Employer Spotlight: Q&A w/Marisa Mobley, Business & Marketing Analyst at Weddington Way


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Tell us about Weddington Way, your role, and what drew you to the company.
Weddington Way is the go-to wedding brand and digital destination for millennial brides. Specifically, we provide brides with a collaborative shopping platform that helps them visualize their wedding, organize ideas with their bridesmaids, and shop together – even if they are scattered across the country.

As the Business and Marketing Analyst in a team of 40, I get to touch all business areas that have a need for data and analysis. My role involves reporting key company metrics to the team, analyzing marketing data to help make campaigns more efficient, working with product teams to analyze funnels and flows, and partnering with the customer service team to monitor performance and identify areas of improvement.

I was drawn to Weddington Way as the company was working to improve the wedding industry and provide a better customer experience through technology and by offering a vast selection of bridesmaid dress options. I see the passion and the energy of the team every day as they look to learn and constantly improve.

What makes a candidate stand out to Weddington Way?
At Weddington Way, we are passionate about improving the wedding industry and driven to provide our customers with the best experience. A great candidate for Weddington Way is excited to learn, grow and contribute to our mission of perfecting the experience of our customers. We are a small, growing team, and as such, a great employee is excited to try new things and is driven to improve all areas of the business. We look for individuals who are able to work both in teams and independently. At Weddington Way, as at any startup, time management and prioritization is key, as are strong communication skills.

What does an entry-level role or internship look like and entail?
An entry-level role or internship at Weddington Way will likely span a couple of different business areas. You will learn and contribute a lot. The exposure to ecommerce, retail, and a customer-centric approach to running a business would be immensely beneficial.

Describe a typical workday.
I love that no two days are the same. The wedding industry is a seasonal business, which means that we spend fall and winter in planning and preparation mode, while spring and summer we’re in execution mode! I am always working on a few projects at once and am encouraged to jump in on projects that I’m excited about.

What do you enjoy most about working with Weddington Way?
Above all else, it would be the fantastic team. My colleagues are driven, ambitious individuals who are eager to disrupt the space. A truly inspiring group that I get to learn from everyday!

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking students interested in this industry? For students who are early in their college careers?
A young and growing company is a fantastic place to get some real hands on experience and start building a career. When working at a startup, you will be contributing to the team and company from day one. This is a very exciting place to be, but your responsibilities are great and the stakes are high. It can be a stressful environment as you are thrown into the deep end. But it’s also exciting as you learn much faster on the job than you will in any training environment. When choosing where to start your career, it is important to think about the environments in which you learn and work best so you end up somewhere you can succeed.

What does your workspace look like? 

The open floor workspace at Weddington Way.

We have an open office floorplan with a bunch of small office spaces along the periphery. This means that one gets to interact with almost everyone in the company, irrespective of title or function.  The meeting rooms are great for smaller group huddles or individual quiet time.

What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?
My Macbook Air and Microsoft Excel.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?
It’s a journey, not a race. Don’t worry about comparing yourself to others, as long as you’re learning and challenging yourself you’re never behind. Being a new grad is a very hard, challenging time for all. Everyone is leaving the structure of college and moving on to new things. It’s really the first time in most people’s lives where they are completely free to decide how they want to spend their time. Don’t be afraid to take chances. What you do between the ages of 22 – 25 matters much more in terms of personal development than in terms of career development.

Are there any current opportunities at Weddington Way for students or graduating seniors?
Yes, we have internships for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as full-time roles for recent grads. If you are customer centric, driven, and enthusiastic, I would encourage you to apply to the many open roles on our jobs page.

NEXTernship: Becca Smith’s day with One Smooth Stone


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For the NEXTernship program, I shadowed Mark Ledogar, the Senior Vice President and Principal of One Smooth Stone, an event and communications agency outside of Chicago. Not only did Mark provide me with an accurate portrayal of the event management industry, but was also a great example of a full-time work schedule. One Smooth Stone is a small but well-managed and effective business. Mark and his co-workers take pride in spending time and care to plan and manage their clients’ events. Mark respects and cares for his co-workers, but also has high standards for them. With his positive attitude and strong work ethic, he creates a light-hearted but diligent work environment. During my shadowing day, Mark showed me one of One Smooth Stone’s ongoing events. All of the employees at the event were relaxed and in control of the event, and more than willing to talk about their experiences in the industry.

Mark is an admirable and successful businessman, but also exemplifies a passionate alumnus. He uses his event management skills to plan Northwestern events, and is involved in the Board of Trustees, the Alumni Association, and Homecoming. He reflects his “purple pride” through his continued involvement with improving the undergraduate experience.

This experience allowed me to think about my future after graduation and gain insight into the real-world and what it entails. It also showed me how I can continue to have an impact on Northwestern even after I leave. The NEXTernship was a fantastic way to network with alumni, think about the future, and appreciate Northwestern’s amazing education and resources.

Becca Smith is a sophomore Communication Studies major interested in a career in the Event Management industry.

