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