Welcome to the Loeb Center’s government and nonprofit career trek. 12 students. 4 days. 20-plus alums. Washington, D.C., plus Annapolis, Md. What a trip  . . .  


Meet the Trekkers

“While I know that I want to do something that helps other people, I’m not entirely sure what is out there,” wrote Xiao Duo Chen ’23 in her application to join the Loeb Center’s government and nonprofit career trek. Over four sunny, chilly days in March, Chen and 11 other students, found out a huge amount about what’s out there. They convened with dozens of staffers at a bunch of agencies and organizations, from the World Bank (where they met Vinh Nguyen ’81 and more), to the Food and Drug Administration (with Mike Levy ’93), to the Urban Institute (with Kimberlyn Leary ’82).

They also hobnobbed with prominent officials such as U.S. Sen. Chris Coons ’85; Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins ’82; and Maryland’s longest-serving state delegate, Sandy Rosenberg ’72. Rosenberg sponsored the trek, one of his many initiatives to bring young people into public service.

Here, the group (and one young alum) pose in the lobby of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, which houses the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Front row, left to right: Yvette Kiptoo ’23, Luisa Quinoñes Marrufo ’25 (with flag), Xiao Duo Chen ’23, Ariana Rodriguez Bruzon ’24. Back row, left to right: Sloan Askins ’20, Bryce Dawkins ’25, Honon Lee ’25, Olivia Fajardo ’23, Alexa (“Lexy”) Caridad García ’23, Graham Quigley ’25, Aidan Orr ’24, Charlotte Domittner ’25, Alice Rogers ’23.

Men and women gathered around a conference table engaged in conversation.

USAID / PEPFAR / Creative Associates International

Alumni: Deborah Cook ’00, Alex Sokolowski ’91, Sloan Askins ’20

Alumni Stories: In the Mandela Room at USAID, Deborah Cook ’00 (bottom right), spoke about PEPFAR (The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which is linked to USAID, and was launched in 2003 shortly after the then-president of Botswana said his country was “threatened with extinction.” Said Cook: “It was one of the biggest investments in public health ever made.” She now evaluates and monitors HIV and AIDS prevention programs in Africa. “It’s a massive program of data analysis and community outreach. For each person with HIV, we have 12 people supporting their treatment,” she said.

Sloan Askins ’20 (bottom center) is an associate at Creative Associates International, which helps implement the contracts that USAID designs: “I get to help write proposals for agricultural projects in Egypt and health intervention projects in Jamaica,” said Askins. “You meet the most amazing, interesting people in this work.” At one point, Lexy Garcia ’23 asked the alums how shifts in foreign policy affect their mission. Alex Sokolowski ’91 (bottom left), the deputy assistant administrator for the bureau of Europe and Asia, answered: “For 20 years, I’ve been hearing conversations about phasing out countries now in the European Union, but we’ve gotten back into them, because they’ve backslid from democracy. If we really can help them develop strong democratic governments, institutions and processes, we will work ourselves out of a job. That’s the idea.”

Career Advice: Don’t be dismissive of paperwork. Yvette Kiptoo ’23 (top left), asked how the alums handle the bureaucratic nature of their jobs. “My job involves a lot of paperwork, yes,” said Cook. “But there are also moments when you are visiting a project and confirm that it’s really making a difference. You can see that the paperwork is necessary to get drugs there on time—because you see that these people are alive.”


Three people walking side by side on a street in Washington, D.C.

Hitting the Streets

 Bryce Dawkins ’25 walks down New York Avenue with Emily Griffen, executive director of the Loeb Center, and Micah Owino, program director, careers in government and nonprofit, who led the trek. Behind them are Luisa Quinoñes Marrufo ’25 and Graham Quigley ’25. Since 2014, the Loeb has rolled out 39 career treks, such as the Boston biotech trek, the NYC finance trek and more. Since Michael A. Elliott became president of Amherst in 2022, he has prioritized deepening the College’s communal ties and helped launch a Hire a Mammoth campaign, asking alumni to consider helping Amherst students who seek careers oriented toward the public interest and public service. So far, some 40 alumni have reached out and offered internship and job opportunities in the sector.

Men and women gathered around a conference table engaged in conversation.

United Nations Foundation / Heinrich Böll Foundation 

Alumni: Pete Ogden ’96 and Hannah Winnick ’09

Alumni Stories: This was news to all of the students: in Germany, the state alone funds its political think tanks, unlike in the U.S., where the money comes from a hodgepodge of private and public sources. After each election, the German government metes out the funds based on the number of Bundestag seats each party has just won. This system was launched after World War II as a way to shore up the study and spread of democracy, explains Hannah Winnick ’09, the executive director of the Washington, D.C. branch of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is aligned with the Green Party. “We share the Green Party’s values, but they don’t tell us what to do,” explains Winnick. “We have a really strong focus on gender rights and climate justice.”

