I was fortunate to interview William & Mary alum, David Lanham, who graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Public Policy in 2008. Mr. Lanham is now the Director of Communications at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, where he works with a team of experts and scholars to produce and promote policy research and recommendations. Some of his day-to-day tasks include interacting with media, editing research publications, and collaborating with his team. His work in particular deals with topics relating to economic development, such as infrastructure, changing demographics throughout the nation, and the impacts of racism. The final products of his team’s projects reach both policy makers and citizens via media publications, and the ultimate goal of their work is to create a better informed citizenry by providing accessible data analysis and policy recommendations.
What I found most interesting during my talk with Mr. Lanham was the historic context in which he attended school and graduated from William & Mary and how it relates to today. We are now in the midst of another great economic recession, and one concern that many William & Mary students have is how they will get their careers started given the circumstances. Like today’s students, Mr. Lanham was graduating and entering the workforce at a time of heightened economic uncertainty. Mr. Lanham joked that he used to tell people that he graduated from college at the worst possible time; now he tells people that he graduated at one of the worst possible times.
When sharing his advice for current students, Mr. Lanham said, “actual experience is the most valuable.” He shared that when he was in college, he and his peers were not as forward-thinking as many current William & Mary students. His best advice for William & Mary students is to take advantage of opportunities to build a professional network and gain experience while still in school. Praising my efforts to speak with alumni such as himself, Mr. Lanham stated that, “any of this stuff you can do now will help you down the road.”
He noted that when he was a college student, he did not know what kind of career he wanted. William & Mary’s liberal arts curriculum was appealing to him because it provided a wide selection of courses to try out. At William & Mary, he was drawn to major in public policy because it allowed him to learn about multiple disciplines, such as economics, government, and sociology. When he graduated, he did not know that he wanted to work in communications, and he did not decide on that path until he had tried it out. Now, he is happy with his work and career. It is for this reason that he recommends that students apply for internships, research positions, and other opportunities because it will help them discover their interests and develop a better idea of what future careers they would prefer.