ATLANTA — Fifteen Georgia State students traveled to Washington, D.C., in late September to participate in the university’s three-day Panthers in the District (PID) immersion experience. They returned to Atlanta with more than good memories and fancy capital swag. Many now envision new pathways to the future.
“Our day on the Hill allowed me to see how macro social work plays a part in all processes of the federal government,” M.S.W. student Kaleb Solberg said. “And the Deloitte visit allowed me to see how others have pursued roles outside of social work norms. Meeting individuals who did not come from legal or business backgrounds and are now thriving as consultants was refreshing. It offers me a pathway I could follow to send my career into those spaces, eventually.”
Solberg, of Atlanta, helps LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing homelessness find necessary resources and support services, including employment that is inclusive and welcoming. He was one of five students from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies (AYSPS) who attended Panthers in the District this fall. The others were Pakham Changvisommid, a Fulbright Scholar from Laos working on her M.P.A., M.P.P. students Kaddijatou Keita from The Gambia and Omotola “Elizabeth” Oladapo from Nigeria, and undergraduate Taylor Heaney from Atlanta, a public policy major. They were joined by 10 accounting and finance students from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Immersive Learning Fosters Impactful Networking
Panthers in the District proactively markets undergraduate and graduate students for internships and full-time job opportunities in D.C. by introducing them to Georgia State alumni and other government and business leaders. Originally developed jointly by the Robinson College and Andrew Young School, the program is now a part of the Panther Immersion Programs led by Sharry Anderson Conroy, director of immersive programs, which includes visits to New York City, Charlotte and Silicon Valley. Panthers in the District offers a unique annual opportunity to students who seek career opportunities in accounting, economic development, government, grant writing and management, public policy and consulting.
“Since its inception, our collaboration with the Andrew Young School has produced a multidisciplinary talent pool of intelligent, creative and hardworking students from one of the most globally diverse universities in the U.S. to engage with top employers in Washington, D.C.,” Conroy said. “We are grateful for this partnership.”
AYSPS faculty and staff join those from Robinson to help the students connect with their presenters and keep the intensive three-day series of meetings and networking events running smoothly. Professor Jan Ivery, associate dean for academic affairs, Peter Bluestone, associate director of the Center for State and Local Finance, and alumni Amanda Puché (B.A. ’08, B.A. ’08, M.A. ’12), senior director of development, and Troy Crittendon (M.P.A. ’19), assistant director for alumni relations, represented AYSPS.
“We centered on both private and public-sector career opportunities during this trip,” Crittendon said. “Our students have transferable skills they can apply to many different career paths in the workforce today. Panthers in the District allowed them to explore the wide range of career opportunities with the help of highly experienced leaders and alumni in their respective fields.”
Alumni Lead the Way
Many of these leaders and presenters included AYSPS and Robinson College alumni. The first meeting Monday, Sept. 25as with chief official White House photographer Adam Schultz (B.A. ’06), an AYSPS alum and recent Georgia State Alumni Association 40 Under 40 honoree. At dinner with Georgia State University President M. Brian Blake and Robinson College Dean Richard Phillips, the students met AYSPS alum Andrew Brown (B.A. ’11, M.P.A. ’14), director of data analytics at the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Commerce. A night tour of D.C. topped their day.
“Meeting GSU alumni who had landed various positions taught me that there are many pathways to careers in public administration,” Changvisommid said. Prior to coming to Georgia State, Changvisommid was a project coordinator for Asian Development with Disabled Persons and an international liaison with the National Paralympic Committee of Laos. “Networking not only is about getting noticed and creating new connections, but also offers a great chance to learn about other job industries,” she said.
Oladapo agreed. “Adam’s inspiring journey as the official photographer for President Biden, despite studying marketing, showcases the power of readiness and effective networking. This encounter emphasized the importance of adaptability and building strong relationships, reaffirming my belief that with determination, networking and readiness, success can be achieved in any chosen field,” Oladapo said.
