Passion for Policy Inspires Schar School Senior to Advocate for Others

A group of students congregates around the bench and in front of two stone columns at the Supreme Court of Virginia. 
Ernesto Galeas (ninth from right) visits the Supreme Court of Virginia with his fellow JPLC classmates.
A bearded man in a George Mason University sweatshirt stands in front of a window.
Ernesto Galeas: ‘I want to be involved in crafting policies for people that don’t have the tools, or the knowledge, or the access.’

This is the first in our student-to-student story series where Schar School undergraduates are interviewed and profiled by their peers. 

Guided by his own experience of immigrating to the United States, Ernesto Galeas possesses a strong desire to advocate for others. For him, the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University has provided the opportunities and resources to pursue his longtime goal of working in public policy.

“I want to be involved in crafting policies for people that don’t have the tools, or the knowledge, or the access,” he said.

As a new immigrant in the United States working restaurant and construction industry jobs, Galeas saw mistreatment in the workplace and recognized a need to learn how to stand up for himself and other workers. Starting his education at Northern Virginia Community College, he decided to pursue politics as a way to support those in need. 

When transferring to Mason, Galeas knew the government and international politics major would suit him best to gain concrete knowledge of the public policy process.

One area that Galeas had the least understanding of prior to studying at the Schar School was the judicial branch. As a student, he began working for a union and became aware of the impact legal decisions had on his work.

“To me, learning about cases is very important, because I have to deal with legal issues every day,” he said.

Delving deeper into studying law, Galeas joined the Jurisprudence Learning Community, led by Professor Ally Coll. He knew the program would give him a better understanding of how workers’ rights cases, which impact his day job, became law.

“I decided to join JPLC and get involved to learn more about the legal process to learn how those cases came to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Through the yearlong JPLC, Galeas learned about civil rights and constitutional law both in and out of the classroom including visits to the Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, the U.S. Congress, and the Department of Justice.

Galeas credits the JPLC with giving him tools he could immediately apply in other classes, as well as in his professional job of labor organizing.

“Those are tools that are helping me to know more in depth how the federal and state governments work and see the difference in how you can accomplish things at different levels of government,” he said.

Thanks to his experiences with the JPLC and the Schar School, Galeas now wants to pursue a master’s in public policy after he graduates in May 2023. Ultimately, he plans to use his education for the advocacy work that originally inspired him.

“I would like to do lobbying for unions or for nonprofits that advocate for access to education, health care, housing, and reform of the criminal justice system, which are all very important,” he said.

Galeas feels very confident in the skills he gained as a Schar School student, saying, “the Schar School is providing me with tools and knowledge, putting into practice what I've been learning and making me a better worker, a better citizen, and also better at helping others in need.”

Edited by Erin Egan