By Mari Megias
March 30, 2022

More than 175 Harvard Kennedy School alumni volunteered to mentor HKS students during the School’s 11th annual Career Shadowing Initiative last January. They brought an intentionality and generosity to the experience, which took place over Zoom again this year.

“The virtual world really lends itself to this,” says Teresa Acuña MC/MPA 2017 of her time hosting a student who wanted to learn more about potential career pathways. Acuña, a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor, says she and her student first discussed the student’s interests. Acuña says, “I did my best to facilitate one-on-one meetings with people on my team who have a career trajectory she’d like to mirror.”

Thanks to the pandemic, this was the second time that HKS’s annual Career Shadowing Initiative took place entirely in the ether. With geography no limit, more alumni and students participated in the program than ever, with triple the number of student-alumni matches compared with before the pandemic.

Alumni tailored their approach to match students’ interests. Christopher Rohe MPP 2002 is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and national government acquisitions thought leader who co-founded Rogue Industries to help the U.S. government and its allies acquire transformative solutions. He recently advised a student who was also interested in starting a company, providing insight on questions such as, “How should I establish my company to best provide solutions within the federal marketplace? As an LLC? An S Corp? As a woman-owned or minority-owned enterprise?” Rohe notes, “We’ve lived this stuff for so long. Answers are gems for individuals—it would take three months to find this answer on your own, including a few failures—and we were able to accelerate the dialogue and formation of her company.”

Jim Kales MPP 1992 is the president and CEO of Aspire, a Chicago nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities. “We met over Zoom before Christmas to see what the students wanted to get out of the experience,” he says. “We designed a plan for them, which we did over three or four days in January. I had them sit in on our executive team meeting. The students were especially interested in things like fundraising as well as equity and disabilities issues, and how to get the message out, as a disability organization, without sensationalizing people with disabilities.”

Jon Elam MC/MPA 1981 is a retired city manager who now volunteers to develop community leaders on topics like climate change. “Impressed” doesn’t begin to cover his feelings about HKS students. “They will be the world’s future leaders,” he says. “It’s really amazing that HKS has sent a message that aspiring leaders anywhere in the world can look to Harvard, which continues to build a foundation for connection that really helps to make the world stronger.”

The Career Shadowing Initiative is not one-sided; alumni also gained a lot from their students. Says Kales, “My team really appreciated these two really smart students with a fresh perspective and great learning from HKS. And it was a pretty minimal time commitment to get such a big impact. It felt good, as an alum, to hear them say, like I said at their age, that they want to change the world. I saw myself in them at that age—it brought back a lot of good memories.”

By matching students with alumni each year during the Career Shadowing Initiative, HKS continues to strengthen its formidable network of alumni who are devoted to creating positive change.