Nonprofit Week Q&A: Peter Skopec (’12, BA), State Director at The Public Interest Network


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Our final Nonprofit Week blog series post comes from Peter Skopec (2012, BA, Political Science, International Studies, French). Peter serves as the State Director at The Public Interest Network. Read on to learn about his current role and career path.

The best thing about working with TPIN, Peter says, is being part of an organization of genuinely passionate people that has a 40-year history of making a difference.

The best thing about working with TPIN, Peter says, is being part of an organization of genuinely passionate people that has a 40-year history of making a difference.

Describe your role with The Public Interest Network. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?

I’m the Wisconsin state director with The Public Interest Network. That means that in my day-to-day operations, I direct the non-profit group WISPIRG (or Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group). I’m in charge of developing and running WISPIRG’s grassroots issue campaigns, and lead several state coalitions of non-profit groups working on budget policy, campaign finance reform and consumer financial protection; I also do grant- and donor-fundraising to support our efforts, and lobby decision-makers at the state capitol in Madison and in Washington, D.C.

I got started with The Public Interest Network after graduating from Northwestern in 2012. I appreciated the non-partisan, common-sense nature of TPIN’s work, and liked the very strategic and deliberate approach TPIN takes to tackling some of the biggest issues of our time: building a case for reform through targeted research, then getting the public involved at the grassroots by elevating the voices of hundreds of thousands of people, and finally taking the solutions these people support to decision-makers at all levels of government.

What is your work and education background?

I studied Political Science, International Studies and French at Northwestern, and I was in the Brady Scholars Program, where I got my start in community organizing. While I was in college, I had several internships with non-profit organizations and in government in France and Austria (where I grew up). I also spent a year working in the Austrian Red Cross after high school.

Describe a typical workday.

One of the things I love about my job is that there is no typical workday. One day, I’ll be holding a press conference to release a research report on the transportation budget or participating in a panel discussion about Wall Street reform, the next I’ll be speaking to a church basement full of volunteers or knocking on doors to turn out voters to the polls. This is anything but a desk job!

What does an entry level role look like and entail?

We’re hiring graduating seniors to be campaign organizers in the Public Interest Network’s Impact program (Deadline: April 5). As a campaign organizer, you’ll learn how to plan and run a grassroots campaign to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time, from global warming to special interest influence in politics. We’ll teach you how to develop and execute a campaign plan, recruit and work with volunteers, fundraise, communicate your message through the media, and lobby decision-makers at every level of government. Impact will prepare you to be a leader in the social change movement, whether you stay with TPIN, join a different non-profit group or go into government.

What’s the best thing about working at The Public Interest Network?

We take on some of the most powerful special interests out there, and challenge them on the most pressing issues of the day — so “progress” doesn’t happen overnight. I like being part of an organization of genuinely passionate people that has a 40-year history of making a difference, by building a powerful, sustained movement for social change.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?

This work has taught me that real change doesn’t happen by sitting behind an office desk and writing research papers, no matter how good your ideas — it takes people willing to put in the time and leg work to implement them. That often means doing unglamorous things like making thousands of phone calls with volunteers, gathering petitions on street corners and on doorsteps, or spending dozens of hours slowly building a coalition for reform in your community. And it means many, many setbacks. So first and foremost, I encourage you to not shy away from the challenge. It will take many more young, talented and passionate people to make the world a better place. And if you’re just starting out in college, get involved early in whatever cause you feel strongly about — and get your friends and your friends’ friends involved, too!

What does your work space look like?

I spend most of my time out of the office and in the community, working with volunteers and coalition partners, meeting with legislators or working with the media – my “workplace” is working/organizing in the field!

Peter's workspace.

What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?

My smart phone! It’s my mobile office when I’m out organizing in the field.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?

Work hard, always do your best — and challenge yourself! Just because something is hard or pushes you beyond (even far beyond) your comfort zone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. I’ve often found the toughest, most difficult work experiences to be the most rewarding in the long run (even if they weren’t always fun at the time).

Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to Peter’s work at The Public Interest Network? Be sure to explore the following organizations.

  1. Center for Community Change
  2. The Rand Corporation
  3. Center for Economic and Social Justice

Nonprofit Week Q&A: Peter Toth (’13, BA), Innovation Consultant at Foresight Design Initiative


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Peter Toth (2013, BA, History) joins us for Nonprofit Week. Peter serves as an Innovation Consultant at Foresight Design Initiative. Read on to learn about his current role and career path.

Peter’s interest in sustainability-related nonprofit work drew him to the Chicago-based Foresight Design Initiative.

Peter’s interest in sustainability-related nonprofit work drew him to the Chicago-based Foresight Design Initiative.

Describe your role with Foresight Design Initiative. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?

My time at Foresight began with an internship in the fall of 2011, during my junior year at Northwestern. I had long been interested in doing sustainability-related nonprofit work, and I was drawn to the organization’s multidisciplinary, system-level approach. During my internship, I coordinated the efforts of various coalitions of local organizations, working on issues ranging from environmental education to innovative business models. Apart from the content, I was drawn to the creative, team-based atmosphere and the high work standards to which I was held.

