Making connections in the nation’s capital

The 28 St. Olaf students on this year’s D.C. Connections Program explored career opportunities and connected with alumni working at places like the Library of Congress, USAID, SKDKnickerbocker, and POLITICO.

A few weeks ago, Sean Heaslip ’16 briefly stepped away from his work on the United States Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee to talk to current St. Olaf College students about working in Washington, D.C.

The St. Olaf students were visiting the nation’s capital as part of the D.C. Connections Program, which brings students into alumni workplaces to explore careers and broaden their perspective on what they can do with a liberal arts education.

For Heaslip, the program is personal — he was a participant himself before he graduated last spring.

Now, as an alumnus working on Capitol Hill, he wants to provide current students with the same valuable insight he received through the program.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain insights into how Ole alumni have applied their skill sets in the wider world,” says Heaslip, who spoke as part of the program’s panel on domestic policy making. “Mostly, I shared the strategy that I developed for getting a job in D.C. My strategy highlighted the importance of face-to-face meetings and the value of previous internships in the D.C. area.”

The 28 St. Olaf students on this year’s D.C. Connections Program explored career opportunities and connected with alumni working at places like the Library of Congress, USAID, SKDKnickerbocker, and POLITICO.

St. Olaf Professor of Political Science Dan Hofrenning introduces alumni and others working at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

The trip, organized by the college’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career, focused on careers in government, nonprofit, education, and international organizations. It was the final trip of this year’s Connections Program, following similar programs in Chicago, Madison, and San Francisco.

During their stay in D.C., students delved into the fields of domestic policymaking; international relations and development; national security (including defense, cybersecurity, and resource security/scarcity); social issues advocacy; economic and monetary policy; and political reporting. In each of these subjects, students had the opportunity to meet with alumni like Heaslip and learn how they ended up working in D.C.

“A memorable part for me was talking with alumni about how they got to where they were. It really put a human face on many of the challenges that I’m facing as I look to the future. It was awesome to hear their stories about how they navigated their way to D.C., and emboldened me to do the same,” says Griffin Edwards ’17.

Over three dozen alumni provided information about the workings of their fields and spoke of how they came to establish their careers in D.C.

“From this program I learned the importance of face-to-face interactions when searching for jobs. Networking is an essential part of the job search process, and it is not one of those things that naturally occurs to people,” says Guillermo Gorrin ’17, who particularly enjoyed meeting with Mark Dimunation ’74, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress, and Anthony Aldwell ’72, director of global security policy at Lockheed Martin. “Their stories really show how far an Olaf education can take you.”

St. Olaf students participating in the D.C. Connections Program met with Mark Dimunation ’74 (center, seated), chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.

Ethan Johnson ‘18 also found the trip to the Library of Congress to a memorable part of the program.

Johnson was thrilled when Dimunation showed students the Bible used by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama at their inaugurations, as well as one of the very first copies of the Declaration of Independence. “It was an honor to get to be with him and see how much to this day he cares about connecting with Oles,” says Johnson.

Aside from the many ventures into different career opportunities, students were also able to experience the capital first hand.

“It’s one thing to listen to people talk about D.C., but to be able to contextualize it by actually being in the city is entirely something else. I think that’s one of the strengths of the Connections programs all around — for a lot of us it’s not just about wanting to work in government or public policy, it’s about wanting to do it in Washington, D.C.,” says Aidan Zielske ’18.

Heaslip can testify to this and he hopes by giving back to the program that students will see the value in St. Olaf connections.

“The understanding that ‘Oles help other Oles’ isn’t something that ends once you get your diploma. These students have our names, our business cards, and our stories. If they decide to pursue an employment opportunity in Washington, they will have plenty of us to reach out to,” says Heaslip.

For students like Johnson, this message rings true.

“I know first hand that there is a vast network of Oles who are out there waiting to help me along my journey and who know that I am a qualified and capable candidate wherever I may go,” says Johnson.