Rachel Junck is an Ames City Council member and a senior in chemical engineering at Iowa State University. Elected at age 20 in 2019, Junck became one of the youngest women to hold political office in Iowa.
She is passionate about getting young people involved in their communities, particularly with voting.
I think it’s really important for students to have a voice and a vote on the City Council in Ames because we’re half of the population. I’m originally from Ames. I grew up here my whole life and I’m a student, so I can really represent both perspectives, but especially give that voice to the students that hadn’t had one before.
It was spring of my sophomore year. I had some friends introduce the idea [of running for City Council] to me and I was like, “No way.” They talked me into it a little bit, and I really started the campaign in June. I saw a need in the community and I saw that I could be the person to fill it.
At first I was thinking about the commitment of being in Ames for four years to serve out a full term. I was thinking that maybe if I was elected and I was the first student and then I left early, they wouldn’t ever elect a student again. I really wanted to make sure that I could commit to being in Ames and that I want to stay here after graduation. Getting into harder chemical engineering coursework, I was a bit worried about it, but once I set my mind to it, even if I’m really busy, I wanted to go all in.
I made the decision right after finals week. My friend, who later became my campaign manager, was bugging me to make a decision. I was like, just let me get through finals first. After finals, I really thought about it and then I called him and I said, “I’m in. Where do we start?” And we went through the process of getting a campaign committee together with students and community members to form a platform and work on campaign issues. From there, we announced our campaign.
I was really nervous going into the first candidate forum. Being a first-time candidate and being younger than all of the other candidates, I was really underestimating how I would be able to do in them.
One of the forums was on campus in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union at 5 p.m. I had a biochemistry class right before and came straight over. Being able to hold my own against the other candidates and being able to articulate my policy ideas and my plans for Ames and what I’m passionate about to the audience and having some support in the audience was a moment where I got a lot of my confidence in running for office. I felt like I was really hitting my stride as a candidate. Being able to stress the importance of voting in a local election and how it directly impacts them was really empowering.
A lot of times, women in particular have imposter syndrome. I was going through that. I’ve been through that in chemical engineering as well in not knowing if I’m good enough. But at this point in my campaign I was very confident and knew that I was good enough to be a candidate. Just because I might not have the same lived experience as someone who’s older than me doesn’t mean I don’t have the same type of things to contribute to the City Council.
Election days are always very long. You get up super early in the morning. As a candidate I went in as soon as the polls opened so I could cast my vote. We basically spent the whole day in the free speech zone helping students get registered to vote and pointing them to where to go vote. We were running around, knocking doors at apartment buildings, fraternities and sororities gathering up people.
We had our election night watch party at Jeff’s Pizza. The polls closed at 8 p.m., you get there and then you refresh the page every five minutes or every 10 seconds once results start to roll in. The first election came in two chunks. Two precincts reported first, and at that point I had 40% of the vote so I was in the lead but still under the threshold of 50% for a runoff. When it refreshed all the way, I remember staring at it like, “Oh my gosh.” We were about eight votes off from avoiding that runoff election. I never knew I could be the leader going into a runoff. There’s no local polling or anything like that. I was really thinking, now what, because we have four weeks to do another election. Getting our feet back under us was a big challenge.
The second election was very vivid in my memory. It all came at once. I was across the room talking to a reporter and then someone said, “I think the results are in.” I ran over to be right by my campaign manager and then we refreshed it together. I saw the bar with my name over the top and I yelled, “We did it!” The whole room erupted and it was a really crazy moment. I will remember that for the rest of my life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FEARLESS?
I think being fearless is taking a leap of faith even though you don’t necessarily know what the outcome could be but doing something you’re passionate about regardless. I think I’ve definitely done fearless things even though I’m not fearless all the time. You don’t have to be fearless all the time to do things that are important and things that you’re passionate about.
WHAT DOES FEARLESS LOOK LIKE?
I think it means doing things regardless of the consequences. Jumping headfirst into something that you maybe aren’t as confident about at first but you really grow to love and catch your stride.
WHAT DOES FEARLESS FEEL LIKE?
I think it feels exhilarating sometimes. Sometimes it can be an indescribable feeling, a kind of joy if you’re successful. Exhilarating is probably the best way to describe it.
HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME FEARLESS?
Anyone can become fearless just by being passionate about something and setting their mind to it and really being confident in the actions they take.
DRAW THE WORD FEARLESS.
Someone skydiving off a plane into the clouds — they can’t see the ground yet but know something good is coming.