Dawn Zimmer, Class of 1990
Can you tell us a little about your background, growing up in Laconia, NH? What did you want to be while growing up?
I chose UNH because it’s obviously an excellent school. I actually started out in the business program, and then switched to history because I just found I was more interested in it, and I realized it’s really important to do something you’re interested in. History gave me a foundation for critical thinking and writing, and the ability to really express myself—true of any liberal arts degree—and that really panned out working in politics. Being able to think and write critically is something I use every day, and I think that’s the value of a liberal arts education. The foundation of writing and critical thinking, the ability to ask questions – those skills carry you forward no matter what you do in life.
Can you think of any professors or classes at UNH that had a significant impact on you?
Professor Lindon, a Japanese History Professor. I was very interested in Japanese history after that class, and actually, largely because of that, I decided to go to Japan after college. Instead of entering the work force, I decided to travel a bit. I was living and teaching English in Japan, then traveled through Asia for a year. I interviewed in New York City for the job, which was at a private language school in Japan, and they had a spot ready for me. It was a fantastic experience.
Did you write a thesis while in the Honors Program? If so, what was it about? Who was your advisor? What was the process like?
You know, I did write a thesis, and I think it focused on women’s issues, but I don’t remember exactly what it was. It’s all a little fuzzy. The thing that really sticks out to me was my Japanese History class.
Can you tell us a little about your political career? Specifically, was a political career something you aspired to, or was it a matter of circumstance?
Getting into politics was definitely a matter of circumstance—quite frankly, I never envisioned getting involved. I had actually planned on being a stay-at-home mom, and I was volunteering in a Parks group. The council member wasn’t listening to the community, and so I ran for that seat. I wasn’t eager to do it, but I stepped forward, not expecting to win. Then I won by eight votes, and we had another round of elections, and I won that. Once I was on the council, I realize that I couldn’t get done for the community what I wanted to get done, as a minority member, so I decided that I had to run for mayor if I wanted to make any changes.
What part of your job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?
The most satisfying part of my work is doing something that I know is helping the community. I’m actually headed down to Trenton shortly, to address on the flooding problem, so knowing that I’m helping to build a consensus to fix the flooding, and addressing the need for a universal solution to these problems – it’s challenging work, but it’s good. It’s good because it can help improve the residents’ lives. We can do things like buy land for park space, which is something that’s very important to me. Growing up in New Hampshire, I love nature and the outdoors – and that outdoor space, parks, is something we need in Hoboken. Right now we’re in the process of purchasing more land, which has its own challenges, but it’s work that I love doing. I feel really good afterwards, knowing I’ve helped make lives better for people in my community.
Any final words of advice for Honors students? Is there anything you wish that you had been told as a college student?
My advice for Honors students, especially those interested in politics, is to pursue your passion and follow your interests. Get out and be involved in your community—at UNH, your home town. Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions, and never take “no” for an answer. My motto is to push through, feel the fear and do it anyway. Do what you believe is right. You have to move forward with your goals and don’t let people stop you from getting there. For me, getting into politics wasn’t a decision based on what I wanted to do – I never wanted to be a politician – it was about doing what was right for the community. Dealing with issues of public safety, quality of life; helping make a better place for people, with better decision making. That’s why I got involved in government, and that’s why everyone should. It’s not about waking up and deciding you want a political career – it’s about what you can do for your community. So young people—get involved! Join organizations. What are the issues that matter to you? Follow them, and it won’t be a matter of planning a political career. Those issues will be a road map for your future, and they’ll be the things you care about because you’re interested in them.