I returned as a full-time staff member in February 2014. Since then, I have worked on a variety of grant-funded projects focused on sustainability in Chicago. My role has involved primary and secondary research, creating diagrams and other visual tools, and event design. For my main project, I have developed innovative strategies to help Illinois consumers take advantage of energy management technologies and programs. I have contributed in a variety of capacities to other projects, including a systems analysis of regional water and energy efficiency efforts.

What is your work and education background?

I majored in History and minored in Chemistry at Northwestern. While in college, in addition to my time at Foresight, I interned for about four months at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, another sustainability-focused nonprofit in Chicago.

Describe a typical workday.

One of the aspects that I like most about Foresight is that there is no really typical workday. As with all jobs, a fair amount of time is spent crafting emails, making phone calls, and participating in staff meetings. Sometimes I might spend a couple of days in a row doing research and translating my findings into a diagram. Other weeks may be filled with primary research interviews or events. Because we have a very flexible approach, no two phases of a project, let alone the projects themselves, look entirely the same.

What does an entry level role look like and entail?

Because we currently have only four staff members, Foresight has a relatively flat hierarchy, and we tend to be flexible with project assignments. Although I am the least-experienced member, I have been the lead on my main project for almost my entire time at Foresight. I’m responsible for some everyday administrative tasks, such as bookkeeping, but for the most part I have a high level of responsibility and input on project work.

What’s the best thing about working at Foresight?

I love working at Foresight because we do meaningful work, and we do it in creative and innovative ways. I relish the opportunity to think about complex problems and contribute to strategies for dealing with them. Most importantly, my colleagues are among the most intelligent, creative, and hardworking people I’ve met, and it’s an absolute pleasure working with them.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?

The most valuable insight I’ve gained about sustainability is that it isn’t really a field or sector. Rather, it’s a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with complex challenges. For this reason, there isn’t just one key discipline or skill that will make you a better sustainability professional. You can come to sustainability through biology, communications, engineering, statistics, design, or any other field. That said, learning to work effectively in a real-world setting is a skill unto itself, and requires time and practice. Get as much experience as possible through internships, and use these opportunities to determine what type of job you’d most enjoy.

What does your work space look like?

Peter's workspace.


Peter's workspace.What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?

Two come immediately to mind. Evernote is essentially an application for taking and sharing notes that is accessible both online and offline. While that may sound quite mundane, it’s a far superior alternative to endless folders of Word documents and the clutter of Google Drive. OmniGraffle, meanwhile, is perfect for creating diagrams and flow charts, which we use frequently at Foresight.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?

When I was an intern, Peter, our Executive Director, told me that developing good judgment is as important than learning skills, if not more so. Judgment is the reserve of knowledge that can be drawn upon in unexpected or unpredictable situations, and comes mainly from experience. It’s been the most valuable resource that I’ve gained thus far in my still-young professional career.

Explore the work that Foresight Design Initiative is doing and check out the internship opportunities!

Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to Peter’s work at Foresight Design Initiative? Be sure to explore the following organizations.

  1. Frontier
  2. Net Impact
  3. Mission Measurement

Nonprofit Week Q&A: Jason Wiens (’04, BA), Policy Director at the Kauffman Foundation


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Jason Wiens (2004, BA, Political Science) joins us for Nonprofit Week. Jason serves as the Policy Director at the Kauffman Foundation. Read on to learn about his current role and career path.

At the Kauffman Foundation, Jason has led efforts to educate policymakers about laws and regulations that affect entrepreneurs.

At the Kauffman Foundation, Jason leads efforts to educate policymakers about laws and regulations that affect entrepreneurs.

Describe your role with the Kauffman Foundation. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?

I work in the Kauffman Foundation’s Research and Policy Department, where since 2014 I have led our efforts to educate policymakers about laws and regulations that affect entrepreneurs.  We do this by funding high-quality research, harvesting the results of that research, and translating the findings to a policymaker audience.  The goal is to arm policymakers with the latest information so that they can shape an environment more conducive to new business creation and growth.

Prior to working at the Foundation, I advised a United States senator and used the Foundation as a resource to inform the policy work in the senator’s office.  I saw the value in what the Foundation was doing and wanted to help expand its efforts.

What is your work and education background?

I studied political science and sociology as an undergraduate at Northwestern.  When I graduated, I went to D.C. for a summer internship on Capitol Hill and loved the work that congressional staff did.  I ended up staying there for almost ten years, working in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Describe a typical workday.

Work at the Foundation varies, but there is never a shortage of work to do.  We are a grant-making and operating Foundation, so a good amount of time is spent developing projects with prospective grantees and managing existing grants.  I also oversee the creation of two-page policy briefs we produce for policymakers to educate them about things like non-compete agreements, immigration, and tax incentives that all impact entrepreneurship.  In a typical day, I’ll spend time reading, writing, and developing plans for how best to reach policymakers with our message about entrepreneurship.  Sprinkle in some event planning, speaking with reporters, and preparing to give a speech, and you’ll get a good idea of what the job is like.

