By Alana Penny
Whether it’s in government, private sector or non-profit law, Kael Kropp’s ultimate goal is to make life better for queer youth.
Kropp is a senior honors political science major at the University of Alberta, but spent his final semester as an undergraduate at SUNY Plattsburgh.
The Global Education Office and Canadian studies program sponsored Kropp to come to SUNY Plattsburgh, through the Killam Fellowship.
Each year, two dozen Killam fellows are chosen from Canada and two dozen from the U.S. The Canadian students study in the U.S. for a semester and the U.S. students study in Canada, at one of the participating colleges or universities.
He put Plattsburgh on his list of schools that he was interested in because he was impressed by the political science program.
“SUNY Plattsburgh has a phenomenal political science department and fantastic faculty composition,” Kropp said. “[SUNY Plattsburgh and University of Alberta are] different institutions, different worlds, different people, but it’s been fantastic,” Kropp said.
The honors program is his academic sponsor. In Tracie Guzzio’s four years as honors program director, Kropp was the first Killam Fellow to come to campus.
“He has set such a high bar, it’s going to be really funny for all the others that come after we’ll be like, ‘well, they’re no Kael,’” Guzzio said. “He’s really an exceptional student and an exceptional person. We feel really lucky that we can be a part of this sponsorship.”
Guzzio said after her first conversation with Kropp she had to remind herself he was still an undergraduate.
“He’s very professional and intellectually curious,” she said. “He can hold his own in a conversation with the professor like you’re equals.”
As a part of the Honors Program sponsorship, Guzzio told him he could use the honors center facilities like the lab and study carrel. She said Kropp has connected with the other honors students, immediately fitting into their tight knit community.
Nina Serafini met Kropp in the Honors Center. She is there every day for work study and Guzzio told her there was someone she should meet. Kropp was sitting in one of the seminar rooms doing work.
“I saw him and I kind of forgot everything that Dr. Guzzio said about him. And I thought, ‘Is this guy like an adjunct professor or something?’” Serafini said. “He looked so formal and very much together. The way that he was speaking, I was just like, ‘oh, my god, he’s so proper.’ And then he made a joke. I think it was about Wordle. And I was like, ‘OK, the way that this guy is talking to a student means that he cannot be an adjunct professor.’”
They quickly became friends outside of school when Serafini invited him to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a group of friends.
“We went to that and then all of a sudden, we were friends and doing stuff every weekend,” Serafini said.
Serafini likes to take him to do things he’s never experienced.
“We went to Applebee’s. He was amazed by it. We took him to Stewart’s. He loved it,” Serafini said.
Serafini remembers a time she was working on a resume and cover letter and Kropp offered to take a look at it for her. He has also mentioned her name to people that could help her reach her career goal of becoming an editor. Guzzio has seen him help other honors students work on their graduate school applications because he just went through that process.
“Part of his personality is that he’s willing to do anything for anybody,” Serafini said.
“He is extremely intelligent, in all facets of life, but also he knows when it’s okay to make jokes. He is a very naturally funny person and a very comforting person. He’s an all around male character written by a female.”
COVID-19’s hindrance of travel made it difficult for Kropp to get to Plattsburgh, but he was able to come through “concerted fighting.” When Kropp applied to study abroad through the Killam fellowship, University of Alberta was not sending students abroad and had just canceled some 80 students’ trips. He is a part of student governance and the vice president of the faculty of arts, so he was able to talk with people in various offices and figured out how to get students on their trips. He was able to appeal their decision to not send him to Plattsburgh, because he is graduating this spring. He actually already technically graduated from University of Alberta, last week.
Kropp likes to be involved anywhere he goes.
At University of Alberta, he is the vice president academic for the organization for art students and interdisciplinary studies. He is also the editor in chief of their faculty journal, Crossings. It is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes the best student work in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences. He has presented the journal at national conferences.
At SUNY Plattsburgh he joined the Literature Club.
“It’s been fun, a nice little home away from home,” Kropp said.
In his limited free time, Kropp plays his guitar, a gift from his parents when he left home.
Kropp has also been an active researcher in his department. He was awarded the Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Researcher Award, an award given to University of Alberta students to support their research partnerships with faculty.
It provides the researcher with $5,000 intended for 14 weeks of student-led research-based activity, according to the University of Alberta website. The research Kropp did during this time informed his upcoming master’s thesis.
“Kael has a unique academic vision, in the sense that he has a comprehensive, wide-ranging, and ambitious set of objectives in his academic work,” John Mcmahon, assistant professor of political science and one of Kropp’s research advisers, said. “He is also very attuned to the way that abstract or theoretical ideas are connected to concrete issues of justice and injustice.”
He initially chose political science because he wanted to be a lawyer.
“I realized that I need to be researching,” Kropp said. “There are spaces within literature and within scholarship that need to be updated. Especially from the province I come from. So I really closely fell in love with public policy and queer studies within political science.”
Guzzio hopes Kropp has opened the door to other Killam Fellows to come to campus.
“He’s been an ambassador now for that fellowship,” Guzzio said. “I think he will be a contact for anyone else who wants to apply.”
Next year Kropp will begin earning his Master’s degree in political science at the University of British Columbia. He has been named a Joseph Armand Bombardier graduate scholar by the government of Canada.
His master’s thesis focuses on youth sexual minority rights and conservative policy approaches, specifically to the gay, straight alliance organizations. It looks at how conservative policy makers approach or defend policy repeals for youth confidentiality rights in gay straight alliances, timebound provisions for establishing gay, straight alliances and name rights.
“I approach it in a very policy sense, and then in a very theoretical component to what kind of undergirds those policy repeals,” Kropp said. “I was a very confused high schooler that was able to benefit from the gay straight alliance and seeing rollbacks to that has really changed the trajectory of my life. Whatever can affect that change, I will do.”
He hopes to eventually pursue a combined law degree with a PhD in political science so he can practice what he is researching while still contributing to the scholarly discourse.
“Kael is a student who is interested in knowledge first,” Raymond Carman, associate professor of political science, said. “He is interested in learning to know more to better himself, not transactionally for a grade or something like that. He pushes himself very hard and expects perfection from his work.”