I have made. USD helped me grow up and helped me decide who I wanted to be. Because I decided to get involved on campus I had this wonderful experience. If I hadn’t decided to be involved in the first few days I was on campus I don’t think I would have become who I am today.

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