As part of a broader push toward increasing opportunities for students interested in public service or nonprofit work, the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning held a workshop on Thursday, Oct. 13, in Frost Library providing students with guidance on how to begin pursuing a socially impactful career.
The push comes in response to student complaints about the lack of career-planning opportunities outside of high-paying fields like finance, tech, and consulting. Mason Quintero ’23 and Charlie Sutherby’s ’23E three-part series “A Better Amherst,” published in The Student last year, consolidates much of this feedback. According to Quintero and Sutherby, Amherst has devoted fewer financial and advisory resources to students interested in social impact work compared to other liberal arts schools. They also noted that Amherst grads’ career outcomes reflect this discrepancy: in 2020, only 9 percent of Amherst graduates took jobs in the government and nonprofit sectors, compared to 43 percent who took jobs in finance, consulting, or tech.
The Social Impact Exploration and Avenues Introduction Workshop on Thursday, which was attended by approximately 20 students, was a direct response to these concerns. The event’s main organizers were Loeb Center summer intern Brianne LaBare ’25 and Micah Owino, the director of the Loeb Center’s program for careers in government and nonprofits. Both LaBare and Owino cited “A Better Amherst” as an inspiration for the Loeb Center’s new social impact push.
In addition to presentations from LaBare and Owino, the event also featured a presentation from Paige Palley, the human resources manager at the Greater Boston Food Bank, a nonprofit whose mission is to “end hunger across Eastern Massachusetts.”
The event began with LaBare laying out the Loeb Center’s plans for pushing students toward social impact careers. She noted at the outset that her internship, which she completed over the Summer of 2022, was “born with the vision of bringing awareness to students about social impact careers and creating tangible resources for students interested in social impact.”
“What I was tasked with doing,” she told The Student, “was creating an expansive amount of materials for students who want to learn about not only social impact careers in general but also what the Loeb Center has to offer them.” The materials have since been published on the Loeb Center’s new Social Impact web page.
Under this umbrella of resources are opportunities tailored to what LaBare calls the three main subfields of social impact work: environmental impact, social impact and humanitarian efforts, and civic impact. Students interested in each field can attend specialized workshops, as well as learn about internship opportunities and possible career paths through the Loeb Center.
Following LaBare’s presentation, Owino laid out several concrete steps the Loeb Center is taking to engage students in social impact work. In fact, the creation of his position itself, which did not exist until he was hired in February 2021, is itself part of this push.
One additional step is the expansion of the Trek Program, a series of multi-day immersive trips for sophomores, juniors and seniors exploring a specific industry. This year, the program will feature a three-day sustainability trip to Boston in January, as well as a four-day government and nonprofits trip to Washington, D.C., in March during Spring Break.
Owino said that on these treks, students will have the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of alumni and gain a real understanding of what a career in these industries might look like.
Another aspect of the Loeb Center’s programming is Amherst’s participation in Projects for Peace, a program by Middlebury College offering $10,000 grants to students who develop “innovative, community-centered, and scalable responses to the world’s most pressing issues.” According to Owino, one Amherst student will be chosen for the grant to implement their project over the summer. Owino also referenced the Sandy Rosenberg Senior Grant, which provides a $2,000 stipend to graduating students who enter government or nonprofit work.
Owino’s presentation also focused on the relevance of social impact work in the corporate world, stressing the importance of effectuating social change even if one’s career is not specifically focused on public service.
“Let’s be honest, it’s a tough sell,” he told The Student, on the topic of encouraging students to pursue social impact careers. “The reality is that a lot of Amherst students have an affinity for tech, business and finance, so we want to attract students with those skill sets to the social impact space,” he said.
Ultimately, though, for Owino, the importance of doing public interest work in college cannot be overstated. “Public service is extremely important for students to pursue at least at the collegiate level. It’s really imperative for students to know how things work at a grassroots level before they go into the workforce,” he said.
The event closed with Palley’s presentation, in which she discussed the work that the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) does and shared her wisdom with students looking to pursue public interest work. This included dispelling a few myths about the field.
For instance, the financial incentive pulling students into profit-driven sectors can outweigh their other interests in doing social good. One point Palley made clear is that working for an organization like GBFB does not mean students have to give up these monetary gains. She offered a quote from Spencer Carpenter, a member of the food acquisitions team at GBFB, as an example. According to Carpenter, “social impact work is super welcoming and can both pay well and have comprehensive benefits.”
“A Better Amherst” coauthor Quintero, who attended the event, complimented Palley, the representative from GBFB. “I think that Paige was phenomenal, I think we really need more things like that,” he said.
Sutherby, also in attendance, asked what type of skills Palley thought were most important for working at an organization like GBFB. She responded that many of the skills that are important for success at a nonprofit are the same as those necessary to thrive at a liberal arts school, such as “resilience, communication and flexibility.”
Etta Gold ’23, another attendee, felt the event was useful but wished it had incorporated a broader understanding of what social impact work can entail.
“I appreciated the event because I do feel like there is a lack of career-focused social impact opportunities,” Gold said. “But I didn’t feel like it was casting a wide net about what social impact could be. I think it would be cool to have an event that talks about more radical social impact work and the ways that that could be feasible,” she continued.
For Quintero, Palley’s presentation was long overdue. “We need to have people from organizations like GBFB coming to Amherst and giving talks,” he said. “That needs to be the standard — the same way that we have people from Bain, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs giving talks here.”