Dennis “Denny” Ruprecht ’21 is a great model of Plymouth State’s pedagogical approach, which emphasizes learning by doing and partnering with outside organizations. Ruprecht, 20, is a New Hampshire state representative, a college student, and a North Country native, and his perspective in each arena informs his other activities and responsibilities.
Ruprecht is from Bath, NH, which, together with Benton, Easton, Haverhill, Landaff, Orford, Piermont, and Warren, comprises one of the state’s bigger political districts. Between attending to constituent needs, keeping up with college coursework, and participating in legislative affairs, Ruprecht’s schedule is heavily booked, though he does squeeze in membership in PSU student groups.
He was already a political veteran with several years’ experience working for legislators and campaign coordination under his belt when he was elected in his own right in 2018. “I thought I knew basically how it worked, and didn’t learn anything new about the function of the legislature when I was elected,” he says. “But there are a lot of pressures, including from your own conscience, that as an outsider you don’t realize. It’s not as easy as someone on the outside might think.”
His insider’s take on things can add an extremely valuable perspective to classroom discussions, but Ruprecht doesn’t trumpet his bona fides. “I don’t make a big deal about it,” he says modestly. “In New Hampshire it’s not a big deal—it is and it isn’t.”
Ruprecht transferred to PSU in the spring of 2019 in order to be closer both to home and the statehouse, and is majoring in political science with minors in Spanish and sustainability. American Foreign Policy is one of his favorite courses and he enjoys classes with Professor Sheryl Shirley, whom he finds very effective in engaging students. He is currently taking her Women in World Politics course, and a good portion of each class period is devoted to discussion topics such as gender roles and power dynamics. “These are things that students really want to talk about,” he notes.
Ruprecht is currently the most junior member of New Hampshire’s legislature, although only by a few months, and has plenty of similarly aged company. He points out that there are currently a record number of younger legislators, including more than 40 under the age of 40, and many of them caucus together. The group considers issues of concern to younger citizens, such as climate change and student debt. “We try to see what we can do in New Hampshire to address these larger issues,” he says.
New Hampshire’s legislators are paid just $100 annually and are essentially volunteers, which Ruprecht maintains limits the participation of young professionals. “Everyone has to make sacrifices, but they have children and families and it’s not easy for them,” he says. His caucus hopes to break down some of the barriers that prevent young people from getting involved in the process or becoming elected officials.
Ruprecht doesn’t plan to run for reelection this fall but imagines he will eventually return to the public sector, hopefully after earning his juris doctorate. “I really want to be an attorney, maybe a prosecutor, but I don’t see law as a means to an end,” he says. “I am generally interested in law and our institutions and the process behind them. That’s what makes me tick.”
His focus on process might be what allows him to be more forgiving of Washington’s machinations than others who are more desiring of efficiency and output. “People may hate Congress, but I think the dysfunctionality is intended. It’s part of the institution. In the US government everything is based on process, and if it doesn’t follow the process, then it’s illegitimate.”
The New Hampshire legislature is a different matter, according to Ruprecht, and he wants Granite Staters to know that it’s there for them. “The great thing about our government is that it’s so accessible and that New Hampshire legislators actually care,” he says. “There is such an intimate relationship between the people of New Hampshire and their government. Even if you just want to learn about how it works, it’s so easy to get in there and get involved.
“Look at me: I’m a college student, I got involved as a high school student, and now I’m a legislator.”