On Monday, July 20 and Wednesday, July 23, 2020 four recent Dartmouth alumni offered their advice and wisdom to current students regarding careers in government service. The event was the second of four panels this summer exploring leadership and careers in public policy, and gave students a chance to ask questions and hear different perspectives about a wide variety of potential public sector jobs.
The four panelists were Austin Boral ’16, a member of the strategy team at the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Terra Branson-Thomas ’10, the secretary of the Nation and Commerce of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; Janos Marton ’04, a civil rights attorney and and criminal justice advocate running for Manhattan District Attorney; and Katelyn Mooney ’14, associate general counsel for the majority on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.
They first spoke about their diverse and wide-ranging experiences at Dartmouth that influenced their career paths. Marton, for example, cited his time on student government as formative.
“Working in student government and as student body president was definitely helpful in terms of learning how to operate in a collective and team-based environment,” he said. “Obviously, the issues you work on are more small-scale than when you’re interning for Congress or something like that, but I really got a lot out of that particular experience.” He added that his time working on New Hampshire presidential and Senate campaigns was also valuable.
Branson-Thomas said she began pursuing leadership in on-campus extracurricular activities, especially the Native Americans at Dartmouth group, during her sophomore summer, when most upperclassmen were off campus. Boral, on the other hand, found more opportunities in experience “that got me off campus,” including a mentorship program in the Mascoma school district, the Rockefeller Center’s Policy Research Shop, and work as an organizing fellow for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“Just getting to talk to people, whether they were high school students, prospective voters, or state legislators, I think gave me a sense of how policy, at the federal and state level, actually impacts the lives of people,” Boral said.
Mooney offered her thoughts on the best ways for Dartmouth students to seek internships in the government sector, encouraging students to “be a pest and cold call” and to sharpen their email-writing skills. She noted that many government offices have their contact info publicly available, making them easier to reach.
“Often, they’re unaccustomed to people, especially undergraduates, coming,” Mooney said, which increases the chances that an interested Dartmouth student would be accepted. She added that some of the best experiences she has had, including a clerkship, were thanks to ‘just applying to programs.”
Branson-Thomas concurred, encouraging students to use the Dartmouth alumni network to their advantage and joking that “even in rural Oklahoma, there are Dartmouth alums.”
“I’ve gotten many of those emails that [Mooney] referred to, and I can’t always help folks, but sometimes I know someone else who’s looking for something or they’ve got a special project,” Branson-Thomas said. “It might not be an exact fit for you, but any experience when you’re right out of college is really helpful, so be open to different ideas.”
One student attendee asked how the panelists don’t get cynical about their ability to make policy change. Branson-Thomas encouraged resiliency.
“There will inevitably be setbacks, if you work in legislation, any kind of policy implementation, if you’re doing federal regulatory work, you’re going to lose at some point. You might lose very badly” she said, noting that students will have to learn “how to cope with that and regroup and re-energize and create a new strategy to move forward so your brain is always working on the next step.”
During this question, the panel was interrupted by a zoom-bombing incident involving racist and misogynistic slurs. The panelists graciously agreed to reconvene to finish the discussion later in the week in a Zoom Webinar, where they picked up the issue of cynicism with some added context.
“Take this opportunity and reflect on how you can use policy, and how policy has been used historically — and still, unfortunately, today, sometimes — to disenfranchise certain groups,” Mooney told students. “Some of the ugly statements that were made at our last meeting actually have been represented in policies, and there are some courses at Dartmouth that you can take to think about how to undo those policies and what kinds of other policies you can create to make the world a better place.”
She listed several courses, including Ethics and Public Policy, Social Justice and the City, and Poverty and Public Policy, that she said would allow for greater reflection on the policy landscape today.
“I encourage all of you to keep directly confronting racism, sexism, economic oppression, [and] other forms of hate that are going to keep popping up, and they're not going to go down easily,” Marton said. “I think that as graduates of Dartmouth, you guys have a lot of tools to confront these forms of hate in your professional careers.”
The discussion wrapped up with a question about Dartmouth students should be doing right now to best set themselves up for the future. Boral said that students should take advantage of opportunities to get out of the “Dartmouth bubble.”
“I would recommend taking that responsibility as a community member seriously,” he said, “by thinking about ways that you can actually get off campus and understand the sorts of issues and policy problems that are facing folks who live in the Upper Valley for longer than four years.”
Mooney, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of writing skills in government.
“I think you should take every opportunity you can to turn any paper and assignment into a writing about policy that you care about,” she said. “I think that's a skill that I'm continually practicing, and you can never have enough practice in an entire career.”
Branson-Thomas said that a skill she values from her time at Dartmouth was “how to be self-aware in a room.”
“It requires a little empathy, sometimes, to facilitate a meeting,” she said. “It's not just about making sure everyone talks, making sure everyone shares a comment — it's about understanding what ideas those people bring to the table and why, and helping them communicate.”
- written by Kyle Mullins ’22, Public Programming Student Assistant