The next day, Robinson alum Austin Tian (B.B.A. ’19) led presentations on the Government Public Services division at Deloitte with consultants who support both government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Bob Shellhas, Washington Counsel for EY, led the next presentation. It was followed by a final meeting at the U.S. Department of the Treasury led by Robert Gillette, director of the Office of Tax Analysis. The students then enjoyed networking with other Georgia State alumni from D.C. during a reception at the Hotel Monaco.
“Candice James at EY motivated me because she was an international student like me,” Keita said. “With all the difficulties she faced, she still made it and is currently working at one of the largest professional services firms in the world. She is an inspiration to me and, after meeting her, I became more confident about myself and what I want to achieve in life.”
Keita, a sickle cell patient, is dedicated to advocating for individuals with the condition, primarily in The Gambia. She plans to use her knowledge to bring about tangible policy changes that will benefit individuals living with the disease.
Changvisommid observed that the time they spent at the Treasury gave them insights on both the policymaking process and challenges in getting policies passed. “It opened discussion on the need to teach students how to understand taxation fundamentals and benefit from the available policies and resources,” she said.
“The experiences most relevant to my education were visiting Deloitte and the U.S. Treasury Department,” Oladapo said. “These visits granted firsthand insights into consulting for government and public service encompassing policy areas at federal, state and local levels, as well as higher education, defense and security. At the Treasury, we gained a deeper understanding of tax policy, from revenue estimation to the imperative of race equity considerations in tax policies.”
Oladapo’s passion for an educated community inspired her to start an NGO for the Almajiri, a name for young, impoverished persons who do not attend public schools, who are estimated to number as high as 20 million in Nigeria.
Oladapo also appreciated the impact of their visit to EY.
“It was profoundly eye-opening and instrumental in preparing me for my envisioned career path,” she said. “Interacting with professionals like Candice, Ariene Fitzpatrick, Bob and others was invaluable. Their stories not only inspired, but also provided practical insights into the dedication and ongoing learning required to succeed in a competitive professional landscape.”
Learning From Leaders Who Govern
Meetings on their last day in D.C. began with Keith Morrison, vice president of Van Scoyoc Associates, a well-known private firm that works in the areas of government relations, coalition management and strategic counsel.
“I personally enjoyed our day on the Hill and meeting with Keith,” Heaney said.
She has conducted outreach and facilitated data management for state and national political campaigns, recently during a residency with the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.).
“I had a candid, inspirational conversation with him and our GSU VP of government relations, Michael Parkerson, that stayed with me long after we left D.C.,” Heaney said. “They encouraged me to view my nontraditional background as an asset and to keep working toward my career goals with that in mind.”
PID’s three full days of information sessions and networking were capped by meetings with members of Georgia’s congressional delegation: Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Ossoff, Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.). The students also enjoyed a tour of the Capitol Building.
“Meeting with Sen. Ossoff encouraged me to put more effort into my career as a health policy analyst because most of the issues he raised during the session were health-related policies that they are trying to implement in Georgia,” Keita said.
The impact of three days of immersion in D.C. will last a lifetime, participants agree, for both them and the industry leaders with whom they engaged.
“The trip overall affected me so much more than I could have anticipated,” Heaney said. “I made friends and built my confidence in ways I did not think were possible.”
Solberg appreciates that the program was more than just another financial or policy course. “The social sciences we represent on these trips need to be represented in even greater numbers in future trips,” he said. “We provide a diverse background and positively influence the members we join.”
“I believe our incredibly diverse cohort was representative of GSU in the very best way,” Heaney agreed.
Applications for the 2024 Panthers in the District cohort are open in Handshake. Georgia State University students graduating in December 2024 or later with a 3.0 or better cumulative GPA are invited to apply. Log in at https://gsu.joinhandshake.com/login?ref=app-domain to find the application.