As his patient settled into the chair, Luis Niño retrieved the tools of his trade. In 2017, he was still an optician—a job he took after unexpectedly leaving college six years earlier. He knew it wouldn’t be his final career but he wasn’t sure where to go next.
He began to fit a new set of glasses onto his patient’s face and struck up a conversation to break the ice. The pair exchanged pleasantries—the benign kind you have with any stranger. This patient was not unlike many others he saw every day. The optometrist’s office where he worked was two blocks from the Indiana Statehouse, attracting busy government workers.
The conversations usually turned to careers and politics, sparking a new interest for Luis in how people were making a difference through public policy. While Luis helped his patients improve their vision, they had helped him see his future more clearly.
Luis hadn’t been in a college classroom in six years. He was a sports management major when he left IUPUI in 2011. Like so many students, money and his interest in his major had dwindled. He didn’t want to take out more loans until he had a solid plan, but always knew he would come back; 2017 was the year it would happen.
“I had a conversation with a patient who was running for an elected position,” Luis recalls. “That person influenced my decision in wanting to work in government and politics, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready.”
His fiancé gave him the final boost of confidence to return and he enrolled in O’Neill’s Civic Leadership major.
“All of my classes provided a wealth of knowledge and my instructors truly helped me grow as a student and an individual,” he says.
They also helped guide him toward unique opportunities within the O’Neill School, including internships at the Indiana Statehouse and research opportunities with the IU Public Policy Institute.
He worked as a researcher with PPI, focusing on issues relating to social equity as well as economic development. He worked closely with Drew Klacik, a senior policy analyst at PPI who also taught a course at the O’Neill School.
“What I love about O’Neill is the connection between research and the classroom,” Luis says. “It allowed me to talk to Drew outside of class and develop a mentoring relationship. He really helped guide me into the right lanes.”