Justin McCartney (SFS’19) Takes on Politics, Sustainability, and Podcasting

Justin McCartney

February 26, 2019
by Sophia Mauro

From the time Justin McCartney (SFS’19) arrived on campus, he has taken advantage of all Georgetown has to offer. From sustainability and international affairs to politics and podcasts, McCartney has gotten involved in a wide variety of initiatives, issues, and leadership roles. He advises new students at Georgetown to invest the time in finding their place and people on the Hilltop. McCartney’s involvement in environmental issues, GU Politics, the International Relations Club, and the student-run Fly on the Wall podcast have helped him to find that home for himself.

For McCartney, the choice to come to Georgetown was an easy one. But the move from a small town in New Jersey to the nation’s capital was a dream, something he never actually believed would happen. As he nears graduation, McCartney says that the reality far surpassed his expectations. “Looking back now, four years ago, it’s amazing to think of how those visions and those dreams of what Georgetown and what Washington could be have not only become a reality but have been surpassed tenfold. I’m taking a class with Madeleine Albright. I’m working on Capitol Hill and walk past the same faces I see every day on CNN and on Twitter.”


McCartney is majoring in Culture and Politics (CULP), where the interdisciplinary focus and emphasis on the intersection of power, knowledge, and culture has allowed him to focus on an issue he’s championed while at Georgetown: environmental justice. After taking AP Environmental Science in high school, he was intrigued by the intersection of politics, science, innovation, and society. During his first year at Georgetown, McCartney traveled to Nairobi, Kenya for a weeklong UN Environmental Programme conference with a group of Georgetown students and faculty.  On campus, McCartney got involved with the Georgetown University Student Association’s Sustainability Policy Team where he worked with University administrators on Georgetown’s bold new clean energy plans. He also took on the task of reinvigorating a student sustainability network, the Georgetown Environmental Leaders (GEL). McCartney wants Georgetown students to know that anyone can get involved in sustainability. “You can be a policy wonk who focuses on environmental policy, a consultant for clean energy, a lawyer in environmental law, an entrepreneur in renewable technology. It’s such an important topic that really demands we integrate sustainable thinking into every part of our life.”

The flexibility that the CULP major provides allowed him to take a range of courses with a wide variety of subjects. Classes at Georgetown, he says, provide a behind-the-scenes perspective unique to Washington, D.C. 

I’ve taken environmental law courses with a professor who held office hours at her law practice and national security courses with a professor who was on a first name basis with Jim Comey and Bob Mueller.


Barack Obama

Justin met Barack Obama at a GOTV rally before election day at Jennifer Wexton’s campaign headquarters. It’s a moment he will never forget.

When he began his first year at Georgetown, McCartney never pictured himself getting involved in politics. But, he concedes, “It’s pretty hard not to get intrigued by politics when you can see the Washington Monument from the window of your freshman dorm.” Memories from his first year in the midst of the 2016 election include primary debate watch parties with his dorm and getting up at 5 am to be the first in line when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came to speak. “To say I was excited would be an understatement; but what really resonated with me was how cool it was that I went to a place like Georgetown that could attract literal superstars (or, at least political superstars) to come and speak. It was the first time that I really recognized how special it was to be here on the Hilltop.”

McCartney spent two summers interning on political campaigns, worked for a semester on the Hill, and has become deeply involved with political activism on campus. As he nears graduation, he’s certain that his political engagement will continue. But he wasn’t always certain — it took a special moment with Barack Obama to get him there.

During the summer and fall leading up to the 2018 midterm election, McCartney worked on Jennifer Wexton’s Congressional campaign to represent the 10th district of Virginia. The day before Election Day, former President Barack Obama came to the campaign headquarters to get staffers and volunteers excited about getting people to the polls. McCartney says the president’s visit was a turning point for him.

Throughout the summer, I had done a lot of thinking and stressing about whether or not it was really what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t until that morning, sitting on the ground five feet away from the former President of the United States (who was holding a box of donuts…) and listening to him tell the young crowd about how we reminded him of his younger self and the importance of hitching your wagon to something bigger than yourself, did I really recognize that I was doing the work I was passionate about. It’s a moment that I’ll never forget.


McCartney also incorporated his love of politics into a unique on-campus project. Along with friends Aaron Bennett and Christian Mesa, he is the co-founder of the Fly on the Wall podcast, housed at the Georgetown Institute for Politics and Public Service (GU Politics). The three took the idea to create a student-run podcast about how politics really works and ran with it, learning interview strategies, content development, and the ins and outs of recording equipment as they went. With the help of GU Politics, they sat down with over 40 high-profile guests including German Ambassador Peter Wittig, Governor Martin O’Malley, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Mexican Senator Armando Rios Piter, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Though it’s difficult to choose a favorite from all of the wild adventures in politics told to them on the podcast, McCartney loved hearing from former White House Communications Director Mike Dubke. “Not only did he have some pretty remarkable stories to tell about working in a place like the White House, but the insight he gave us was behind the scenes about literally the biggest news stories of the day. He told us about the real story of Sean Spicer infamously ‘hiding’ in the bushes, and about his whirlwind process for getting hired by President Trump.”

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Model UN

This year, Justin staffed NCSC, the collegiate Model UN conference hosted by Georgetown.

In February 2012, then-high schooler Justin McCartney was one of the over 3,200 delegates at the 49th conference of the North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN), which is hosted annually by the Georgetown International Relations Club (IRC). While participating, he learned about topics ranging from security in the Middle East to development and climate change. “Because of Model UN,” McCartney says, “I knew that I wanted to study the wide world of international affairs. And I knew that Georgetown was the best place to do it.”

After arriving at Georgetown, Justin’s involvement with the IRC continued. He served various leadership roles for the NAIMUN conference in 2017 and 2018, and says it’s one of the most impactful things he’s been involved with while at Georgetown. “Not only has it allowed me to grow exponentially in skills in time-management, personal leadership, and professional development, but it also has become a home for me on the Hilltop.”

Despite all of the late nights, and running between class and meetings, McCartney says it was all worth it. “I am so grateful for all of the ways that I’ve grown and benefited from being a part of these organizations; but I think that the most important takeaway I’ve had is how good it feels to have a home here at Georgetown.”


Justin worked as a Communications Assistant and Intern Coordinator on Jennifer Wexton’s campaign. Politics is something he says he hopes to continue getting involved in.

Following graduation, McCartney is looking forward to working in politics. He says he is not only drawn to the field because of the excitement, but because of a desire to do something for the common good.

I believe that I have a role to play in lending my skills and talents to the world of public service. It is a career that I hope will allow me to have an impact on my community around me and feel that I am contributing to something larger than myself.