Evan Traylor is the kind of person who goes after what he wants and doesn’t look back. From his first campus tour, Evan knew KU was the right fit – so it was the only college he applied to. He decided on his double major in political science and Jewish studies and minor in leadership studies even before his freshman year. Growing up, Evan was always connected to the Jewish community and now he has accepted a role as the first Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism, an organization he’s worked with since high school.
Before he walks down the Hill and sets off for New York City, we had the chance to ask Evan about his new job and days of high school show choir.
How did you choose your majors?
I knew coming to KU that I wanted to do political science and Jewish studies and I’m also doing a leadership studies minor. I got really interested in political science and government during my junior year of high school when I took AP U.S. History and my teacher was awesome. I’ve been involved with the Jewish community my entire life, so when there was an opportunity for Jewish studies, it’s always interested me, I thought it was pretty cool that I could study something I’d been learning about for 18 years at this point, and to be able to continue learning about it. And then leadership studies, I’ve done a lot of leadership work in youth group in high school. When I was up visiting KU during my senior year of high school, walking around with my mom, we were getting information on different academic programs and I thought, “let’s look at communications.” And I found the leadership studies minor brochure in Bailey Hall and it looked awesome, it looked very different. So I knew coming into KU those were the three things I wanted to do and I just stuck with it. It’s been great.
How did you get involved with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)?
My youth group in high school is their youth group. URJ is a network of congregations and synagogues throughout the U.S. and Canada and they have social programs, religious programs and social justice programs. In high school, I got connected with the local youth group at my synagogue and started taking on more and more leadership positions. I held local and regional leadership positions and during my freshman year at KU I was the North American President for the youth group. There are about 7,000 to 8,000 Jewish teens that are connected with it, that go to local and regional events. In my role as North American President, I connected with a lot of the URJ staff and leadership through youth group and also camp. The URJ has summer camps and I’ve gone to one in Texas for a few years and I’ve been at another one in New York for the past four summers. I’ve been part of it for a while and now I’m excited to work for URJ.
Can you tell us more about the position you’ve accepted as the Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement?
Yeah. So, it’s a brand new position, this is the first year they’re going to have it. It’s really focused on two different areas. One is on-the-ground engagement strategies. Right now, the URJ doesn’t have a comprehensive strategy for Millennials and how to connect with them. That includes college students but also post-grads, so 22- to 30-year-olds. What we see a lot in the Jewish community is that people will be connected through high school, growing up with their family. Then once they have their own kids they come back to synagogue for Sunday school and religious school, but now we’re trying to figure out what it looks like for the in-between group. A lot of Millennials don’t find that going to synagogue services are very meaningful, so it’s about creating strategies around that. One part of the job is creating programs and working with local communities to create new and exciting ways to engage Millennials. Then the second part of it is having a constant, representative Millennial voice within the URJ. On one hand, I’ll have a direct supervisor that’s working more with on-the-ground Millennial engagement and then my other supervisor is the President of the URJ, so I’ll be part of the leadership team and provide a voice from the Millennial perspective.
Tell me something I’d never guess about you.
In high school I was really involved in a lot of different things, but I was in show choir for two years, kind of like, if you’ve seen “Glee” on TV. For two years, I was showing up for an hour each day, singing and dancing and preparing performances.
What is your guilty pleasure?
So I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure, but I’m enthralled by the political election going on right now. Part of it is the political science degree, but I think a lot of people are like very checked out of it and like kind of over it. I am all the way in and so intrigued by it and listen to podcasts and watch videos and read the newspaper and check articles all the time. And that’s just kind of like my go to.
What would your superpower be?
Being able to control time. Being able to stop time when I need to do my homework, or speed it up, or get more of it so I can sleep.
What was the last thing you read for fun?
I just finished a book that was technically for my leadership class, but it was really great. It’s called “The Alchemist.” It was definitely a book I would have read for fun, it was on my list and then it showed up during syllabus week. It was great. I got 30 pages in, I was like, “this is very obscure.” It was cool, though.
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
To meet President Obama. Every time I see him I’m just like, “he is so cool.” Even if he’s not President when I meet him, I would love to meet him and Michelle.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was growing up I went back and forth between politician/government work or physical therapist. My dad was a physical therapist so through my first couple years of high school, I thought that’s what I wanted to do, to help people in that way and maybe do athletic training and be a part of sports. Then during my sophomore year, we had to take chemistry and chemistry was not my forte. I didn’t even like biology all that much so I thought this probably isn’t for me. But the government thing kind of stuck. I haven’t always been connected with government but I’ve always seen government officials as a power for good and a way to change the world.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I’m going back and forth between Jewish figures, or KU people, or presidents… ok I’ll go U.S. presidents. I’d love to have Obama there, I’d love to have JFK, Lincoln and Washington. A good mix.
Anything else we should know?
KU is awesome. It’s been really great. KU is actually the only school I applied to. I came and visited during the spring of my junior year of high school and I distinctly remember, it was pouring down rain outside and so we took our tour in a bus and didn’t really get to see all the libraries and all the different stuff, but I walked away and thought I could definitely see myself here. Coming here, it’s been really great. I feel like I’ve connected with a lot of different communities that have made this bigger community feel a little bit smaller and more connected.