When he was young, Kai Simson wanted to be a pilot.
Now a senior studying political science at Northern Arizona University, he combined those two interests as an intern for the campaign of now-Sen. Mark Kelly, a fighter pilot and astronaut. That opportunity, and the many opportunities he’s had since, including being elected to ASNAU serving on the NAU Presidential Search Advisory Committee, once seemed out of reach to Simson, whose early life was rather nontraditional. Simson was born in Guatemala, adopted by a single father, raised in Hawaii and moved to Sedona to attend high school. In Arizona his father met his partner, whom he married a year later, beginning the expansion of Simson’s family, in which he is now the brother to three siblings.
“Getting an education opens more doors to opportunities that may have never been there,” Simson said. “Many people don’t have this chance, so I take the role of getting a degree very seriously.”
Simson started taking an interest in politics at an early age. “I remember going to the polls with my dad to watch him vote and thought that was the coolest thing ever!”
As his interest in politics grew, Simson’s dreams pivoted to someday running for elected office and led him on the path to a political science degree. It became increasingly important for him to go to college and get an education that taught him more about how governments and the political system work overall.
So, when it came time to choose a place to further his education, Simson found himself in his high school cafeteria on college recruitment day, being drawn to NAU’s booth. When he heard that the political sciences program had great faculty, his decision was made. Simson dove into his life and studies at NAU.
After being involved in student council in high school, Simson was keen to find ways to get involved with NAU’s student government, the Associated Students of Northern Arizona University (ASNAU).
“I loved student council. But it was really oriented toward school spirit,” Simson said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an important aspect, but I always thought it should be focused on hearing from students on important issues they care about and give back to the community.”
He learned after meeting with the ASNAU senators at the time that they were focused on student issues and bettering the learning environment at NAU. Excited by the opportunity, Simson decided to run to be an ASNAU senator. He is now ASNAU’s vice president of government affairs.
“I never expected to win, but I did,” he said. “Throughout my time in ASNAU, I learned so many different skills and had the chance to improve my public speaking while also bettering at communication overall.”
Through his classes like Peoples of the Southwest and Campaigns and Elections, Simson learned about different Indigenous people who lived in Arizona and what their societies looked like. He connected that with how successful campaigns are formed.
“One of the most impactful things that I have learned while studying my major was how our voting system is not currently accessible to many people, especially people of color,” he said. “There are laws being proposed in the Arizona Legislature to make it harder for people to vote. This issue should not be partisan at all.”
Simson found ways to get involved outside of his work at NAU. He interned for Rep. Tom O’Halleran’s re-election campaign in 2018 and for Sen. Mark Kelly’s campaign in 2020. In both internships, Simson did research on different issues, called folks to invite them to events and helped prep mailers to be sent out with candidate literature.
“I really enjoyed both internships and that I got to personally meet Tom and Mark,” he said. “Because I took the Campaigns and Elections class, I was able to use what I learned in class to be a successful intern on those campaigns.”
Simson also was invited to be a part of the NAU Presidential Search Advisory Committee, led by the Arizona Board of Regents to help search for NAU’s 17th president. He acted as a representative for undergraduate students, bringing their voices to the process.
“It was an honor of a lifetime to be a part of this search and help shape NAU’s future,” Simson said. “I am pleased that José Luis Cruz will be the 17th NAU president and also NAU’s first Latino president. I know he will do everything in his power to listen to students, faculty and staff to make sure NAU keeps moving forward in a positive direction, and I want to make sure students know this.”
McKenzie McLoughlin | NAU Communications
(928) 523-4789 | McKenzie.McLoughlin@nau.edu