What does an entry level role look like and entail?

In the Research and Policy Department, most of our young staff are research assistants (RA).  Some have a bachelor’s degree, while others already have a master’s.  Economics is a popular major among the RA’s.  Research assistants help harvest the research we fund, do some research of their own, and help process grants.

What’s the best thing about working at the Kauffman Foundation?

One of the great things about working at the Kauffman Foundation is the chance to work with many bright people and leading thinkers on topics that are really important to the future of the country.  Entrepreneurship and economic growth go hand in hand.  A successful entrepreneur not only creates wealth for himself, but also opportunities for others.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?

I’ve found that experience really matters.  If you aren’t able to get a job right away, consider an internship in order to acquire some real-life, on-the-job experience.  It is also important to connect with others who do what you want to do and learn from them.

Has the Northwestern Alumni Network impacted your career? If so, how?

A great professor at Northwestern and former speechwriter for President Nixon helped me land my first internship.  That internship was the starting point for my career on Capitol Hill, which ultimately led me to the Foundation.

What does your work space look like?

My workspace is not as tidy as I’d like.  There is a stack of things on my table that I’d like to read and files on my desk for all the current projects I am working on.  On the bookshelf is a bill I helped get passed in the Senate and a Jayson Werth garden gnome, since I am a big Washington Nationals fan.

Jason's workspace.

Jason's workspace.

What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?

I really like this app called Pocket, which lets you save things you want to read from your desktop to your phone.  I catch up on a lot of reading on the plane.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?

When you’re just starting out as a professional, I think there can be a lot of temptation to quickly reach the “inner ring” by climbing whatever ladders you think you need to in order to be “important.”  The problem is that there will always be another “ring.”  Instead, focus on doing your current job the best you can and seek satisfaction from that.  When you do, the rest will follow.

Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to the Kauffman Foundation? Be sure to explore the following organizations.

  1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  2. MacArthur Foundation
  3. The Kresge Foundation

Interested in working at the Kauffman Foundation? The 2015 Summer Internship Deadline is March 20th

Nonprofit Week Q&A: Katherine Ritchey (’01, MSJ/BS), Communications Manager at the Pew Research Center


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Katherine Ritchey (2001, MSJ/BS, Journalism, Communications, Political Science) joins us for Nonprofit Week. Katherine serves as the Communications Manager at the Pew Research Center. Read on to learn about her current role and career path.

After spending the first 12 years of her career working in strategic communications for PepsiCo, Katherine now serves as Communications Manager at the Pew Research Center.

After spending the first 12 years of her career working in strategic communications for PepsiCo, Katherine now serves as Communications Manager at the Pew Research Center.

Describe your role with Pew Research Center. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?

My job is to develop and execute communications strategies to promote and disseminate the center’s research to a variety of audiences. This includes traditional media relations, social media strategy, outreach to policymakers, academics and other stakeholders; and events and presentations.

I’ve been at the Pew Research Center about a year and a half, and was drawn here because I’d longed admired the organization for the way its data and research were a trusted part of the public discourse.  Hardly a day went by that I didn’t read a news article or column or hear a public official citing the Pew Research Center’s work. When I was looking for a job in DC, I was especially interested in working at a think tank or research organization, and as I read up on the Pew Research Center, I found its mission — “conducting empirical research that helps policymakers, civic leaders, educators and the public at large understand and address some of the world’s most challenging problems” – particularly compelling.

What is your work and education background?

I majored in communications studies and political science at Northwestern and then, thinking I wanted to become a reporter, got my master’s in journalism at Medill. Even though I ultimately decided not to go into journalism, I’m grateful for my Medill education for many reasons: It taught me how to synthetize complex information quickly, to thrive in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, to share information in compelling ways and to adapt to constant change.

I spent the first 12 years of my career working in strategic communications for PepsiCo, first for the company’s Quaker/Tropicana/Gatorade businesses in Chicago, and later for its Frito-Lay division in Texas. My responsibilities in those roles included employee communication, media relations, community relations, crisis communications, issues management, speechwriting and digital media.

Describe a typical workday.

As I’m sure people across a variety of roles and industries would tell you, there’s rarely a typical day! If we’re getting ready to release a major research report, I spend most of my time developing the release plan, which includes drafting press releases, key messages and other communications materials, identifying the appropriate reporters, producers and editors to promote the research to, working with our web team on the digital strategy and helping prepare our researchers for interviews and presentations. Other days, there may be issues in the news on which we’ve conducted surveys or other research, so I spend a good deal of time responding to reporters and producers’ queries and helping them find and understand data they can use in their stories, as well as and monitoring and reporting on the news and other coverage our research receives.

What does an entry level role look and entail?

