Students head to the nation’s capital to network with alumni.
By Katie Gibson
The connections run deep between Washington, D.C., and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), with a steady back-and-forth of Kennedy School alumni, faculty members, and fellows along the East Coast.
Hundreds of alumni serve in United States government agencies, or in public and private sector organizations that are headquartered in the nation’s capital, after they leave the Kennedy School. And each January, a group of HKS students travels down the coast for an inside glimpse of D.C. life.
Co-sponsored by the Office of Career Advancement and the Office of Alumni Relations and Resource Development, HKS Goes to D.C. spans two jam-packed days of panel discussions, site tours of government offices and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and networking events. The event this year included eight panel discussions featuring 28 alumni and five site visits. In addition, the annual HKS in D.C. Networking Night drew nearly 200 alumni career advisers and networkers. It was an informative professional whirlwind for more than 100 student attendees, like Andres de Riva MPA 2018.
“I was amazed at the balance of the panels and visits,” says de Riva. “Public and private sector, international development, government, so many different agencies and organizations.”
The panel discussions focused on topics such as leading an NGO, exploring public sector consulting, and careers in international trade, media and communications, and foreign policy.
“There was something for everyone,” de Riva says. “My interests are in urban planning: transit, affordable housing. I wasn’t sure that there would be something for me. But the range of employers here reflected the students’ range of interests, including my own.”
The event is a win-win for students and alumni, according to panel moderator Migara Jayawardena MPP 1996, who has participated in the event for several years. A senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank, Jayawardena has met many HKS students—and hired a few—through the HKS Goes to D.C. program.
“We’re always looking for good talent,” he says. “It’s fun to do this. People like to share their knowledge and experience. But it’s also good for us from a hiring perspective.”
That benefit extends to the students, who come away with a better sense of the opportunities available to them, and some advice on how to navigate the labyrinth of agencies and nonprofits.
“We got a sense of the culture at organizations like the World Bank,” says de Riva. “And we also heard about what it’s like to work at certain places and the challenges they’re facing.”
Students like de Riva dive in, attending multiple panels and site visits, while others, like Miriam Aschkenasy MC/MPA 2018, seek out a smaller slice.
“I signed up because of the Public Sector Consulting panel,” says Aschkenasy. “I’m glad I did—the discussion was useful.”
An emergency room physician who came to the Kennedy School “to find my pivot,” Aschkenasy appreciated HKS alumni’s viewpoints about the projects they do with public-sector organizations.
“It was helpful to hear how they described consulting,” Aschkenasy says. “The way they framed the work, and getting an insider’s perspective on the work, were helpful.” She also noted a side benefit of her trip to D.C.—spending some unstructured time with her classmates.
“I’m a parent of school-age children. My life looks different from a lot of my classmates’ lives,” she says. “It was nice to hang out with my fellow students outside the classroom.”
For Jayawardena, the benefit of HKS Goes to D.C. extends far beyond the event itself, which he hopes is also true for the student attendees.
“We’ve hired people, sometimes as a direct result of the event, but sometimes long afterward,” he says. “I ended up mentoring one student and hiring him later. One thing led to another.”
And de Riva could see the alumni enjoyed themselves, too.
“Not just the speakers on the panels, but those who came to network with students and fellow alumni, benefited from the event,” he said. “It’s good to know this event provides a way to stay connected to the HKS network.”
That’s definitely a connection worth sustaining.