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From public service to foreign service

Sarah Armstrong ’07 talks to students following the Sundays with Alumni panel discussion.
Sarah Armstrong ’07 talks to students following the Sundays with Alumni panel discussion.

Valerie Martin ’97, a Foreign Service officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, told students at a recent “Sundays with Alumni” event that there is no singular path into government service.

Martin and her fellow panelists, Sarah Armstrong ’07, legislative assistant and scheduler for the U.S. House of Representatives; John Maggiore ’91, director of regional affairs for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; and Martin Olsen ’95, mayor of New London, are perfect examples. Maggiore, a government and religious studies major at Connecticut College, went to graduate school before becoming a fellow with the New York state senate. And while religious studies might not seem like an obvious choice for a future in government service, Maggiore says it’s important to study what you love.

“The subject matter I studied has very little to do with my professional life, but the methods I was taught for learning and writing and conveying myself are invaluable,” he said.

Armstrong found her first position – legal assistant – through Connecticut College’s Career Enhancing Life Skills (CELS) program. Her CELS counselor, she said, was instrumental in helping her build a resume as a student – she interned for the Bush administration and the McCain campaign – and still provides advice today.

“Don’t do the safe thing,” she advised students. “Do something that you really love. Look far and wide … and challenge yourself. Even if you think you know [what you want to do for a career], you don’t.”

Olsen said it was his passion for helping people that led him to politics. He enrolled at Connecticut College to earn a degree in economics 16 years after completing two years at Northeastern University. Martin, a history major at the College, began her career in politics with a position as a legal assistant for the state of New York.

All four panelists agreed that working in government is exciting, unpredictable and demanding. And while they cautioned that it can sometimes be thankless work, there are also rewards.

“You can become very jaded in politics, but then one little bill that only you care about gets passed or your boss votes one way because of something you said and then D.C. is all new and shiny again,” Armstrong said.

The panelists urged students interested in a political career to get involved early.
“Work on campaigns, find primaries to work on and get involved in student government,” Maggiore said.

Armstrong added, “Run something. Start something. Be a motivational source.”

The advice hit home for Will Pascano ’15, who is interested in pursuing a career in government. “One of the greatest resources that Conn gives to its students is showing them what alumni have done with an education from here,” he said.



October 12, 2011