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The Citizen

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From L.A. to India, Students Get Face Time with Alumni

This January term saw the successful implementation of the inaugural Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Shadowing Program, allowing current HKS students the chance to connect with alumni in professional fields of interest. Unlike other similar programs, which are typically initiated by alumni associations or career services, HKS’s J-Term Shadowing Initiative was championed by Natalie Fabe, the Vice President of Professional Development – which is in itself a brand-new position within the Kennedy School Student Government.

Fabe, a MPP2 student, was motivated by a personal experience to implement this initiative. “Last year, an L.A.-based alumna, Jody Litvak, reached out through the California Caucus listserv to ask whether anyone wanted to shadow her for a day,” she recalls. “I took her up on the offer, and it was such a fantastic experience that I wanted to enable more HKS students to have that opportunity.”

The program was piloted with the help of the Office of Alumni Relations, Office of Career Advancement, and the HKS Alumni Clubs of New England, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, London, and India. Alumni were contacted by email through their alumni clubs and over 100 volunteered to host students.

Students were matched with alumni in different ways depending on region. For alumni based in the U.S., students could browse available shadowing opportunities based on job titles and organizations, and then select up to three alumni who they wanted to shadow. After that students were matched based on order of preference; for alumni who were requested by multiple students, matches were made using a lottery system. For India, students submitted their interests directly to the president of the HKS Alumni Club of India, who personally introduced students to alumni with similar interests.

While students only had a five-day window to submit their applications, 51 matches were made, far exceeding the Professional Development Committee’s initial goal of 30 matches. Nearly all matches met for at least half a day.

In Bangalore, India, MPP1 Piyush Jain travelled from Mumbai to meet with Tobby Simon, CEO of Synergia Foundation. Simon, while not an alumnus, is on the International Committee for the Belfer Center. Jain valued his experience: “My career vision involves working in India at the intersection of the both the private and public sectors in the long term. Speaking to Tobby and understanding the nature of work done at Synergia Foundation provided useful insights regarding how best to combine the knowledge/expertise of both business and government in a professional career in India.”

MPP1 Abby Bellows shadowed the VP of Administration and Finance at the Millennium Challenge Corporation in D.C. Bellows was pleasantly surprised to participate significantly in a senior staff meeting on spatial redesign.  “They mentioned the redesign of the GSA and were very excited to hear that I had done a case study on it in Management class,” she says. “I was able to contribute to their meeting insights from our class discussion about spatial change management.”

While many students visited organizations on their professional wishlists, the shadowing initiative also enabled discovery. Alex Remington, formerly of the Washington Post and a MPP1, spent a day with the news editor of a free weekly newspaper in Brattleboro, Vermont. He writes, “I’m interested in journalism and exploring different models that news organizations are currently trying, so this was a great chance for me to see a newspaper with a vastly different scope than anything I’d ever seen before.” At the nonprofit-run newspaper, he admired the strong sense of public service. One takeaway from his experience was the realization that “there are a lot of great Kennedy School connections in Rhode Island, western Mass, northern Connecticut, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire, and upstate New York, just a couple hours’ drive from my Boston bubble.”

Fabe reflects on the accomplishments of the pilot, “My hope was that this initiative would enable students to explore potential career avenues, see what it’s like to work at various organizations, and make valuable contacts within those organizations. From the feedback we’ve received so far, it seems as though the initiative accomplished these objectives for almost everyone, and a few students even reported that they received possible internship/job offers!”

Jennifer Hollett, MPA-MC, was matched with the General Manager of ProPublica in New York City. She shares, “Job shadows are a great way to figure out where you’d like to work, as well as network. If you have a dream job, do what you can to get in their space.”

Fabe invites students to join the Professional Development Committee in implementing their newest initiatives: a new partnership with the Executive Education program, a “skills-sharing” initiative to enable HKS students to learn from each others’ talents, and a pilot intra-student mentoring program.

Writer Cristina Garmendia is a member of the Professional Development Committee and Boston Site Captain for the J-Term Shadowing Initiative.