Tara McGee-Visger ’14 (Psychology) was enrolled at Sacramento City College when she became pregnant with her son. At the time, she had a good, full-time job as an office assistant at the State Capitol. Her family told her to focus on being a mom for a while. But she had other plans.
“I made a promise to myself that I wanted to have that degree and to have a continued education so I could be a great role model for my son, and to express the importance of education to him,” she said.
Today, McGee-Visger is a legislative director for state Senator Anthony J. Portantino, playing a major role at the State Capitol helping draft new legislation, analyzing pending legislation and serving as one of the senator’s community liaisons. It’s a job in which, she says, her Sacramento State psychology degree is immensely helpful.
The path to that degree, however, wasn’t easy. After earning her associate’s degree, she transferred to Sacramento State, a single mom still working full time. She arrived on campus at 7 a.m. and stayed until about 8:30, when she would leave for her job. After working 9 to 5, she returned to Sac State, often staying until 10 p.m.
“I spent time at the library between classes,” she said. “It was my free time to not focus on work or family. It was more of me being self-isolated, me really zoning in to meditation or reflection.”
She took as many online courses as possible, and enrolled in every summer and winter session. And her persistence paid off when she graduated in two years. She was the first person in her immediate family to earn a four-year degree, but her extended family has deep roots at the University. Her husband Shawn played baseball at Sac State, and her father-in-law was a football coach. Her sister started at Sac State before moving on to beauty school, and her sister’s husband is a Hornet alum.
Throughout her time on campus, McGee-Visger said, she received support from both her family and her Sacramento State professors. The latter, she said, were understanding and flexible, allowing extra time for assignments if needed and making themselves available if she was having difficulty with course material.
“Sac State really helped me become organized,” she said. “(My faculty) helped me to become a great writer. In a political career you have to be able to write and comprehend, and I think they really prepared me for that.”
She had intended to become a child school counselor. But throughout her time on campus she continued to work at the State Capitol as an executive assistant and legislative aide for state Assemblyman Isadore Hall III. Realizing it was a place where she could make a difference in her community, she decided to stay in the world of politics.
“In 2018, the governor signed two of the bill ideas that I gave to my senator,” she said. “Having that voice and that say and it becoming law really has been rewarding.”
The first bill, modeled after a school district in Arizona, required a suicide hotline number be included on the back of every student ID card in the state. The second raised the legal age to purchase any gun, not just handguns, to 21.
McGee-Visger also staffs Portantino on health and education issues, introducing 23 bills this year, though that number had to be trimmed back following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I take a lot of what I learned from my degree into my workplace now in politics,” she said. “It’s helped me work on a lot of and create a lot of mental health related issue bills.”
As she works, her motivation is the same thing that helped her persist to a Sacramento State degree in the first place: her son.
“He makes me strive to be a better person, and to create goals for myself and to lead and be kind and mentor,” she said. “He teaches me more than he knows.”