NEXTernship: A day with National Geographic

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WCAS student Jordan Harrison recounts her NEXT experience with National Geographic. Jordan is a rising junior majoring in biology.

Jordan Harrison spent her NEXTernship with communications manager (and NU alum) at National Geographic.

Rising junior Jordan Harrison spent her NEXTernship with National Geographic communications manager (& NU alum), Beth Furtwangler.

I walked into National Geographic expecting to learn about PR. I actually learned about PR, book publishing, photo copyright, children’s literature, media moments, and the Pope. National Geographic is a truly unique organization; it is a media and a news company, of course, but it also funds research and innovation and keeps such a cooperative relationship with scientists that you know you can trust their facts.

I shadowed Beth Furtwangler, communications manager for the daily news and National Geographic Kids divisions, who also introduced me to some of her colleagues including Lauren Hodapp, Kelsey Flora, Carol Woodward, and Farley Fitzgerald. I am so grateful to all of them for taking the time out of their day to talk to me.

What I really took away from my day with Beth was to always seize opportunities when they arise in the “moment,” whether in media or in my career. For instance, Nat Geo recognized the significance of the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland as a catalyst for conversation about science denialism, and ran the article “The War on Science” online two weeks early to be part of the conversation. In my own professional life, some similar advice I got was to seize internships or other experiential learning opportunities as often as I can.

Nat Geo also changed how I think about occupation versus industry. I’ve never had warm feelings about PR until now because I didn’t think there could be a lot of passion in it. However, a lot of the Communications staff said they felt more a part of a team working in-house at National Geographic than for an agency. For an organization like National Geographic that wears so many hats, from research to outreach to book publishing, the communications team is vital for coordinating everyone’s efforts. It totally changed my opinion of public relations as a fulfilling career. It goes to show that working in different industries can totally change your job satisfaction even if you are working in the same role.

And finally, here’s some fun stuff. Did you know that National Geographic has a cartographic department? A whole department just for maps. Whenever a map is needed in any NG publication, the map department has to make it and lay it out and nobody else can mess with it.

NEXTernship: A day with Quantum Secure

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Northwestern students Ahsan Rehman & Michael Caputo recount their NEXT experience with Quantum Secure. Ahsan is a McCormick graduate student in analytics interested in a career in technology consulting, and Michael is a McCormick graduate student in information technology interested in a career in telecommunications engineering and leadership.

For the NEXTernship program, we shadowed Vik Ghai, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Quantum Secure; a physical identity, security and access management company in the heart of Silicon Valley. Vik was kind enough to not only share his professional experiences, but also spent time outside the office to discuss how start-ups are building solutions to solve the world’s toughest problems.

Quantum Secure is a startup, which has shown enormous growth in last decade by providing solutions to large corporations. Vik and his team are highly efficient when it comes to project execution, as roles are well-assigned and progress is shared on a daily basis. During our shadowing day, Vik shared how he interacts with his sales team and work package divided between the technical team members to work on deliverables. We were also assigned a small problem to develop use cases on how Information Technology and Advance Analytics could be used to develop solutions for Identity Fraud.

Vik is an intelligent and successful entrepreneur, who understands failure is an experience, which allows you to re-think and make improvements for a better approach in the future. He believes ‘Project Execution’ and ‘Client Experience’ are two distinct items that if handled well can lead to the success of any start-up. Furthermore, he considers the Master’s degree from Kellogg invaluable in helping him navigate the corporate world.

This experience allowed us to think about new ideas and gain insight into the life of a Silicon Valley growth company. It also showed us how the time spent at Northwestern can be a great source of pride for its Alumni. The NEXTernship was a fantastic way to network with alumni, evaluate the current Industry trends, and appreciate Northwestern’s amazing education and resources.

NEXTernship: A day with WE ACT for Environmental Justice

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Northwestern School of Professional Studies student Megan Troy recounts her NEXT experience with WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Megan is part of the Master’s in Public Administration program.

When I first got in touch with my host, I was unsure of what to expect. She and I had pretty different backgrounds, tied together by Northwestern roots, but in somewhat different fields. Upon talking to Jalonne, I quickly realized that having different career focuses doesn’t mean that you can’t work towards the same goal—in this case, that was social justice and equality.

Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome, my host from WE ACT for Environmental Justice, has an impressive background working in the EJ field and advocating for low-income communities to have the same rights and health benefits as others. My own background, in social work and now public policy, also addresses disparities in social policy with a focus on low socioeconomic status groups. When I arrived for my externship, we discussed how our backgrounds intersected and found common ground in our advocacy roles. During my day with her, Dr. White-Newsome included me in a meeting between environmental justice coalition members and representatives from the EPA to discuss the Clean Power Plan. This was such a rewarding experience for me because I got to see how “on the ground” issues, like I had dealt with in my own work, and higher-level policy issues merged.

I feel that having this opportunity is so important for students because they may see something in action that they never would have thought of on their own and then develop a passion for this. I had never specifically focused on environment justice issues, but after meeting with Dr. White-Newsome, I felt a true connection to these advocates who are working so hard to bring a sense of equality to low-income communities. The very things that I have always worked for and strived for were embedded in this organization that I would have never known more about without the NEXT program.

NEXTernship: A day with Blaze Pizza’s co-founder

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Lisa Qu, a Northwestern neuroscience graduate student, recounts her NEXT experience with the co-founder of Blaze Pizza. Lisa is interested in exploring careers in science communication and/or consumer research.

I participated in the NEXTernship program at Blaze Pizza headquarters in Pasadena, California.  It was there I met and spent the day with Elise Wetzel, my alumni host and co-founder of Blaze. Blaze is a rapidly growing fast casual pizza chain with locations nationwide, including Chicago and Evanston, and a perfect place to learn more about the process of starting and growing a restaurant business.

I spent the first half of my morning talking with Elise, who gave me insight into her career path and the intricacies of running a company like Blaze. It was great to hear a personal account of how her entrepreneurial experiences led to her current position. During this time, I also got to meet the Senior Marketing Manager, Jerry Shen, who explained his role in managing Blaze’s brand and marketing strategy.

Later, I sat in on a brand marketing meeting, in which both Elise and Jerry presented Blaze’s mission, marketing principles, and guidelines to managers for new locations. This was a great way to see how the plans designed at headquarters were disseminated through the various locations, and it gave me a glimpse into how a large company maintains a consistent brand even across individualized stores.

My experience at Blaze allowed me to learn about the different roles within a growing restaurant business. As a graduate student in neuroscience looking to explore options outside of academia, this was a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of a completely different industry. I made a great connection with a Northwestern alumna, and I had a fascinating look into an exciting and successful company.

 

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
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