It really varies by function. On the communications side, someone in an entry-level role supports all aspects of the center’s external relations, from responding to calls and emails from the media to arranging logistics for media interviews with the center’s experts to tracking daily news coverage of the center’s research to updating databases with information about our media contacts. On the research side, someone in an entry-level role would help with areas such as survey design, data collection and analysis and report writing.

What’s the best thing about working at Pew Research Center?

Without a doubt, it’s the people here. As a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization, focused on providing facts that inform the public and drive sound decision-making, accuracy, transparency, objectivity and integrity are absolutely critical to our research and communication. My colleagues are incredibly committed to and rigorous in upholding those values in everything they do.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?

I encourage anyone interested in working at a think tank or research organization – regardless of the type of role you’re interested in – to build your writing and public speaking skills. At my organization, and at most other similar types of organizations, getting the word out about our findings is just as critical as conducting the actual research. Our researchers not only develop surveys and analyze data, but also write reports, present findings to government officials and NGOs, conduct interviews with the media and share their work on social media.

How has the Northwestern alumni network impacted your career?

I can’t say enough about now valuable the Northwestern network has been throughout my career and especially so when I was looking for a job in DC. On several occasions, I reached out to Northwestern alumni I didn’t even know who worked at organizations or in roles I was interested in, and they were all extremely gracious about meeting with me, sharing their advice and putting me in touch with others in their network they thought might be able to help me. I applied for my current job through the Pew Research Center’s online application system, but it was an NU alum’s contact who helped get my résumé into the right hands.

In all the cities I’ve lived, I’ve attended networking events and career seminars organized by the local NU alumni clubs and the Northwestern Alumni Association, and I’ve always come away with terrific career insights and new contacts.

I’m also a board member of the Northwestern Club of DC and a member of the Council of 100. I’m at a point in my career where I have experiences and knowledge that might be useful to others, and I want to give back to other NU alumni the way others have to me. Being part of both of those groups helps me do so, as well as to continue to network and learn from others.

What does your work space look like?

As you can see from the photo, my work area is a typical, basic office with a desk, phone and computer, similar to most any office environment. Most of us here – myself included – work from two computer screens, so that we can easily look at the data we’re writing or talking about and monitor the news or social media while we’re doing other work. I’m definitely a “minimalist” and rarely have anything on my desk that I’m not using or don’t absolutely need!

3_10_15 Katherine Ritchey Work Space

What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?

Twitter is very useful at work, both to reach our audiences with our research and to stay on top of how our data and the topics we research are being shared by the media and experts and entering the public discourse. The Pew Research Center and our key research areas have Twitter accounts that help us promote our research, and most of our researchers tweet regularly about the topics they study. I also “follow” reporters, scholars, policy makers and other experts focused on the topics we study, so scanning my Twitter feed throughout the day gives me a quick read of who’s using our data and where there might be outreach opportunities.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?

To be willing to take risks. Taking risks has allowed me to bring innovations to the organizations where I’ve worked, to continually learn on the job and to explore new career areas. If I wasn’t willing to take a risk, I never would have left a promising corporate job and moved to a new city where I hardly knew anyone to make a career change I felt was best for my long-term aspirations. A year and a half later, I’m certainly grateful I took that risk!

Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to the Pew Research Center? Be sure to explore the following organizations.

  1. Center for National Policy
  2. Council on Foreign Relations
  3. Public Agenda

Nonprofit Week Q&A: Mac Antigua (’96, BS/MA), Director of Alumni Engagement at Public Allies


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First up in our Nonprofit Week blog series is Mac Antigua (1996, BS/MA, Communication Studies), the Director of Alumni Engagement at Public Allies. Read on to find out about Mac’s current role and career path.

Describe your role with the Public Allies. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?

As the Director of Alumni Engagement at at Public Allies, Mac works to create opportunities and platforms for our Alumni to accelerate their leadership practice.

As the Director of Alumni Engagement at Public Allies, Mac works to create opportunities and platforms for their Alumni to accelerate leadership practice.

I’m the Director of Alumni Engagement.  The mission of Public Allies is to advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation.  Our main engine for that has been our AmeriCorps Apprenticeship Program,  a 10-month Apprenticeship that consists of working at a nonprofit organization, participating in a cohort based leadership development program grounded in our five core values of (inclusion, integrity, asset-based focus, continuous learning and collaboration) and performing service projects.  This Apprenticeship is in 23 cities across the country, and has turned out 5,400 Alumni – the “new leadership” that our mission states, 80% of which who continue to work in the public and nonprofit sector.  As the Director of Alumni Engagement, my charge is to create opportunities and platforms for our Alumni to accelerate their leadership practice (i.e. their skills, career and network) and impact (individually and collectively).

At Northwestern, I was very engaged in the Undergraduate Leadership Program, Office of Student Community Service and studied under Jody Kretzmann and John McKnight, who were leading in academic research on Asset Based Community Development Theory.   I remember they recommended me to apply to Public Allies Chicago’s Apprenticeship, which was being led by one of their fellow Asset Based Community Development practitioners, Michelle Obama.  So, that was a heck of a first job interview.

