By Samantha Schmidt and Abby Hodonicky
Samantha Schmidt will graduate in June 2018 from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences with majors in history and Middle East and North African studies.
Abby Hodonicky will graduate from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in June 2019 with majors in psychology and English literature as well as a minor in legal studies.
Our first day of the Government, Law and Policy trek started with group introductions as we bonded over our travel woes from the day before. After setting out from the hotel, our first stop was the American Medical Association, where we enjoyed learning about how the organization has evolved to become more liberal in recent years. We then took the Metro to Georgetown Law School, a visit whose highlights included a self-guided tour of the beautiful campus and insight from an admissions officer about how using the GRE as an admissions test will likely diversify the pool of law school applicants. From there, we headed to Albright Stonebridge Group, an international consulting firm whose model of building mentoring relationships between new employees and more seasoned advisors sounded like it would make for an excellent work environment. That evening, the unfailingly hospitable former Congressman Kolbe hosted us at his home for dinner. He told fantastic stories about his world travels and regaled us with his insight into the current pitfalls of politics in Washington, a fascinating conclusion to our day.
The next day began with a question and answer panel with Northwestern alumni who work on Capitol Hill, the highlight of which was hearing about the state of gender relations in their workplace, the challenges women face, and the progress they have made. Afterwards, we visited the Urban Institute, where it was encouraging to hear about their goal of “elevating the debate” in DC by focusing on objective research as the best guide for societal progress. We then braved the downpour outside to walk to the State Department, and once there we were gratified to hear one employee’s impassioned speech about the importance of studying what you love and then using that knowledge to make the world a better place. For dinner, we headed to a young alumni reception hosted by Holly Rehm, WCAS ‘08, and her husband. It was wonderfully helpful to hear from them and the other young alums about the practicalities of getting by in DC when you first arrive, including the tips to take on two jobs and find multiple roommates.
On our third and final morning, we checked out of our hotel and signed thank you notes to our various hosts before setting off for the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank that describes itself as “a university without students.” While there, we heard from scholars Karlyn Bowman and Norman Ornstein about their long, illustrious careers and fascinating research on polling and the current administration. Finally, we finished our trip with a visit to the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom where we had a lovely conversation over lunch about the general benefits of a law degree in terms of developing your critical thinking and writing skills.
The employers and alumni throughout the trek enthusiastically shared advice, and some common themes shaped our conversations. Most commented on the importance of networking, particularly of personalizing your interactions with potential employers and never burning bridges. Holly Rehm, for example, suggested calling an employer after submitting your resume to make sure your name stands out. Holly’s point not only gives a concrete example of personal networking, but gets to the importance of persistence. Several alumni explained that it is important to show excellence in all of your work, even if you do not intend to hold a certain position forever, so that you can advance along your chosen path.
Visiting DC enlightened us to the day-to-day realities of living and working in the nation’s capital. The intensity of the city’s atmosphere, manifested in the long hours, high stakes, and broad reach of the work its inhabitants do, is definitely challenging, but hearing from alums also reassured us as to how rewarding these efforts can be. It was also useful to visit such a wide variety of employers working in diverse fields, and hearing about how people’s career paths can wander between these industries confirmed that our lives in DC would never be dull.
We were surprised by the combination of flexibility and drive that alumni showed. While maintaining the importance of keeping a driving purpose in mind, they attested to the unexpected twists and turns of their careers thus far. Some recent alumni shared their happiness working in a job they never intended to pursue, and the interests that were sparked by getting hands-on experience in local government and on Capitol Hill. The coexistence of flexibility and tenacity show the compromises that end up shaping one’s career in DC.