Riddle Prize-winning student has passion for politics

Hugh Vondracek

“I like learning about and trying to understand how the world works,” says senior Hugh Vondracek. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

During his four years at UIC, Hugh Vondracek got good grades, started a men’s club soccer team, led a campus ministry program, guided students as a resident adviser and interned at the U.S. embassy in Turkey.

“Being able to do any one of those things isn’t what I’m most proud of — it’s that I’ve been able to do all of them, which really highlights how special UIC is,” said Vondracek, an Honors College senior in political science. “Students can be part of a diverse array of things.”

Vondracek is this year’s winner of the Donald and Leah Riddle Prize for Outstanding Graduating Senior. The prize, named for a former chancellor and his wife, is among UIC’s top undergraduate honors.

Vondracek’s passion for politics began in childhood.

“I like learning about and trying to understand how the world works,” he said. “I’ve also been drawn to a vocation of service. Since I was little, I’ve thought that working in U.S. foreign policy is how I want to live that out.”

Vondracek, who is minoring in international studies, spent 10 weeks in Turkey in 2012 through the U.S. State Department’s Critical Languages Scholarship program for intensive language studies.

“You have five hours of class per day and two hours of homework and you’re operating in a language that you don’t speak,” he said. “It was great, but really hard.”

His experience helped him secure an internship in the economics sector of the U.S. Embassy in Turkey last summer, working with Turkish government officials. “The political situation was really changing in Turkey last summer and it was really cool to be able to be there and talk with Turks about their perceptions,” he said.

Vondracek heads to Scotland in the fall to begin a yearlong graduate program in international relations at the University of Glasgow. He received one of only five merit-based tuition waivers granted each year for international students.

“I’ll look for a job after that, and maybe a Ph.D. is farther down the road,” he said.

His dream job is to work in the U.S. State Department’s intelligence analysis unit.

“They take all these little bits of information being reported from all sorts of intelligence sources and make some sort of coherent understanding of what’s going on,” he said. “I want to help make smarter, more informed foreign policy.”

Vondracek cofounded the UIC men’s club soccer team during his sophomore year. He is a practice player this year for the UIC Flames women’s soccer team, helping the players get ready for their inaugural season in the fall.

“It’s been great being a practice player — there’s consistent, high-level coaching,” he said. “It’s a really interesting way to represent the university.”

His advice to future UIC students: take advantage of all that the campus and city have to offer.

“Pick any class that interests you and don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ more,” he said. “Don’t let your gut instinct tell you, ‘I don’t know if I can do it or if I’ll have time.’

“Explore the city and try new things.”

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