Somehow, I got accepted into the Apprenticeship, and I was placed at the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention to create a youth leadership initiative which would create more youth voices and peer influence to advance the movement within the state.  I was hired after my Apprenticeship year, and stayed there for two more years, ultimately returning back to Public Allies Chicago to be the Program Director from 1999-2003.

I came back to work at the national office of Public Allies (based in Milwaukee, WI) in 2008, and have been in this role since 2011.

I never thought I’d be associated with the same organization with most of my professional career – but I’ve been attracted by Public Allies vision of a diverse, just and equitable society, and that’s what keeps me here.

What is your work and education background?

I graduated from the School of Communications in 1996 with my BS/MA in Communication Studies.  I started in rhetoric as I thought I was going into law, but then after studying the speeches of Gandhi, King and MLK, I wanted to learn more about the work of the social movements they led.  That ultimately led me to looking at leadership development and working in the non-profit sector.

Describe a typical workday.

I’m charged with maintaining a virtual national network that’s present on several different social networking platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), so part of my day is monitoring those platforms for our Alumni activity and for amplifying Alumni stories and leadership opportunities.

I’m also working with my National Program Teammates who manage our Apprenticeship, and finding ways our Alumni can support our local efforts – particularly around supporting our Apprentices in sticking in the program, and looking ahead assisting with outplacement after they complete the Apprenticeship.

Otherwise, I’m also connecting with my local Program Staff and/or my Alumni volunteer leaders on how we can best align and coordinate our efforts.  I’ve become the master at googlehangouts and conference call platforms, as I host several of those a month.

I don’t have direct reports, but rather a mix of volunteers and local staff who have Alumni as a focus for their work – so my management style is grounded more on collaboration and shared aspiration, rather than “command and control.”  If anything, I lean on the community organizing skills I first learned while doing Independent Study as a junior.

What does an entry level role look like and entail?

At the National Office of Public Allies we don’t have a lot of entry level roles.  We’re pretty lean, and we’re responsible for a national network so all of us had prior roles before taking on our current gigs.

In terms of “entry level” in Public Allies, the Apprenticeship is the most analogous – where our Apprentices work 32 hours a week at a nonprofit organization, and then for 8 hours a week participate in team service projects (which they organize themselves), as well as participate in our leadership development curriculum.

What’s the best thing about working at Public Allies?

The best thing about working at Public Allies is that I’m surrounded by talented people who are really committed to the mission and vision of the organization.  Even though Public Allies has existed since the early 1990s, it’s maintained a sensibility of a “start-up” organization.  A lot of that is due to the fact that in the nonprofit sector, you tend to work lean anyway – the “startup vibe” comes from the ambition we have to make our mission come true, as well as our commitment to putting the organizations 5 core values first in our work.

Over the course of my time at Public Allies (as an Apprentice, as a Program Staff member in Chicago, and now at the National Office), I’ve also had the privilege of studying and learning the leading edge of leadership development theory.  I’ve got to learn the stories of thousands of diverse young leaders who’ve aspired (and still aspire) to change the world to make it better.  As a result I just get to be surrounded by impressive people who demand the best out of me, and who don’t take the status quo for granted.

We believe that “Everyone Leads” – which doesn’t mean that everyone is a “leader” by way of title, but rather everyone has gifts, and the responsibility to step up and lead by sharing that gift in service to making the community better.  I love that I get to be part of an organization that believes this and works every day to make that a reality.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?

For those who are job-seeking students interested in this field?  Get up on national service/AmeriCorps.  You’ve got the “Big Box Brands” like Teach For America, City Year, National Civilian Conservation Corps, or find a more localized/niche opportunity like Public Allies.  Yeah, I know the pay ain’t great, but if you can get a great cohort experience, that will go a long way towards assisting you in networking and building a strong foundation for a career in the “for-purpose” sector.

For those who are early in your college careers?   Volunteer and be engaged in your community.  Discover your gift and talent that can make your community better.  Hone your skills associated with empathy and understanding.  Get familiar with the structures of power and privilege in our society, and understand your role within them.

What does your work space look like?

Here’s my cubicle here at the Public Allies National Office.   Yes, there is a process and system here – but it’s just not obvious to the passerby.

Mac's workspace

What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?

Wow – I don’t think I can pick just one.   Let’s just say I was super psyched when we switched over from Microsoft Outlook to Google for Nonprofits several years ago.  Especially since I use googlehangouts a bunch for my virtual Alumni convenings.

What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?

My first supervisor at the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention was Michael Johnson, who had logged many years doing youth development and gang violence prevention on the south and west sides of Chicago. (He’s now a CPS Elementary School Principal)  He was terrific as he took on a mentorship role for me, and I still remember his advice.  It came when I was struggling to put together a lesson plan for a series of statewide youth trainings.  I kept redoing the agenda over and over and driving myself insane with second guessing.   He finally took me aside and told me, “Mac, these kids may show up because of the program, but they’ll only come back because of the people.”  What I took from that I could have the best curriculum in the world, but it wouldn’t mean anything unless I brought my full authentic self to the role, and that I cared about who they were and about who they wanted to become as a result of our time together.  He was right – they did come back after I showed them I cared about them and believed in them, and because we created an environment where they met other like-minded and passionate leaders.

