Preparing policy professionals: Chicago experience helps students learn, connect

For Chukwuemeka Daniel Onyeanuna, a recent trip to Chicago helped him secure an internship that will give him a head start in his sustainability work. 

For Rafael Gutierrez, the experience served as a reminder to leverage his passion as he considers career options. 

And for Nicoleta Paladi, it was an opportunity to draw inspiration from changemakers in both the private sector and nongovernmental organizations. 

The three were among more than a dozen master of global affairs students who spent a day in Chicago to explore policy-relevant careers. The excursion, which is already paying dividends for participants, is one of the newest opportunities the Keough School of Global Affairs provides as it prepares students for professional success. 

Investing in students

“This trip is a new initiative we launched thanks to the generosity of Tom and Molly Duffey, who gave a generous gift to support professional development,” said Melinda Fountain, the Keough School’s associate director for professional development and alumni relations. “We’re excited about the opportunity to invest in our students and prepare them for impactful careers.” 

The couple gave $5 million in 2022 to create and endow the Duffey Career Development Program. The program’s team works closely with the university’s Meruelo Family Center for Career Development and the Notre Dame Alumni Association to expand Notre Dame’s network of alumni and potential employers in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors, and to create post-graduate internships and fellowships to help students transition from their studies to successful careers.

Components include a Career Colloquium, which meets several times each semester. The Chicago excursion was a new addition to the class, which ensures students keep professional development top of mind amid the daily demands of their studies. 

In addition to leading the class, Fountain finds creative ways to connect the Keough School’s student cohorts with campus speakers as well as Notre Dame alumni and friends. These efforts complement other professional development resources the school offers, such as the Policy Immersion course that connects students with influential Washington policymakers. 

We’re excited about the opportunity to invest in our students and prepare them for impactful careers.

“We connect students with alumni to help them learn about different fields and make connections at different organizations and in multiple industries,” Fountain said. “We provide comprehensive support, through both individualized and group coaching. One of the strengths of our program is the diversity of our students’ backgrounds, so we encourage them to share ideas and support one another. And now, new investments like the Chicago experience will help ensure that our students have the training and tools to compete in today’s marketplace.” 

Networking and learning 

Fountain planned the Chicago excursion meticulously to ensure students arrived ready to network. Background materials prepared them to interact with everyone they met throughout the day and to ask insightful questions about the organizations they visited. Before their arrival, students composed thank-you notes as a way to stay in touch with the people they would soon meet. 

Chukwuemeka Daniel Onyeanuna prepared thoroughly for a visit to Deloitte’s Chicago office. The experience helped him make connections and secure a sustainability internship with the company.

During the first stop, at Deloitte, students listened as Notre Dame alumni Ashlee Bartlow and Michael McLean discussed the company’s work to help clients proactively adapt to new environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. They outlined how Deloitte has aligned its corporate goals with climate science, helped clients embrace ESG as a way to increase resilience and differentiate their brands in a competitive environment, and highlighted the importance of staying up-to-date on evolving standards. 

The meeting was transformative for Chukwuemeka Daniel Onyeanuna. As he prepared for it, the Nigerian student was fascinated to learn about ESG. He arrived ready to ask questions and delve further into the topic. Afterward, he connected with McLean on LinkedIn to inquire about summer internships, and after talking further with recruiters, secured a summer internship at Deloitte’s audit and assurance group in McLean, Virginia. 

This internship aligns perfectly with my career aspirations. I look forward to the invaluable experience it will provide.

“This internship aligns perfectly with my career aspirations, Chukwuemeka said. “My passion for sustainability and environmental conservation stems from my work experience in the agriculture and food industries. As I prepare for my career in the United States, this internship is a significant milestone that will provide me with valuable practical experience, exposure to corporate America, and an opportunity to network with professionals in my field. I am excited to start this new chapter in my career journey, and I look forward to the invaluable experience that the internship will provide me.” 

Sarah Kroopf discussed how she makes a difference for people and the planet through her sustainability work at McDonald’s.

At lunch, students met with Notre Dame alumni and friends who shared insights from their varied roles and professions. Attendees included Steve Bynum (WBEZ Chicago Public Media) Mark Frey (Community Peacemaker Teams) Sara Kroopf (McDonald’s) Jessica Lembelembe (United World Mission), John Palfrey (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), Sara Reschly (Chicago’s Brighton Park Neighborhood Council) and Melissa Yisak (American Institutes for Research). One by one, they detailed what they have learned from their work experiences, providing students with multiple models for how they might make a difference. 

Steve Bynum of WBEZ Chicago Public Media encouraged students to advocate for change in their workplaces and communities.

For instance, Bynum, who serves as the diversity, equity, and inclusion manager for WBEZ Chicago Public Media, spoke eloquently about the need to make workplaces more representative. He also lauded young leaders who call for systemic change, citing recent examples such as climate change protests in Chicago and widespread calls for universities to divest from fossil fuels. Advocating for change, whether in a workplace meeting or in the public square, remains a powerful tool to change the conversation and motivate others to act, Bynum said. 

“You are creating a shift. They are changing because you are demanding it, he said. “I challenge you to challenge my generation. We are all in a dire moment, but there is hope, there is progress, there is joy, and there is resilience in you. I am inspired, overjoyed, and humbled by you.” 

Master of global affairs student Mariama S. Dampha connected with John Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, during the Chicago student trip.

Lunch also included time for networking. Mariama S. Dampha used the time to connect with John Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For Dampha, who is pursuing a career in global health, the opportunity to meet the leader of a major philanthropic organization was invaluable.. 

“It was a great experience,” she said. “I gave him my card along with a thank-you note, and he emailed me. Knowing how busy he is, I really appreciate that he took the time to follow up with me. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with and talk to people like him who are working on the frontlines of policy and practice.” 

Exploring New Perspectives

Students finished the day with a visit to the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), part of Heartland Alliance. They listened as project manager Abigail Ginzburg, a 2022 master of global affairs graduate, detailed how the NIJC provides legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Much of its work helps unaccompanied children, and the NIJC recently helped end child detention in Illinois. Ginzburg described the challenges of reacting to fast-changing policies and described how she and her colleagues work to respond nimbly so they can provide much-needed assistance to children navigating unfamiliar legal systems.  

For Rafael Gutierrez, the Chicago trip served as a reminder to find his niche and focus on his passion. He plans to work in international development or diplomacy.

Rafael Gutierrez, a student from Minnesota, appreciated the opportunity to hear his former classmate reflect on her work, and the passion she has for it—the same passion he plans to bring to his future career in international development or diplomacy.  

“What I gleaned from these conversations today and from past conversations with Abigail, is that you need to find your niche,” said Gutierrez, a former Peace Corps volunteer who plans to pursue a career in international development or diplomacy. “You need to find what really drives you to wake up every morning so that you can do something that will make an impact.” 

Nicoleta Paladi helped introduce speakers at a networking gathering with Notre Dame alumni and friends. She appreciated hearing diverse insights from the private sector as well as nongovernmental organizations.

 Nicoleta Paladi agreed. The Moldovan student, who wants to help developing countries embrace technology effectively, was impressed by the range of perspectives she encountered during a day filled with eye-opening meetings and site visits. 

It was helpful to meet with people working in the private sector, in nongovernmental organizations, and in foundations, and to learn more about the nature of their work,” she said. “It’s important for us, as we prepare to graduate, to reflect on our skills and interests and how we might best use them. 

“Having that awareness, and hearing firsthand from people in these environments is a fantastic learning opportunity,” Paladi said. “They’re doing incredible work in the world, and that gives us a sense of hope and ambition for what we want to achieve.”

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