1. What do you do?
From August 2019 to July 2021, I worked as a Research Economist & Planning Associate at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), metro Atlanta’s urban & regional planning agency. During this time, I also completed a fellowship with Lead for America, a two-year national service program building the next generation of public service leaders in cities and communities across the United States. In the fall of 2021, I will be starting graduate work in public management & administrative law at the University of Pennsylvania.
2. What’s the coolest part of your job?
While I was at ARC, the coolest part of the job was serving as a partner and resource to so many different organizations across the Atlanta area. As the urban & regional planning agency for Atlanta, ARC works very closely with metro Atlanta local governments to figure out important issues at the nexus of urban planning, policy, and economic development. They also partner with many different non-profits, small businesses, and corporate entities to create new partnerships and initiatives that serve the Atlanta region in really great ways.
As a research economist within the Research & Analytics Group, my job was not only to explain and research various economic phenomena affecting metro Atlanta, but also to ask communities what they were experiencing, cultivate understanding around complex issues, and many times, just to tell compelling stories using all the data and information that ARC has access to.
3. Why are you passionate about this work?
I’m passionate about the work because in my role at ARC, I got to drive and contribute to a solutions-oriented dialogue around many of the challenges that Atlanta faces. And, as a longtime resident of metro Atlanta, it was an incredible experience to work for an organization that has shaped my understanding of the Atlanta community in so many ways.
In addition, I’m passionate about the work of public service because I believe that to effectively combat and solve the problems facing our world in the 21st century, we’ll need an entirely reformed orientation toward solving common problems, driven by the desire to create just, equitable, and loving communities. Public service offers a great opportunity to actually do the necessary work, but also to inspire our friends, families, and communities and call them into the active practice of shaping the world around us both in the near term and for generations to come.
4. How did you find your job/what’s the best resource for jobs or networking you’ve found?
I found my job by connecting with ARC’s Executive Director (Doug Hooker - ME ‘78, MS TSP ‘85) and asking for one! I’m mostly joking - it was a bit more complicated than that - but as a fellow in the inaugural cohort of Lead For America, it was my responsibility to find an organization in the Atlanta area that could serve as my host institution for two years. As an organization doing great work to support the Atlanta community and build up new leaders around the region, I believe ARC was well-positioned to partner with LFA and host me as a fellow for two years.
In terms of networking and finding new jobs/opportunities, I’ve found that the best resource to use is your own curiosity and determination. For many of my professional experiences thus far, I was able to create new roles for myself by leveraging my own network and approaching the organization I was interested in with a value proposition, my own unique skill set, and the reason that I was particularly interested in working with them. In addition, I’ve found that process useful for not only creating new roles, but for solving various problems within organizations that I’m already working for.
5. What’s the most surprising detour you’ve taken from your career path? What did you learn from it?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever really taken a detour from my desired career path, but I did have some really interesting professional experiences early in my college career. Probably the most surprising - and naturally the most fun - was the summer of 2017 when I interned at Rolling Out magazine, an Atlanta-based Black culture and media publication, and worked as an editorial intern. I spent the summer writing about and reviewing new music, attending different events around Atlanta, and interviewing notable people and leaders around the city. Here’s me with Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen from The Gathering Spot during that summer!
6. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced since graduating, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced since graduating was definitely navigating the first two years of my career during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some parts were just very lonely, and last summer, it was very difficult to go through the graduate school application process while social distancing and working from home 24/7. However, I did get through it, mostly by spending a lot of time with my family and picking up a lot of new books - and once I got vaccinated at the end of March 2021, it felt like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you, science!
7. What’s your #1 tip for students and alumni interested in pursuing a career in public service?
It’s difficult to pick just one, but my #1 tip would be to figure out your own personal “why”, and one that actually goes beyond the work of public service and institutions. Over the course of the past 2 years, I’ve learned to look at the work of public service as central to supporting vulnerable populations and solving large-scale problems, but in a larger sense, as a vehicle to instituting a new and entirely different culture toward creating the communities and world that we want to live in.
I also believe that connection to community is a crucial component for pursuing public service roles, especially in an era defined by stark division and political fragmentation. Identifying and adhering to a community - whether defined by culture, geography, or common practice - is a great way to stay grounded, maintain authentic relationships, and learn about common problems in order to provide help and leadership in fixing them.
8. Do you recommend any events, conferences, or groups that students and alumni interested in public service should take part in?
One group doing great work to educate professionals and students around Atlanta about relevant economics trends and issues is The Atlanta Economics Club. They host monthly speaking events that are great for learning about important economic issues, what’s driving them, and the kind of solutions that public and private institutions can offer.
Also, ARC hosts many different region-wide gatherings and conferences that I believe would be fascinating for anyone living in and around Atlanta. They’ve put on several very informative webinars in the past year, but also check out ARC’s State of the Region Breakfast that they put on every year in November.
9. Can students and alumni in the School of Economics contact you if they’re interested in following in your footsteps?
They certainly can! Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a DM on Twitter (@2timesayo).
I’m happy to speak more about my academic and professional journey thus far, how I can help connect you with people and organizations I know doing great work, or any of your favorite movies or albums from the past 5 years.
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