Even though I’m not doing dating violence education and gang violence prevention anymore, I still carry that same approach that Michael impressed upon me.  People and relationships matter, and I’m best served by tending to those with great care.

Mac, do you have any additional articles, websites, or resources you’d like to share with students exploring non-profit work?

Of course, I’m biased – check out www.publicallies.org, as we’re accepting applications for our 2015-2016 cohort.

I’m a big fan of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – as they’ve built a national network of emerging leaders in the sector, and have a great blog.

In terms of my favorite thinkers in the work – Maurice Lim Miller is up there.  I’d say that his writing should be required reading before entering the field – explore a series of his essays from the Huffington Post.  “When Helping Doesn’t Help” is where I’d start, but it’s all gold.

Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to Public Allies? Be sure to explore the following organizations.

  1. AmeriCorps
  2. City Year
  3. BUILD (Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development)

Next Week: Nonprofit Blog Series March 9-13


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Nonprofit Week: Live a life of purpose in government, education, cultural and social mission institutions begins next week from March 9-13. As part of the week, we invite you to tune in here to the NCA blog for a series of Q&As from ‘Cats working in the nonprofit field. You’ll hear from a different ‘Cat each day of the week, including:

Plus: Follow the hashtag #CatsDoGood for tips and job/internship opportunities Tweeted from our @NUCareerAdvance and @JobsforCats Twitter handles throughout next week.

For a full list of Nonprofit Week events, please visit the NCA website.

Views from the Cube: Starbucks Intern Maya Voelk


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What's the view from Maya Voelk's cube? Starbucks!

What’s the view from Maya Voelk’s cube? Starbucks!

You know those moments in life when you have to physically stop what you’re doing, look around, and sit back to appreciate what’s going on around you? That happened to me on a daily basis while I was interning in the global digital marketing department at Starbucks. The experience advanced my professional skills (and caffeine dependency) beyond anything I could have anticipated.

The company internship program follows a loose formula. It assigns each intern a manager and a mentor. My mentor helped me get accustomed to Starbucks culture and set up immersion meetings with people outside of the global digital marketing department. With her help, I was able to learn about my other areas of interest at Starbucks, including the Public Affairs and Partner Resources departments. My manager, a composed leader with an astute understanding of the business of digital marketing, determined my summer projects depending on the department’s needs. Together they also taught me invaluable skills about working in a corporate environment, even one as unique as Starbucks. I don’t know what I would have done without either of their guidance.

People frequently ask whether I worked on real projects or if I was just shuttling coffee back and forth to caffeine-hungry bosses. While caffeine addiction runs rampant at Starbucks, I never once did a coffee run. Within the first few hours of my arrival, I sat down with my manager and went over my assignments. The work required me to gain a deep understanding of the digital marketing process at Starbucks, from the creative strategy to the gathering and analyzing of digital insights. In addition to my projects, the Starbucks career development team planned tons of intern events, from Lunch & Learns with company leaders to a Seattle Sounders game, and even a dinner cruise on the Puget Sound. Still, sometimes the best days at work were just ordinary days, when I learned a new skill or connected with a new campaign or brand moment.

While I know I will carry the practical digital marketing skills with me for many years, I have been most impacted by the relationships I built with my co-workers. The employees were passionate not only about their field of work, but about the greater mission of the company as well. Additionally, my relationships outside of digital marketing, specifically with the other interns, taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I never would have guessed that I would leave the internship with a greater understanding of food chemistry, supply chain management or retail innovation.

Over my summer at Starbucks, I had several transformative experiences. The internship revitalized my existing passion for marketing, specifically digital marketing. I also witnessed the lead up to several major campaigns, such as “Meet Me At Starbucks” and the seasonal launch of the pumpkin spice latte. Perhaps most remarkably, I had the chance to engage with a company so devoted to its ethics and mission statement that I thought it might as well be a life coaching service. Mostly, I learned a lot, and I certainly couldn’t cover every lesson in a single blog post. However, the majority of what I learned at Starbucks can be summed up by a sign that sat on my co-worker’s desk. It read, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” A few cups of (free!) coffee in the morning doesn’t hurt either.

Maya Voelk is a junior in Medill, majoring in journalism with a focus on magazine studies. She is also pursuing a minor in Asian American studies and a certificate in integrated marketing communications.

Employer Spotlight: Teach for America’s Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Engagement Aimée Eubanks Davis


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Interview conducted by Teach for America Recruitment Manager & NU Alum Amie Ninh

As a Northwestern alumna, I’m thrilled that my current job brings me back to Wildcat territory so often. I work as a recruitment manager for Teach For America at a cluster of campuses, including NU. Every fall, I look forward to coming back to campus and getting dollar burgers at Bar Louie, grabbing a drink at Bat 17 and strolling through the Sorority Quad like I did freshman year. But I also have the privilege of connecting with current Northwestern students and hearing about their passion, intelligence, and desire to make a difference in the world. It’s these inspiring conversations about students’ stories, goals, and commitment to equality that make me so excited to get back to Evanston.

