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Trip to Washington, D.C., Offers Students Glimpse at Careers in Public Policy and Government

Twenty Washington and Lee students got a crash course in public policy and government when they spent Reading Days in Washington, D.C.

Over the course of two days, the group visited the offices of alumni working for federal agencies, non-profits, lobbying groups, think tanks, congressional offices, corporations and trade associations.

Hosts included:

  • Manuel Bonilla ’89 with the American Society of Anesthesiologists
  • Danny Jasper ’13 with the Berkeley Research Group
  • Kelly Mae Ross ’13 with CQ Roll Call
  • John Schindler ’94, SoRelle Peat ’12, Ainsley Daigle ’13, and Thomas Groesbeck ’14 with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors
  • Justine Sessions ’05 with Planned Parenthood Federation
  • John McManus ’91 with The McManus Group
  • Kat Emerson ’04 with Monsanto Company
  • Bailey Edwards ’04, Elizabeth King ’12, and Jack Pandol, Jr. ’11 with the U.S. Congress
  • Jerry Guilbert ’02 and Bill Samii ’87 with the U.S. Department of State
  • Chip Welsh ’79, Ben Brown ’94, and Jon Ingram ’94 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Rachael Slobodien ’06 with the Heritage Foundation
  • Ingrid Schroeder ’91 with The Pew Charitable Trusts

“We were extremely pleased to be able to offer this kind of opportunity to our students,” said Rob Straughan, associate dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. “The trip adds to a portfolio of initiatives that emphasize educational opportunities outside the classroom and, in cases like this, entirely outside of a class.”

The trip, which was jointly sponsored by the Williams School and Career Development, was open to students of all class years and majors. Economics professor Katharine Shester and politics professor Seth Cantey accompanied the group, but just half the participants were politics and economics majors.

“We hoped that this trip would help economics and politics students see what some of their career options are, but there’s no one path that gets you to D.C.,” said Rachel Beanland, assistant dean of the Williams School. “You can approach careers in public policy and government from a lot of different angles.”

Students loved hearing what alumni had to say. Every single alumnus emphasized two essential factors that contributed to his or her success—the W&L alumni network and the strong writing skills each of them honed as a student at a liberal arts college.

“Writing is so important to intelligence,” said Bill Samii ’87, who is a senior Iran analyst for the State Department. “What I write can go directly into the President’s daily brief—it has the power to affect policies.”

At the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, alumni agreed writing mattered. But they also talked about the importance of being able to understand numbers.

“Take as much math as you can,” said Thomas Groesbeck ’13, a research assistant. “A math and economics double major is like the equivalent of majoring in big data. If you’re dealing with 5.8 million data points, that’s extremely useful.”

Ingrid Schroeder ’91, director of Pew’s fiscal federalism initiatives, recommended students show potential employers that they know how to use numbers to do research.

“We’re a data driven organization,” said Schroeder. “No one’s expecting you to be able to run regressions on the first day, but if you can show us you’ve worked with data—BLS data or Census data—and done some deep research, that’s a good starting point.”

Washington and Lee alumni pulled out all the stops to make the trip memorable for students. At the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, students visited the Commission’s closed hearing room. In Congress, alumni arranged for the group to visit a Senate hearing room. At the Federal Reserve, students got to see the boardroom where the Board of Governors and Federal Open Market Committee meet.

“My favorite stop was probably the State Department. Jerry Guilford is keeping weapons out of the hands of bad guys, and keeping people from getting hurt by landmines and other abandoned explosives,” said Nicole Porter ’16. “It’s cool to see someone who’s doing something that affects thousands of people around the world.”

The Williams School intends to offer the Public Policy and Government trip to Washington, D.C. on an annual basis. Alumni who work in the District and are interested in hosting a visit should contact Rachel Beanland.