Degree from Michigan: A.B. Political Science
Current location: Minneapolis, MN
Year graduated: 2013
Student Organization Involvement: U-M Educational Theater Company, Michigan Political Union, Michigan Journal of Political Science, Coalition for Queer & Trans Students of Color, IGR
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Program Specialist, HIV Prevention & Health Equity at Human Rights Campaign
NG: I am currently pursuing a joint master's degree in Public Policy (MPP) and Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. I chose this particular program because I want to be someone who can bring people together across sectors to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our nation.
In order to develop a more well-rounded political analysis, I am currently taking courses in policy areas that are completely new to me. My favorite course so far this year has been my Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy class, which has given me a different lens through which to make sense of the world around me.
KC: What led you down this path and what got you interested in this field initially?
NG: Prior to starting graduate school, I worked at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., which is the nation’s largest LGBTQ Civil Rights organization. I worked in the public education and outreach division, where I ran the HIV, AIDS, and Health Equity program. That program works to reduce the burden of HIV and other health disparities on LGBTQ people. I primarily engaged in policy analysis, public education, original research, training, and community mobilization. My work really was focused on promoting LGBTQ health and making the American healthcare system more responsive to the needs of LGBTQ people.
My interest in health started at the University of Michigan when I took a course titled “Homophobia in the Black World” with Dr. Nesha Haniff, who is a professor in the Afro-American & African Studies Department. That was where I came to understand the burden of HIV on Black people around the world and on Black LGBTQ people in particular. That class really taught me about public health and how public health can be a powerful tool for improving the quality of life of currently marginalized people.
KC: It sounds like there was a lot of responsibility tied into your previous job. Considering you just graduated in 2013, how did you find yourself in a position of leadership so quickly?
NG: I think it was a combination of a number of factors. First, I had great mentorship; I developed a really meaningful mentor/mentee relationship with a Vice President at HRC. I felt as if I could go to him not only for advice about the job, but also for advice about how to grow into future jobs. Having that source of support, guidance, and wisdom helped me to develop my judgment.
I also actively sought out professional development opportunities outside of work. I knew I wanted to be in management, so I took management training courses. I wanted to know what skills were required to be an effective manager.
A third factor is that I was constantly soliciting feedback from others and thinking about how I could improve myself from a 360-degree perspective. Getting feedback from people who worked above me, alongside me, and below me helped me to improve my leadership style. Seeking knowledge, putting it into practice, and getting feedback is how I’ve been able to be successful thus far in my career, and it has helped me to meet personal goals as well.
KC: What kinds of opportunities do you hope to pursue with these graduate degrees upon completion of the program?
NG: Is White House Chief of Staff too ambitious? In all seriousness, I'd love to be part of the senior leadership team at a dynamic organization whose work aligns with my personal and professional values. I've worked at a lot of non-profits over the years, so I will probably look for opportunities in the public or for-profit sector.
KC: What advice could you give students who are struggling to decide whether to go into graduate school immediately or work for a few years before applying?
NG: I took four years off in between undergraduate school and graduate school, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made! Taking time off allowed me to set myself up for success physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Grad school is a huge undertaking, so do everything you can to prepare yourself, even if that means taking a short break from homework, quizzes, and the like.