A Year Well Spent: Running for State Legislature

By: Yen Duong
August 26, 2018
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes
New Mexico State Capitol, the "Roundhouse" (flickr - Mr.TinDC)
Our "Stories from the field" series shares the experiences of engineers and scientists who are making a difference in their communities.
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We interviewed Melanie Stansbury, who is running for New Mexico’s State House of Representatives in her hometown of Albuquerque. Stansbury is a policy and management consultant who works on natural resources, science, and community development issues, and also serves as a senior advisor to the Utton Transboundary Resources Center at the University of New Mexico. She formerly worked in the U.S. Senate and in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Stansbury has a background in Sociology.

Stansbury spoke to us about her passion for serving her community in the state legislature and bringing meaningful change to the state. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

YD: Why are you running for office?

Stansbury: I’ve been working in public service and on community and natural resources issues my entire professional life. I see running for office as an extension of that work. As a candidate, I’m particularly interested in growing New Mexico’s local economy and meaningful jobs, addressing systemic poverty and crime, improving our schools, and modernizing and improving our state programs.

YD: Why is it important for scientists and engineers to get engaged?

Melanie Stansbury

Stansbury: One of the things I feel strongly about is that scientists and people who care about science become decision makers themselves and get involved in policy. People trained in technical fields have a lot to bring to the table in terms of using evidence-based knowledge to help inform decisions.

Many of the issues our communities face are complex, and we need our best minds engaged to help figure out how to address them. In my own neighborhood, that’s part of what we’re trying to do in this campaign. We want to mobilize people and harness our community’s brainpower to help solve our state’s most difficult challenges.

In Albuquerque, we have a national lab, military and private research institutions, a major university, and a community college. Many of the people in our district are physicists, chemists, engineers, and professors and they are some of the best and brightest minds in their fields. We have one of the best complexity institutes in the world here in our state and other world-class research facilities. Yet, we rank last for almost every socioeconomic indicator of well-being in the country. Part of what I’m interested in is how we can bring technical expertise together with the rich knowledge of our communities to help solve the complicated problems that our state faces.

YD: How did your experiences at the state and federal level differ?

Stansbury: When you’re working on issues at the local level, you can see and feel the impact of your work more immediately. You’re immersed in your community. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to work back at the local level. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to work at the federal level, but you don’t always have the same tangible feeling you have when you’re on the ground. While I was in D.C., I was able to visit communities all over the country. But it’s not the same as being in your own home and working to address the issues closest to your heart.

YD: Do you have any advice for STEM professionals hoping to engage locally?

Stansbury: Yes! There are three things I would recommend. First, I am a big proponent of engaged scholarship. It’s important that researchers ask questions that are important to public policy, do research that matters, and make sure that the results of their research get back into the public domain. Everyone talks about the importance of science in decision-making, but often information never ends up in front of policy makers.

Second, go into public service. Many people don’t realize how many career options they might have beyond academia or research. Go work for a federal agency that uses science in its mission or for a state or tribal agency. You can apply your science as a public servant in a lot of different places.

Third, run for office. If you want to have a direct impact, become a decision maker yourself.

I would add that we need to do more to connect science to decision-making through our professional organizations and institutions. When I worked in the Senate and OMB, I often reached out to researchers at universities and scientific organizations to ask for recommendations on issues we were working on. I think more can be done in the scientific community to help bring science more directly to decision-makers.

YD: How do you start running for office?

Stansbury: It can feel really intimidating to think about going into public service, but there are great candidate training programs and groups. I did the Emerge New Mexico program, a seven-month long candidate training and leadership course designed to help bring more women into leadership positions and run for office. The program completely changed my life.

There are lots of ways people can serve – beyond what many normally think of. For example, you may not have thought of running for school board, county commissioner, or serving on a public board. These are all ways you can become a decision-maker and apply your science in your community.

At the end of the day, running for office is a lot of hard work, but totally doable. In fact, people do it all the time. It’s really about organizing and mobilizing people, getting your message out there, and helping to bring a community together.

I think a lot of people feel intimidated by the idea – but if you can survive a graduate program in the sciences, you can certainly run for office and give back. Because at the end of the day, giving back is what it’s all about. In our campaign, our theme here in the district is “a year well spent.” We’ve been organizing the campaign around service projects and community events, so that no matter what, we’ll have accomplished something worthwhile in this campaign that is more than just politics. It’s about building community, reaching out to neighbors, and bringing the change we wish to see in the world.

Melanie Stansbury is running for New Mexico State House District 28. You can contact her by phone at (505) 750-7079 or email at

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Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) is a non-advocacy, non-political organization. The information in this post is for general informational purposes and does not imply an endorsement by ESAL for any political candidates, businesses, or organizations mentioned herein.
Published: 08/26/18
Updated: 07/10/22
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