Undergrads Explore Career Ideas in DC

Group portrait of students and alumni in Washington DC
UMN alumni Mary (BA ‘72, French; MA ‘76, public affairs) and Armeane Choksi (PhD ‘78, economics) met with the students to share career advice and reminisce about their time in Minnesota.

Economics is and always has been a popular major for undergraduates who go on to work in a wide variety of fields following graduation, including business and finance, civil service, and law to name a few. As part of CLA’s career readiness initiative, economics advisors Annie Bigley and Tiffany Murphy have been working tirelessly to ensure that all students in the major have access to resources to find the career that is right for them. 

One such initiative was the economics department’s trip to Washington, DC during the spring break of 2020 (luckily, before COVID-19 restrictions were in place). “We collaborated with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and got six of our undergraduate students to accompany their graduate students on their annual career readiness trip,” says Bigley, who played an instrumental role in organizing the trip.  

Meet and Greet

For the last 14 years, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs has been organizing an annual trip to Washington, DC that enables their students to explore career opportunities there. Bigley previously worked in the Humphrey School and always knew that the trip was an excellent opportunity for students to network with government officials and policymakers, and scope out Washington, DC as a city to start their careers. “It really is a chance to meet with and learn from people who are doing hands-on work in policymaking while also practicing professional etiquette.” 

The four-day trip allows students the flexibility to explore the city on their own while also maximizing the educational and professional development opportunities presented. The students chose where to stay and how to travel to and from the city but had set times to meet one-on-one with industry professionals during networking events. Bigley explains that “this experience afforded our students the opportunity to not just hear about new and different career paths, but also to experience what it would be like to live and work in a new city.” 

During their time in Washington, the undergrads visited the US Government Accountability Office and Department of State, as well as attended exclusive events hosted at the Cosmos Club, a private social club for people distinguished in science, literature, and the arts, a learned profession or public service. “It really is amazing to see all the work that goes on in government buildings, such as the Government Accountability Office and the United States Department of State,” says Bigley. 

Making Moves 

Akriti Saxena, one of the six undergraduates who went on the trip, acknowledges that the chance to visit the offices of some of the highest-ranking officials in the country was an incredible opportunity. “Very few of our peers at the University have been fortunate enough to explore Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office or meet Senator Tina Smith at the Russell Senate Office Building, and I truly appreciate the efforts and commitments made by [UMN and officials in Washington DC] in permitting our group to attend,” states Saxena.

The undergraduates also attended a series of informational interviews with University of Minnesota alumni who are currently working in Washington, DC and have careers in a variety of fields, ranging from legislation to public affairs at a local, national, and international level. During one particular networking event, the students met Sarah Neimeyer, director of Federal Relations for the University of Minnesota, who helped them gain perspective about what it means to represent the U in DC. They also had a chance to meet Mary and Armeane Choksi (featured in the photo above), who both worked at the World Bank in high-level positions and offered them great advice on navigating DC and career paths.

These discussions allowed students to get valuable advice on how to leverage the skills learned in college to build their careers. Another student on the trip, Marah Weidensee, remarked, ”The trip gave us the chance to connect with alumni and allowed us to learn from their experiences of applying knowledge of economic and public policy in their careers.” 

A Peek Into The Future 

The numerous panel discussions and networking events helped the students understand the real-world applications of theoretical economic concepts that they had previously only studied in class. “This trip helped me feel better equipped to continue making these important connections when I graduate,” adds Weidensee.

The undergrads were also able to speak with their upperclassmen travel companions, graduate students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and learn more about graduate school. “Our students got a chance to talk about their quantitative skills, which really impressed the graduate students,” smiles Bigley. “They also got an insight into how useful these skills are in grad school.”  

The department is already making plans to repeat the trip next year, providing another cohort of students with a remarkable learning opportunity.

College trips such as this one enable students to step out of their comfort zones and experience the professional world in a unique yet safe way. “I am grateful that the economics department allowed us to be a part of Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ trip,” asserts Saxena. “This experience has greatly influenced our future careers.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student in Backpack. Meet the team.

Undergraduate Students
Social Sciences
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