By Matthew Kredell
Perhaps USC doesn’t seem like a natural feeder university for jobs in the nation’s capital. Southern California is far from Washington, D.C., in many ways, not the least of which is geographically.
The Washington D.C. Career Trek shows that the USC Price School of Public Policy places many graduates in public, private and nonprofit sector jobs in the U.S. capital, and has another crop of students eager to join them.
For the third year, the USC Price Office of Career Services partnered with the USC Price Office of Development and External Relations to introduce 10 graduate students to what a future career may look like in the nation’s capital.
Over four days in October, the students received all-expenses-paid travel to D.C. to gain a deeper understanding of the careers they want to pursue after graduation and an enhanced appreciation of the Trojan network.
The trek was led by Seta Kenady, associate director of employer relations, and Thomas Eng, assistant director of career education at USC Price.
“A lot of students want to work on Capitol Hill but don’t really know what that entails,” Kenady said. “They learn about the different roles they can have with elected officials on the Senate and House side.”
Students got the opportunity to meet with six alumni from the School who work in D.C., learning about their roles in the job, how they got the position and why they chose to work in D.C.
The alumni hosts were Kevin DeGoode (MPP) from the Center of American Progress, Katie Bradley (BS PPD) from the Office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal, Tim Hughes (BS PPD) from the Trust for America’s Health, Tom Filippone (MPA) from the Department of Homeland Security, and Arthur Bray-Simons (MPP) from the government practice sector of Deloitte Consulting.
“I met people like me who come from low-income backgrounds and under-resourced communities, some who were Latinos,” said Jaime Avila, an MPA student. “They had similar backgrounds, goals and ambitions. It reinforced the idea that I can take what I’m currently learning at USC Price and make real-world impacts, not only in D.C. but especially in D.C.”
Through USC connections, the students also had the opportunity to visit the Office of Senator Kamala Harris and Foreign Affairs Committee for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Emily Hwang, another MPA student, found the highlight of the trip to be the Foreign Affairs Committee, where the students were lucky enough to find the committee in action holding a hearing related to the removal of U.S. troops in Northern Syria.
“To be in the middle of the action during such a pressing time felt surreal,” Hwang said. “And the excitement I felt to be in that room confirmed for me that I am in the right field!”
Avila, who got his undergraduate degree at USC in international relations, could see himself working with the Committee on Foreign Affairs someday to accomplish his goal of making a positive impact on society with regards to economic development.
Students also had the opportunity to attend an alumni mixer event at the USC’s D.C. Office of Research Advancement that included a discussion between USC Price Prof. Erroll Southers and Rep. Karen Bass on homegrown violent extremism and protecting houses of worship.
Avila indicated that he remains connected to many of the alumni he met in D.C. through LinkedIn, social media and email.
“I used to feel a little nervous about what it would be like working in D.C. and living out there,” Avila said. “After going through the program, I feel more excited and less intimidated. The alumni network provides a safety net where it will be a home away from home.”
Kenady asserted that the most consistent message heard from alumni was that, if the students really wanted to work in D.C., they should move to the area after they graduate.
“They said that, even if you don’t have anything lined up, think about just making a move out to D.C. and crash on a friend’s couch or maybe do something that’s not career oriented just to show you’re passionate about D.C.,” Kenady said. “When people look at your resume and see a California address, they’re not going to pay as much attention.”
Hwang admitted that she previously viewed a career in D.C. as unattainable but can imagine that path for herself.
“Some might argue that the Price School is at a disadvantage for federal jobs because of our location on the West Coast and particular strength in regional career placements,” Hwang said. “This trip was a successful way to bridge that gap in proximity and provide students with an intimate opportunity to understand the mechanisms of a career on the Hill or for the various state departments, nonprofits and think tanks in the D.C. area.”