Adrian Uphoff ’19 knew he wanted to study politics in college, and the Oregon State Capitol’s proximity to campus drew him to Willamette. But he never imagined he’d be a driving force for universal health care in Oregon before he graduated.
The 22-year-old legislative aide kicked off his final semester by securing sponsors for Senate Bill 770, which would establish a state-sponsored commission to develop the Health Care for All Oregon Plan. Now the bill is making its way through the state Legislature.
“I managed the logistics of getting upwards of 40 signatures, which is nearly half the Legislature, to sponsor the bill,” Uphoff said. “I’ve also worked with multiple stakeholders to draft two rounds of amendments to help the bill gain additional support.”
Uphoff is no stranger to the frenetic pace of life at the Capitol. During his first two years at Willamette, he interned for state Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro. He took on additional duties as Riley’s legislative assistant in 2018 before assuming his current role with state Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene.
“The minute I came to Willamette, I set foot in the state Capitol,” Uphoff said. “If you really want to work your way up and get the caliber of engagement with the political process that I’m experiencing, you need to start early. You can’t wait around.”
In between meetings with lobbyists and legislators, Uphoff has spearheaded efforts to improve student access to Capitol internships. He pushed for more paid internships and developed an online guide that provides detailed information about the application process.
“I felt like there were a lot of support structures this university should be investing in,” Uphoff said. “Applying for a position with the state Legislature is very different than the process for other internships at Willamette. There are a lot of nuances. I hope the online resource is my lasting mark on this university. I view it as a tool to help students overcome obstacles in taking legislative internships.”
Uphoff wants to leave a lasting mark in the public health arena as well. He’s planning to pursue a dual master’s degree in public health and public policy, with a special focus on developing a tool that evaluates the potential health effects of proposed projects or policies.
“The HIA (health impact assessment) tool is a powerful bipartisan tool,” Uphoff said. “The spark for my interest in it came when I was sitting in (professor) Sammy Basu’s Death in America class. He made a point that death and sickness are universalizing, humanizing attributes. In this age of extreme partisanship, especially at the federal level, we need something that both parties can get behind when analyzing policy.”
After completing his graduate studies, Uphoff plans to address public health issues in a policy advising capacity, possibly as a government affairs director or chief of staff. No matter where he lands, he’ll look back on his days at Willamette as pivotal to his political career.
“My classes really resonated with what I’m passionate about and what I want to do with my life,” Uphoff said. “They allowed me to explore how social systems and natural systems affect public health outcomes, and my access to the Capitol added a political nuance to how those social systems are created and perpetuated. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t be in the position I am and doing the things I am today.”