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For her remarkable work revitalizing the state-wide Connecticut College Democrats (CDC) organization, Branford's Nicole Hobbs has been recognized on the national stage as 2013 College Democrat of the Year.
The Branford High School (BHS) Class of 2010 alumna has no doubt BHS Model Congress (MC) helped her get where she is today.
"I have no idea where I would be today, but I would not be here," says Nicole, a senior-year history major at Yale University.
From her start as a self-described "quiet and shy" BHS freshman, Nicole went on to make MC history, winning the spring Princeton Moot Court gavel as a junior (with partner Caitlin O'Neil) and repeating the win as a senior (with Keeah Lonegren).
"Moot Court was where I found my voice," says Nicole. "It's the two of you versus two other people. You had to say something?You had to be on your toes and always have a response, and I loved it."
BHS MC also brought Nicole to some of the country's top universities, giving her the confidence to apply to Yale.
"The Model Congress exposes you to these Ivy League schools that otherwise you wouldn't have the opportunity to really see. Your chairs are other kids who go there and a lot of them were very encouraging," says Nicole, who shares Yale campus tours with BHS MC members.
Involved with Yale Model Congress during three of her four years (as a chair sophomore year, board member and attorney general junior year, and chair senior year), Nicole joined Yale College Democrats (YCD) as a freshman.
"I signed up because I'd registered as Democrat over the summer and did the Model Congress thing, which was like politics, and this seemed like politics, so maybe it would work. But I really had no idea what I was getting into at the time!"
Nicole's very first YCD meeting was attended by then-Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy, making his first gubernatorial run.
"He was talking about his campaign and his platform and what he was looking to do, and it kind of struck me that someone running for statewide public office was here to talk to this group of college kids," says Nicole.
Inspired, she worked the YCD phone bank for Malloy and now-Senator Richard Blumenthal.
"I was kind of hooked," Nicole admits. "This is my home state and this is an opportunity, especially with the governor's race, to turn the state blue?and so I just kind of started going to all of the meetings."
By freshman year's end, Nicole was encouraged to run for YCD office and was elected secretary. The following year, she was elected treasurer.
"I did that for a semester and over the summer of 2012 I was an intern with Senator [Chris] Murphy's campaign, which was an amazing experience. I got to work for a candidate that I thought deserved to be the next senator for the state of Connecticut, and apparently the voting public agreed."
When the YCD elections coordinator stayed in Chicago to work the Obama campaign that fall semester, Nicole stepped into fill that YCD role, organizing weekly meetings, coordinating twice-weekly phone banks, canvassing for Murphy statewide Saturdays and in New Haven Sundays. She made two trips to Massachusetts for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a New Hampshire trip supporting Obama, and, during Yale's fall break, "We took 40 kids on a bus to Pennsylvania and canvassed for President Obama," says Nicole. "So it was a whirlwind fall semester."
The following semester, Nicole became YCD president and also took over as College Democrats of Connecticut (CDC) president.
"At the time, it was pretty much a defunct organization," says Nicole of CDC. "There was an outdated list of contacts I was given, and that was kind of it. So I assembled our new board in January and said, 'We have an opportunity to do something with this; let's do it.'"
Nicole reconnected chapters, established regular communication with emails and monthly newsletters, increased social media presence, and launched a CDC website. She rallied chapters with a letter-writing campaign during the state legislature's gun control debate.
"A lot of our chapters had never done anything like that. They'd done some electoral work, but for them being involved in the legislative process was new. So we coached them through that," says Nicole, whose semester culminated in a spring CDC convention at Yale.
"Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro stopped by, Governor Malloy came and spoke with us, and it was also great because we reconnected with the state party, so we had their executive director and deputy executive director come and talk to us, and representatives of Connecticut Young Democrats," says Nicole.
Also attending: representatives of College Democrats of America (CDA), the official youth arm of the Democratic National Committee. CDC had reconnected with CDA through Nicole's efforts.
In the summer of 2013, Nicole took up an invitation to be a press intern in Murphy's Washington, D.C., office. While there, she signed up to attend the CDA's summer conference in D.C.
"I was already down there, so I thought, 'Well, I should definitely go and represent Connecticut,' which hadn't been represented at the conference, if not ever, then in quite a while."
On the final day, an awards ceremony included naming College Democrat of the Year. Nicole had no inkling she was in the running.
"Before they said the name, they were running through a list of accomplishments?This person had revitalized their state organization, had been a key player on a statewide senate campaign in organizing students?and I was sitting there thinking, 'Wow, this person sounds so impressive!' I was sitting next to a good friend of mine, and they got to the end and said my name, and I just kind of looked at her. And she said, 'They just said your name. You need to go up and get your award now.' I had no idea-it was a complete shock!"
Nicole holds the honor for a year, but will likely remain involved with CDA a bit longer. Last semester, Nicole applied for and was appointed CDA Women's Caucus chair. She'll continue to work in the national role through the summer of 2014.
"We are responsible for thinking of different projects and ideas that promote woman. I think, without the award, I wouldn't have decided to get involved in that capacity, on the national level," says Nicole.