The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

CPD is failing politics majors

With such inadequate attention given to the public service and politics career path, many students don’t know where to start and simply give up

Washington and Lee University has one of the best Career and Professional Development offices in the country for students looking for finance, consulting, or marketing careers.

However, outside of those sectors, the outlook is bleak. The CPD office is failing politics majors, one of the most popular majors at the school. It’s time to separate the politics career portfolio from the prelaw portfolio, two very different topics.

There needs to be a full-time, designated CPD officer with a large network in Washington, D.C. and a methodical approach to maintaining connectivity with all politics adjacent alums. And no, I don’t mean continuing to rely on an already full-time professor.

Access to technology and networking databases that students at other top schools can use, such as LeadershipConnect, would also go a long way in mending the partisan alumni gap that leaves Democratic students with few political alumni to reach out to.

LeadershipConnect is a networking database, covering every government sector job from the federal level to the county and local level. It gives key contact information, such as email addresses, for staffers in those roles. LeadershipConnect also covers D.C. law firms, government relations practices across the country, press contacts at every major publication and local outlet, and trade association leaders. You can sort by school to find alumni, or you can cold email the right person if no alumni exist in that space. At the very least, giving access to LeadershipConnect for students and the CPD office would help students know who they can reach out to.

With such inadequate attention given to the public service and politics career path, many students don’t know where to start and simply give up. Those who stick with it and find success are rarely contacted by the school. The school has a successful model in the finance, consulting, and marketing career sectors. The framework is already there. If the university really wants to develop change-makers, then it must address this shortcoming.

I got lucky, and my story is unique. But the fact that someone in a privileged position like mine is struggling and needs help should tell you all you need to know. Here is my story.

I’m a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina. The son of two teachers, I came to Washington and Lee with absolutely no network in D.C., but I knew that I wanted to work in a policy-related role, probably on Capitol Hill. The problem? I didn’t know how to get there.

I was an ambitious freshman who wanted to apply for a Mock Convention role, so I immediately sought advice from the 2020 political department members on campus. That was my first experience with networking, and it taught me a lot. It also gave me a small group of mentors who were on campus, offering advice on non-Mock Convention-related topics. These were seniors going through their own job searches. One of the things that caught me by surprise was how virtually none of them interacted with the CPD office. And not for a lack of trying.

But still, I was a try-hard freshman. The CPD office, to be clear, did help a lot with my resume at the fellow level, and I did receive CPD funding for two summer opportunities, which I am incredibly thankful for.

But when I reached out for advice on how to get a job on the Hill, in D.C., or at least in the policy world, the office’s usefulness came to a complete dead end.

I met with CPD multiple times, and after giving me sound advice on applying to law schools I was met with blank stares or, looking back, bad advice. I was told to work for a law firm in Charlotte to get to DC. Knowing what I know now, taking that advice would have been a dead end. I was told to dress nice and “talk right,” (whatever that means,) which I think I already knew. I was told to branch out my network but was given no help on how to do that or where to start, other than being told that Colonnade Connections exists.

So, as a freshman, I did the fool’s errand of applying for the Washington Term program. I knew that freshmen don’t typically get in. But, to my surprise, Washington Term director and politics professor Brian Alexander offered to help anyone in the information session get started in D.C.—no matter if they got into the program or not.

I’m unsure if he thought I’d call him on that offer! On top of being a professor, he offered himself as someone who would do CPD’s job. That’s not how he sees it, but it’s how it is. However, he was so overloaded that it took until our long winter break to connect. He was, of course, very helpful. Alexander had access from his George Mason days to LeadershipConnect. Now, however, Professor Alexander doesn’t have his George Mason LeadershipConnect access, and students at Washington and Lee have never had access to the service it provides.

Alexander is a good man who wants to help all students. He will be the last person to tell anyone this, but he is stretched thin. He might be upset with me for not running this by him first, but I want to be truthful and give it to you straight.

Not as a fault of his own, not every student gets access. There simply isn’t enough time in a day, and the line is long. When he is in his office, it is rarely empty. And those who don’t get his help are screwed.

Students with competing offers turn to me for advice, unsure of what to do or how to handle those situations. I’m always asked and always happy to connect students to the alumni in D.C. that I know. And I have been privileged to have had a Mock Convention job that has more than opened doors. But what about the students who don’t have that? Those who are never told the makeup of a congressional office, how to make sure your application is flagged, the different roles in D.C., where to even start, and who to even reach out to. What about the students who can’t say that they were so and so in Mock Convention and who don’t have family strings to pull?

While in the finance, consulting, and marketing worlds, the CPD connects students and, crucially, maintains connectivity to alums in those sectors across the country (and guides students through the entire process).

All of that is completely missing in the world of politics. Most of the highest-level alums on the Hill or downtown have never been reached out to by the school, whereas in those other sectors, this would never be the case.

This isn’t to complain about how CPD manages those career paths. It’s more to say that this is exactly the level of attention needed for one of the school’s most popular majors. The people at the CPD office are incredible at their jobs. They are the best in the business. They just don’t at all focus on or prioritize the world of politics. That is why a new hire focused only on this role is so needed.

In my Mock Convention role, we asked CPD for alumni lists in the politics, press, and lobbying worlds. The list was short and incomplete. Most of our best contacts were not on the list. We accidentally ran into helpful alums in Milwaukee at the first debate, for example, and we were able to use the Mock Convention name to open doors we at first didn’t even know existed. Even some members of Congress who are alums told us that they had never been reached out to formally by CPD or the University.

That is embarrassing.

These issues especially have a negative impact on Democrats on campus looking to get started on the Hill. There are good Washington and Lee alums who want to fill that mentorship gap, but they are overwhelmingly Republican. If you get lucky and are told to reach out to one of them, as a Republican, that may be your silver bullet. But those same people are overused, while a large group of alums who would be willing to take on that role have never been contacted by the school or students — because we don’t know who they are.

But on the Democratic side, there are so few in a position to help that too many of us bite the bullet and turn to consulting over a career in public service. I desperately want to help young Washington and Lee Democrats like myself, but the lack of CPD support is a major barrier.

I’m asking for help because I need it. The fellow students who I am trying to help need it. And if the school wants to live up to its promise, it needs it too.

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  • J

    Jeffrey Lawson Class of 68Mar 15, 2024 at 2:35 pm

    I just attended the Five Star event at W&L last week and visited the Career and Professional Developement office and was also disappointed in the existence of a comprehenssive career development program. With the potential of a comnprhensive career developement program coupled with the potential W&L alumni network, I volumteer to help develpment a network of W&L procticing physicians to meet with Premed students and provide letters of recommendation to Med schools that premed student were appling to that matched up with alumni that had attended those med schools.

  • W

    W&L studentMar 12, 2024 at 3:29 pm

    It’s the same way for journalism students too, unfortunately. CPD has been helpful for resume reviews and interview advice, but they do not have adequate resources or staffing to give journalism students good advice, or most importantly, access to the W&L network. I find new famous or well-accomplished journalists/media personalities about every week that went to W&L that no one had ever mentioned to me before. Journalism, like a few other non-business related fields, is just a unique beast that you can’t apply a one-size-fits-all policy towards. The J department knows this and will just encourage you to disregard the CPD office and deal with them, who like Alexander, are full-time professors. And the department gives good advice but expectedly is not good at all at the alumni network part either, since it’s not their job. Most students who get good journalism opportunities get lucky on their own, and the others just quit trying. I feel like the CPD we heard about coming in just applies to business/finance/IB/consulting and maybe law.