Aimée Eubanks Davis is the Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Engagement at TFA

Aimée Eubanks Davis is the Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Engagement at TFA

Aimée Eubanks Davis, the Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Engagement at TFA, recognizes this spark among the Northwestern community as well. On October 3rd, she came to campus to meet student leaders at Northwestern and talk with them about their desire to make an impact. I sat down with her to ask a few questions about her role, her campus visit and NU alumni presence in Teach For America.

What brought you to Teach For America?
I grew up in Englewood and South Shore in the Chicago area, which are two neighborhoods that are considered to be low-income. I got to experience the joys and challenges of living in under-resourced communities. Given my parents’ ability as I got older to move to a higher-income, suburban community, it became very obvious to me that the experiences I had as a young person were pretty different than the kids I was going to high school with. I struggled to compete with some of my peers who had grown up in higher income communities all their lives. After experiencing this firsthand, I felt after graduating from college that I should do something that would ensure that kids like me who weren’t able to move to different neighborhoods during high school had an opportunity to have a great education.

What kind of presence do NU alumni have in TFA?
Personally, for me, Northwestern holds a special place in my heart. One of my students who I taught in 6th grade in New Orleans came here for college. Her name is Ketica. She was an outstanding student, and we did a campus visit here. One of the things that struck me about NU was that the person we talked to at the Admissions Office understood that a student with her academic talent and leadership capabilities could thrive at an institution like this, even though she might be in the minority when it came to income background. It was awesome to watch her matriculate here, attend her college graduation, and join TFA in Las Vegas Valley. This is what brings me back, knowing this institution is committed to issues of equity, opportunity and social justice. I’m thrilled NU is a top contributor to our corps and that I get to work closely with so many outstanding alums, including Elissa Kim, TFA’s head of Growth, Strategy, Development and Recruitment, among others. So whether it’s watching Ketica, who now teaches in the neighborhood I was born in, or watching Elissa lead, I am deeply inspired to see the impact NU alums have at every level of leadership in education.

Why should NU students consider TFA?
I understand the impact one teacher can have on a whole lot of lives. To me, this is one of the most unique opportunities to truly make a high-impact difference on someone’s life, not just for a year or two but for a lifetime. I view TFA as a commitment for a lifetime and once you step into a classroom and understand the inequities your kids face, but also realize all of their potential and opportunity, it’s hard not to dedicate yourself to ensuring your students have the opportunity to go and reach their full potential.

How has TFA evolved since you’ve been part of the organization?
We consistently ask ourselves what we are doing well and what we can do better. While great teachers come from all backgrounds, educators who share the backgrounds of their students have the potential for a profound additional impact. Knowing this, we’ve been working hard to diversify our corps. This year we accepted our most diverse corps in history – half of our 2014 corps members identify as people of color. Additionally, we introduced two pilot programs this year — one that expands training for folks admitted early to the corps and another that provides ongoing support and professional development for our alumni in the classroom, beyond the first two years of teaching. While we’re proud of the work we’ve accomplished thus far, we know we have much further to go and are working alongside our community partners, students, and families to constantly get better.

What is your favorite thing about being a part of Teach For America?
First of all, one of my favorite things is being surrounded by people who share the belief that where you grow up does not need to dictate how far you come. This is a group of people who feel the American Dream should be possible, despite the fact that economic mobility is now more elusive than when I was a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago. We deeply know that education is one of the pillars of social mobility; it’s great to work alongside others who believe our society should be based on fairness and justice and will make sure our organization lives up to its creed.

What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in getting involved with education?
There are many paths in education: Some people go the traditional route through a school of education like members of my family did, and other people go through alternative certification routes like TFA. Some folks start out in education through a national service organization like City Year or Blue Engine. These are all ways to get a really rich, meaningful and high-impact job in education. But I think people need to step back and think about the unique impact they can make. It may seem scary at 21 or 22 years old to think, “I had what it took to stand up in front of 64 students every day to make sure they had the skills to succeed over time.” But what I saw for myself and watching my students grow up is that I did have what it took. You’re always going to have a first year at something.

What’s one thing most people may not know about TFA?
One of the biggest misconceptions that I think is very hard to see unless you’re inside of TFA is how much of a learning organization it is. We collect a lot of data and get a lot of feedback from corps members, alumni and external partners. We then strategically figure out how to incorporate the rich and robust feedback.

Another thing that may be hard to see from the outside is the demand for TFA teachers from our school districts. We know that there are schools and districts who really are counting on exceptional leaders from TFA. We continue to realize that there is a growing demand for all kinds of talent to go into education and stay in education. It’s great to see how many of our alums make education their life’s work.

Apply to the 2015 Teach For America Corps here.


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