We want to make sure that everyone has the knowledge and ability to participate in our system, from a local mayor’s race to a presidential election.
Audra Wilson '94 was only a few years out of law school when she met Barack Obama, who was then an Illinois state senator contemplating a run for higher office. She impressed him — so much that he asked her to leave her job as a lawyer focusing on poverty issues to come work on his campaign for U.S. Senate.
It was just one milestone in a long career dedicated to giving citizens a stronger voice within their government. As the former executive director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on engaging people within the political process, Wilson was an advocate for sound, research-based policy solutions.
"Politics can be complicated and we want to make sure that everyone has the knowledge and ability to participate in our system, from a local mayor's race to a presidential election," she says.
Since May 2020, Wilson has been the president and CEO of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, an organization working to make equal justice and economic opportunity a reality in the state of Illinois through litigation and policy shaping.
Both positions have drawn on Wilson's experience working within the political system — both on Obama's campaign and in the halls of Congress — as well as her deep knowledge of the effects of the laws and policies enacted by politicians. After working for Obama, she became an adjunct professor and the director of diversity education and outreach member at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, where she oversaw several major diversity initiatives and taught classes on U.S. welfare programs. Then the political bug bit her again and she took a job as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly in the Second Congressional District of Illinois, working to stay connected and attentive to the needs of constituents.
At Bucknell, Wilson double-majored in international relations and Spanish because she initially hoped to work at the State Department. But although her focus changed to the domestic context while she was in law school at Valparaiso University, she says that her Bucknell education created a knowledge base that she frequently draws on in her work on public policy. "Being conversant in international affairs issues is extremely helpful when you're working in a place like the House of Representatives," she says.
She also credits Bucknell with helping her blossom as a public advocate — skills that she now draws on daily. "I was inspired to learn how to speak out and be a more active citizen," she says. "Making sure every individual feels empowered to do that —that's what my work is all about."