Catching up with Kassie Scott ’18 Scott's advice for current students: "There is no one way to do college. Do it your way and make it count."
What was your major at W&L, and how does it apply to your career now?
At W&L, I majored in English and Sociology, with a minor in Poverty and Human Capability Studies. Currently, I work in Business Development for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in Washington, D.C. My current career, which is at the intersection of policy, communications and data, makes use of the subjects I studied at Washington and Lee and at Oxford, where I got my master’s degree in data science.
My professional career has always been centered around policy (specifically housing and economic development). My interest in policy was first cultivated during a summer I spent abroad researching local housing policies at the site of a toxic landfill in Romania. The local government had forcibly moved hundreds of families to a toxic landfill after evicting them from their homes in the center of the city. That experience — horrifying and seemingly hopeless — has never left me. I realize what a privilege it is to sit behind a desk and to be in the streets of D.C. thinking about these issues that impact people’s everyday lives — people who are not in as comfortable of a position as I am. That’s a privilege, and I don’t take it for granted. And somehow, hope persists, even in the face of those injustices — painful and terrifying as they are.
What was your first job after graduation?
I had a brief stint at a consulting firm based in D.C. with a project in Liberia before pivoting to research and policy-based work at a think tank. After that, I attended graduate school, wandered a bit, and eventually landed a job with one of Mayor Bowser’s teams in D.C.
How did W&L prepare you for your career?
It’s hard to sum up, but I’d say W&L gave me two things:
- Time to develop my voice as a writer. After all the essays I wrote, I gained confidence as a writer. I know all the rules and when to break them, and that ability serves me daily in my current role.
- Exposure to some stats and programming. Even this tiny bit of exposure in my sociology courses with Jon Eastwood gave me the confidence to pursue (and attain) a graduate degree in data science at Oxford.
What are some of your major or memorable career/W&L milestones?
- Staying past my first week of college despite wanting to drop out, and ending my first term with a 4.0, even though I performed very poorly in the beginning.
- Applying for and winning a Fulbright to London after my first year at W&L.
- Co-founding Friday Underground (a student-run music venue) with Matt Carl ’17 my sophomore year to create an environment where all students would feel welcome and safe.
- Being named a Rhodes finalist my senior year at Washington and Lee.
- Studying at Oxford a few years after W&L in a field I never would have expected.
- Finally, I cannot thank W&L enough for all the awards they gave me during my time there. Receiving those awards gave me the confidence to keep going, despite the fact that I came to W&L thinking, “W&L brought me here to be the bottom — to make the other kids feel better about themselves.” Today, I can’t believe I said that to my first-year advisor, but at the time, it made sense to me.
Who or what has most inspired you along the way? (Staff, faculty, classmates, internships, alumni, etc.)
I’m in touch with members of the W&L community daily, so there are too many to name, but here are a few who come to mind immediately: Jon Eastwood, Holly and Howard Picket, Alison Bell, Deborah Miranda, Ellen Mayock, Jeff and Kath Barnett, Sidney Evans, Megan Hobbs, John Jensen, Lorri Olan, Rallie Snowden, Lynny Chin, Gwyn Campbell, Melina Bell, and one very special alum who changed my life by investing in me and supporting my dream of attending Oxford. He knows who he is.
What do you miss most about your time at W&L?
- Having the time to read, write, and think.
- Being part of a community.
- Having the space to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t think we ever figure it out, but it sure helped to feel like I had the time and space to experiment. It’s a jungle out there in the real world.
What was the one class you most enjoyed outside of your major, and why?
Weight training with Coach Uhl. I think Physical Education classes are unique to W&L. Had I not taken that class, I would have been afraid to approach weights and the gym. Now, I make it a point to stay fit and seek out ways people can come together to work out. Currently, I do this by leading a running group at work and participating in bootcamps with local groups. I make that commitment to my community and also to myself every morning by never missing a run. And each time, I think of Coach Uhl. He and I remain in touch, and he continues to inspire me. Oddly enough, he also nominated me for the Pinney Prize (the top intellectual prize on campus). Just goes to show that being an intellectual can take many forms, and our educations extend beyond the classroom. I keep his nomination speech (below) at my desk to remind me of who I am and what is important to me.
“Kassie showed genuine interest and desire in wanting to understand the information being taught and prodded me for thoughtful answers pertaining to the subject, as well as my personal philosophy. I have never had a student over the past decade approach learning with such tenacity. Her energy and care for others was evident and she has a unique and steady perspective on life about who and what is important, and how she fits into the greater good for humanity.”
Thank you, Coach Uhl!
What is the one class or professor you wish you could return to campus and take a class with now?
Howard Pickett was one of the best thinkers I encountered hands down, and Jon Eastwood’s conversations changed my life in too many ways to count, so I’d leap at the opportunity to be in class with the two of them again. Luckily, they still make time to connect and think through life decisions and wicked problems with me.
What is one thing on your W&L bucket list that you would still like to accomplish?
I actually never attended a party at W&L and never had a sip of alcohol. The first party I was invited to, I walked to the house, handed the host a thank you note, and left. A bit nerdy to admit, but I mention it to say: there is no one way to do college. Do it your way, and make it count.
Attending a college party might still be on my bucket list, but on a more serious note, I’d love to invest in another student in the way that W&L and its alums invested in me. Right now, I invest in students and alums by taking phone calls and connecting graduates with jobs, but over time, I hope my level of influence will grow.
What advice would you give to next year’s graduating class?
- Learn to write — well. Most people can’t.
- Differentiate yourself in some way. The magic is at the intersections. You want to know a domain or field really well, but you also want to be able to cross boundaries and have conversations with people outside your field. For me, that looks like having domain expertise in policy and being a good writer, but also having a data science skillset.
- Life isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Everything builds on the past, and you don’t get any extra points by going at it alone. Ask for help. It’s more fun that way.
Tell us a favorite W&L memory in five sentences or less.
I’d say my favorite W&L memory came after my time at W&L. I was sitting in my new office after resigning from my first job. Months before that, I had turned down my spot to Oxford because I couldn’t find the money to attend. That morning at my new job, I got a call from Dean Evans letting me know an alum wanted to help me get to Oxford. That was a life-changing call, and for that I’m so thankful.
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