Pete Ogden ’96, vice president for climate and environment at the United Nations Foundation, gave a primer on the role of think tanks. “There’s a whole world of institutions that exist for policy ideas to try to create solutions where the federal government has a role,” he said. “Your job radically changes depending on administrations. Keeps things interesting. Some think tanks are geared toward a single issue; some have whole suites of issues.”

Career Advice: Join a political campaign. Graham Quigley ’25 asked the alums for ideas on how to start a career in activism. Winnick suggested he, like many of her classmates at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, join a political campaign: “If you start on a campaign, a lot of the job will come from relationships you build, and that’s how you get pulled into other things.”

Inset photos, clockwise from top left: Pete Ogden ’96; Hannah Winnick ’09; Aidan Orr ’24; Graham Quigley ’25.


Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Scholars

Alumni: Julie Ajinkya ’03

Alumni Stories: “We are about dispelling the model minority myth,” said Julie Ajinkya ’03, senior vice president of APIA Scholars. “One of the misconceptions is that all Asians are doing great and are against affirmative action. It’s a wedge to pit minorities against each other.” She rolled out the numbers: In the U.S., AAPI college students comprise some 50 distinct groups and 300 languages. About half are enrolled in community college, and half experience food insecurity during their college years. APIA Scholars has offered more than 8,100 scholarships since 2003, along with supportive programming. At Amherst, Ajinkya was greatly influenced by studying with professors Amrita Basu and Kristin Bumiller. “They got me thinking about the power of social movements, and planted seeds that continue to grow,” she said.

Career Advice: Identify wins along the way. Ajinkya talked about not just APIA Scholars but past accomplishments. When she was at The Civil Rights Project, she worked to get Congress to reinstate Pell Grants for incarcerated students, and eventually succeeded. Xiao Duo Chen ’23 asked how to manage working toward a goal over a long time frame. “You have to have achievable goals and celebrate along the way,” said Ajinkya. “Keep your head down and go to the next struggle. We celebrate each step as its own type of victory.”

Career Trek participants pose outside in small groups.

From the Bus to the Street to the Escalator

The group made its way across the city, against a cinematic backdrop of cherry trees in bloom. In D.C., they also met with, among others, Chris Gillyard ’08, of NEC National Security Systems; Steven A. Smith ’86 and Jessie Corradi ’08 of the United States International Development Finance Corp.; and Burth Lopez ’01, formerly of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

A group gathers in a conference room for conversation.

U.S. State Department

Alumni: Bonnie Jenkins ’82

Alumni Stories: “I’m the first African American woman to be under secretary, but I’m sure I won’t be the last,” says Bonnie Jenkins ’82, who is one of the six under secretaries working with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, each responsible for a different area of statecraft. Jenkins is an expert on arms control and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At Amherst, she majored in psychology and Black studies and did an internship at the Pentagon shortly after graduation. “I had a mentor there,” she told the students. “And I’d follow him to meetings where they were talking about missiles and nuclear weapons, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, this is great!’

Career Advice: Honor the dialogue process. Honon Lee ’25 asked Jenkins about what it’s like to negotiate with other countries. “Usually there have been other people before you who have gotten a sense of where the parties are before you sit down,” she answered. “You already know what they have been a stickler on, and where to push on which situation. I always go in there hopeful that there will be a positive result. But there is also a value in having dialogue even if the situation is challenging. Even if there isn’t a good relationship, you can have a diplomatic process for trying to resolve an issue.”

Amherst students pose for a photo in front of artwork displayed inside the World Bank.

The World Bank

Alumni: Vinh Nguyen ’81, Yinan Zhang ’12, Maria Ruth Jones ’05

Alumni stories: Vinh Nguyen ’81, director at The World Bank, explained one of the basic premises of this imposing institution, namely that it is built to offer better loans to poorer countries. “Take El Salvador,” he said. “It wants to fund a project. If it goes to Wall Street first, it can borrow at 10 years at 8 percent. It can’t manage that. But if it goes to the World Bank, because our credit is so good—since it's backed by 97 countries—we can give a much better deal, like a loan to be paid off over 25 years at 6 percent.”

Yinan Zhang ’12, operations officer, spoke of her work on supporting regional cooperation in South Asia, “one of the regions most prone to climate disasters,” she said. “And devastating floods do not respect national borders. We encourage countries to work together,” she added, in this case sharing data and developing early warning services.

