St. Olaf News

 

New networking event connects students to public interest careers

David Rossow '05 talks to students about his role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the new Oles for Public Interest program.

David Rossow ’05 talks to students about his role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the new Oles for Public Interest program.

St. Olaf College students interested in pursuing public interest careers gathered on campus this week to hear from a variety of alumni currently working in the field.

The new event, Oles for Public Interest, aims to connect students with alumni working in government positions, at nonprofit organizations, and for corporate foundations. Throughout the evening, break-out panels provided valuable insight on how these alumni approach issues ranging from poverty reduction to environmental regulation.

“The issues the event deals with are big topics that cannot be easily understood through brief networking conversations,” says Branden Grimmett ’03, director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, which coordinated the event. “The benefit the panel format provides is that students are able to hear thoughtful and more in-depth perspectives from alumni experts working in a range of fields who were chosen because of the innovative work they are doing.”

The event began with a keynote speech by David Rossow ’05, who had experience in investment banking and foundation work before taking on his current role as senior program investment officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rossow is responsible for managing the foundation’s $1.5 billion program-related investment pool, which focuses on strategic investments in sectors that include global health, global development, and U.S. education. His speech focused on finding and refining the three aspects he feels are vital to a successful career involving public interest: passion, skills, and opportunity. The last of these, he said, is available to every St. Olaf student.

“Even if you don’t have a particular passion or a specific set of skills to apply to the industry, each of you has the unique opportunities that arise from being a student at St. Olaf,” Rossow told students during his speech. “Utilizing the various programs, professors, classes, and alumni connections will help you develop and refine your passion and skills.”

Beth Wickum '82, director of volunteer services at the Center for Victims of Torture, and Valeng Cha '95, senior director of grants and foundation relations at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, speak to students at the new Oles for Public Interest event.

Beth Wickum ’82, director of volunteer services at the Center for Victims of Torture, and Valeng Cha ’95, senior director of grants and foundation relations at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, speak to students at the new Oles for Public Interest event.

Oles for Public Interest is part of a suite of alumni connection events offered through the Piper Center that include Ole Biz, Ole Med, Ole Law, and Making it in the Arts.

In addition to networking and career exploration, Oles for Public Interest’s unique design allows alumni to focus on the issues that they are working on and enables students to make broader connections with their own personal interests and goals.

The program adds a new networking element to the college’s diverse range of academic and career opportunities relating to public interest, including many of the Piper Center’s cohort internship programs: The Community Development in Asia program focuses on servant leadership and sustainable farming in Japan; the Legal Scholars program allows students to research legal solutions to child advocacy, re-entry work for prisoners, and community justice; and the Social Entrepreneurship Scholars program looks at issues ranging from community development to public policy solutions to social issues.

Additionally, many of the more than 100 individual unpaid or underpaid internships that the Piper Center awards funding for went to students pursuing work at nonprofits and government agencies throughout the world.

Many of these internships and opportunities grow out of connections with dedicated and devoted alumni, many of whom Grimmett hopes will be involved in future Oles for Public Interest events.

“Several alumni who attended mentioned that they would like to continue their involvement,” he says. “Fortunately, we have a deep pool of alumni talent to draw from in future years.”