Thinking—and Acting—Strategically About a Career in Public Policy

Andrew McGavern with former President Clinton

During his internship with the Clinton Global Initiative, part of the Clinton Foundation, Andrew McGavern '13 was thrilled to meet the former President.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Andrew McGavern ’13 (political science) came to UMass wanting to be a physician. “After a drawn-out battle with chemistry—which I lost, terribly—I decided to study something I like,” he says. An introductory comparative politics class did the trick.

Besides developing a well-rounded understanding of domestic and international political systems, McGavern says his experience in the Political Science Department greatly improved his writing and critical thinking skills. Discussion-based classes, he says, were heavily research and writing oriented, and most of the upper level courses, he notes, had less than 20 people enrolled, which allowed for substantive conversation and debate.

“Professors here are passionate about their research and passing on their knowledge to the next generation,” says McGavern. “I attended office hours regularly, sometimes out of necessity, but also just to chat and learn more about them. Faculty and staff have phenomenal stories to tell, and it’s worth taking the time to learn what brought them to where they are.”

All that said, McGavern acknowledges that his academic experience was segmented due to some personal circumstances that caused him to take time off after sophomore year. “I worked as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm, applying my hitherto educational and professional training to challenging immigration casework. When it was time for me to come back to UMass, I felt rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to take on my studies with a renewed outlook and positive energy. Taking that time off was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

Back on campus McGavern frequently met with Diane Curtis, pre-law advisor, about attending law school. Ultimately, he decided a law career wasn’t for him. Instead, it seemed that public policy would be the perfect way for McGavern to strengthen his analytical foundation and enable him to affect positive change at the local, state and national levels.

Receiving the Mileur Internship Fund award, McGavern worked in the summer of 2012 as public policy associate for the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) in Boston. “I assisted MNN in developing a public policy agenda by conducting quantitative and qualitative research designed to assess regional trends in policy advocacy. This involved extensive contact with CEOs and policy managers of statewide nonprofit associations and the synthesis of large quantities of data.”

Meanwhile, McGavern was accepted into the Accelerated Master of Public Policy Program (MPP) at the Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA). CPPA is the hub of interdisciplinary public policy research, teaching and engagement at UMass and aims to connect ideas with action. The MPP allows students to earn credits that count toward both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, making it less expensive than earning separate undergraduate and graduate degrees.

As part of the MPP curriculum, students complete a three-credit internship after completing their undergraduate degrees. An SBS Internship Award enabled McGavern to accept one with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), part of the Clinton Foundation. CGI convenes global leaders to develop and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Working with the director of commitments, McGavern was responsible for implementing a departmental strategic portfolio review, external communications with CEOs and directors of prominent organizations, assisting the department with its intern selection process, researching for organization venues, and assisting with the overall streamlining of the department. “I also had the opportunity to meet President Clinton—I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous!”

During that period McGavern also volunteered as a caseworker for Operation Hope, assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy. “I was able to give back to the local community while benefiting the global community through CGI. It was an amazing summer, and I felt that I really was able to affect positive change in the lives of others.”

With plans to enter the field of government or nonprofit administration, McGavern has yet to decide if he wants to work at the local, state or federal level. This spring he has a fellowship at the Western Massachusetts Office of Governor Deval Patrick in Springfield. “I’m helping to spearhead a civic engagement initiative to promote public-private partnerships and build capacity for nonprofits, local businesses and government agencies to better serve low-income residents in the city and surrounding municipalities. I am also applying for a number of government internships and fellowships for this summer. Someday, when I have amassed sufficient experience, I hope to run for public office.”

McGavern hails the unlimited potential UMass offers, noting that numerous friends have gone on to top graduate schools, and others have begun rewarding careers in a variety of fields. “There are many more resources here than at smaller liberal arts colleges because of the substantial research credentials of our professors and the various capacity-building student development offices and organizations. But it is up to you to seek out these opportunities and begin thinking about what you want to do before your final year. Think strategically. There are plenty of staff and faculty willing to help you through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”