Maria Ruth Jones ’05, senior economist, labors in the “knowledge arm of the bank,” she says, while other areas deliver the projects. (She is standing at the photo’s far right.) When she joined her division, it had a half dozen people; now it has 270: “We have grown so we can do impact evaluations in all the regions in which World Bank invests.”

Career advice: Go to grad school, and find a professor who consults with an agency you’re interested in. Many of the professors at grad schools focused on international affairs are also World Bank consultants. Learn about their consultancy and, once you hit mid-career, consider a consultant position yourself. That’s how Jones came to the organization. “Go from one project to the next and build your CV,” said Nguyen. “That’s how 80 percent of the people at the World Bank got a job here.”

A group gathers in a conference room for conversation.

Urban Institute

Alumni: Kimberlyn Leary ’82

Alumni Stories: Kimberlyn Leary ’82, senior vice president of research management and program development at the Urban Institute, blew the students away as a leader. And not just because of her many achievements, but because she chose to use the session to amplify younger staffers, some just past entry level. This resonated with the Amherst students because they could see what the near future might look like, not just decades out. And they could also see, up close, how younger staffers thrived under her leadership. “I can’t do my job without the rest of my team,” said Leary. One such staffer, Leary’s special assistant Martha Lushington, especially got through to the group when she told of her roundabout path to her job: “I still don’t have it really figured out. Don’t let people tell you that there’s one way to do this. You’re smart. I read your résumés. It means something that you’re here on spring break, and not lying on a beach somewhere!”

Career Advice: Even if it’s not the exact role you want, it pays to do it well. “Here’s one lesson for success,” said Matt Rogers, director of strategy: “When you are in an early role in an organization, it might not be perfectly aligned with your values or what you want to do. But if you do that role excellently, people will see that you put in that effort. And that will be the best way to create the next step.”

Career Trek participants pose outside of the Capitol Building at dusk.

At the U.S. Senate

Alumni: Chris Coons ’85

Alumni Stories: In a function room at the Senate, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons '85 (D-Del.) spoke to and joked with the students, asking each of them to tell him a bit about themselves and to ask him anything. “What a delightfully tactical question,” he teased one student, whose query skirted close to asking for a job. He also recounted his path from being a chemistry and political science major at Amherst—Professor Austin Sarat once railed at him for slacking off (“I was so full of myself,” said Coons)—to working in both the private and public sectors, up to his current role. Stories from the Senate abounded. One of his proudest moments came when the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies (ACT) for ALS Act was passed in 2021, sponsored by Coons and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). It was partly inspired by another Amherst alum, and ALS patient, Dan Tate Jr. ’88.

Career Advice: Write well. Learn how to listen to alternative arguments. Be nice. Sen. Coons boiled down his prescription for on-the-job success to these three precepts. “You’ll do well if, A, you have the ability to write correctly and grammatically, speak concisely,” he began. “B, you can make and survive an argument and not be all tortured about the fact that someone’s actually challenged you. And C? Be nice. Don’t be a jerk.”

Career Trek participants gather for dinner at a local restuarant.

Alumni Dinner

The students got a chance to relax at a local restaurant with alumni based in the area. Top right: Ben Gilsdorf ’21 (in white shirt), who works in the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Bottom right: Taylor Pelletier ’19 (in burgundy shirt), legal project coordinator at the Center for American Progress. Bottom left: Jim Hall ’15: (in blue sweatshirt), science teacher at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School.

Career Trek participants visited the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

At the Maryland State House

Alumni: Sandy Rosenberg ’72

Alumni Stories: Sandy Rosenberg ’72 (Maryland House Delegate, Democrat, District 41, Baltimore City) was madly busy during the legislative session, but found a little time to shepherd the students to two statues of Civil Rights luminaries outside the state house, each with an Amherst connection. One depicted Thurgood Marshall, the late Supreme Court justice and Baltimore native who was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston (1915). The other showed Donald Gaines Murray (1934).

Career Advice: Watch closely when you’re in the room where it happens. Over two days in Annapolis, the students got to observe the action, by sitting in the gallery of the Maryland State House or in committee rooms. They listened to a series of debates that were, by turns, mundane, heated, fascinating and intricate—everything from how to reform the state’s impounded car laws to the ins and outs of Maryland National Guard members’ health insurance, to controversial charter school funding, to reproductive rights legislation. They also met with legislative aides and lobbyists, whom Rosenberg had selected, so as to get a feel for the many political jobs on the state level.

The students learned from spontaneous interactions, too, especially from legislators staying where the group was boarding, at the Governor Calvert House. One delegate so enjoyed chatting with them at the inn that he offered public praise to “the amazing group of Amherst students sitting in the gallery” at the next day’s legislative session. At this point, the entire House of Delegates looked up at the group—and broke into applause.