Please give a brief background on yourself and your career.
I have worked in a gender research center, the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, since I graduated Wellesley in 2011. I’ve held three different positions during these five years; I started as the assistant to the executive director and am now a program coordinator. My primary responsibilities are organizing our women’s political campaign training program, From Harvard Square to the Oval Office, working with philanthropic supporters, and supporting the translation of research into public policy (with resources like our Gender Action Portal). In addition to my full time job, I’m also an elected executive board member of our staff union, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, an appointed member of the Cambridge Citizens Committee on Civic Unity, and an active volunteer with the Eastern MA Abortion Fund where I was a member of the board of directors for the past three years. This summer I took the first two courses of my Union Leadership and Administration Labor Studies Master’s Degree program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I am studying to deepen my union involvement and advance the labor movement.
How has your career changed since you originally envisioned it at Wellesley? What other careers did you consider as a student?
I knew at Wellesley that I wanted my career to focus on social change and probably on gender, but was very open to different means to achieve that end. I considered working on campaigns, in non-profit organizations in either direct service or program management roles, and in government. I actually did not expect to be working in higher education and I think that the Kennedy School has been a good fit for me because it is an academic environment that is outwardly focused on solving governance problems in the wider world. It’s the combination of sectors, interdisciplinary approach, and mission driven focus that makes it possible for me to create change through this work.
How has Wellesley contributed to your career?
I often tell people that Wellesley gave me my whole life. Wellesley gave me access to a life full of choices and opportunities that, as someone who grew up in a family with modest financial means, had been unimaginable. Wellesley also directly created my career through the deep and challenging intellectual engagement of my Women and Gender Studies major. Concentrating in a department that values critical analysis of power structures gave me the skills, tools, and confidence to question everything as well as the academic grounding to work with faculty and graduate students studying gender in a public policy context. My other major was Spanish and the language ability I gained through the Spanish Department and while studying abroad has been absolutely invaluable to me.
In a broader sense, Wellesley showed me my own capacities. I arrived at Wellesley expecting to be surrounded by peers who were smarter, more well-connected, and better prepared to succeed than I was and even though I felt intimidated, I was equally thrilled to be amongst them. Unexpectedly, I also learned that I really could compete even with such impressive classmates. Learning that lesson at Wellesley has given me the gift of seeing every challenge as just another project that I can achieve as long as I’m willing to devote enough time and effort to it.
What is a typical work day or work week like for you?
Like most people it varies day to day, but in general my workday includes time working in my office with our team, meetings with students, prospective students, elected officials, events, organizing with my Union, speaking with donors, attending School-wide committee meetings or optional seminars, supervising interns (email me to apply, Wellesley students!), drafting statements to the press on closing gender gaps, and a lot of planning for future programs and conferences.
What piece of advice would you offer students looking to get into your area of interest and expertise?
Students who want to get into some kind of social change work should seek exposure to the wide variety of organizations that have impact in their area. This might include government agencies, well-established foundations or non-profits, small grassroots and/or direct service agencies, fundraising, education at any level, issue campaigns, etc. Even when all these groups focus on a single important problem, the experience of people doing the work will differ dramatically in terms of salary, staff capacity, and political perspective and values. I think many Wellesley students and alumnae have big ideas of radical change that they’d like to implement and they should consider carefully how much and in what ways those goals can be achieved through paid work. Students really should use internships and volunteering to try out different types of movement work and narrow down the best fit for themselves.
One other piece of advice, harkening back to my Spanish major, is that any students who primarily speak English should seriously consider gaining fluency in another language as one of their most important goals. From jobs, to travel, to volunteering, knowing Spanish has become something that I value above almost anything else I ever learned in school. It doesn’t matter what kind of career you’re going into, knowing another language will improve your life, your options and your ability to connect directly with other people.
What do you wish you had known as a student?
Many of us spend our whole lives working toward college graduation, good grades in high school open doors to college, high achievement in college opens doors to careers or advanced degrees. Wellesley students especially push themselves so hard to attain these things, to be the best. But then what? What are you really working toward? Once you graduate Wellesley you have somewhere like 0 – 80 years left to live. What do you want to do in that time? There are a lot of possible answers and knowing yours matters. You could research treatments or cures for key illnesses. You could make new discoveries about space. You could educate whole generations of young people in civic engagement or art or activism. You could seek economic stability for yourself and your family in very uncertain times. You could broker peace agreements between nations. You could build up a rural farm and employ your neighbors in meaningful work. There really are lots of good answers, but sometimes our very Wellesley focus on being the best and achieving the most crowds out our attention to what really matters to each of us. Life is short, focus on what you want to do.
If you could come back and take one class at Wellesley what would it be?
This is a really hard question. I know there are dozens that I would want to take. I’m torn between my beloved major departments and branching out to something completely new like Astronomy or Art History. I’ve always had a little regret that I couldn’t add a third major in Computer Science. I took CS 110 and found it incredibly challenging but also loved it. That’s the answer; I would take more advanced CS classes because I still wish that I had greater skills in that area.