Kiran Rachamallu chats with alum Leah Dillard
Through the Schroeder Center for Health Policy’s Career Chat Program, I had the opportunity to talk to William and Mary alum Leah Dillard (‘18), who works as a Research Associate for the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Ms. Dillard’s primary work involves supporting the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). She assists in technical assistance, ensuring that health plans are certified to be sold on state and federal insurance marketplaces, acting as a liaison between CMS and state departments of insurance, and coordinating clinical quality measure development and stakeholder engagement on behalf of CMS. AIR employs a talented and diverse group of people who have a range of professional backgrounds and degrees, and Ms. Dillard enjoys that everyone is so passionate about the work they do.
While a student at William and Mary, Ms. Dillard studied Public Policy and Public Health on the pre-law track. She noted that William and Mary gave her a great fundamental skill set, particularly noting crisp and clear memo writing skills and presentations. She also benefitted from taking courses in programming and quantitative methods, such as GIS and Quantitative Methods, which she believes helps students get their feet in the door even if they tend to be more qualitative in nature. She had a few different internships during college and after she graduated, including working at a Williamsburg nonprofit Bacon Street Youth & Family Services, as well as with the Arlington County public defender's office in Arlington, Virginia.
When she first arrived at AIR, she explained that her work was mostly administrative, such as scheduling meetings and taking notes, creating slide decks, and attending trainings to learn more about the organization and its work. Since she was promoted to a Research Associate, her work involves report writing, project management, client meetings, and writing summaries. Her work is a mix of consulting and social science research, and everyday can look a little different. She emphasized that in her line of work, it is important to be able to synthesize a lot of information quickly, to communicate effectively and ask the right questions, and to be curious and want to learn more.
As students search for jobs, Ms. Dillard highly recommended they use William and Mary’s alumni network. In her own job search, she had a great conversation with a William and Mary alum at AIR who was particularly helpful. She also recommended students utilize the resources at William and Mary’s Cohen Career Center for resume and cover letter help. She said that the job search can be time consuming, but starting early and making use of the connections at William and Mary can make a big difference.
In describing how the COVID-19 pandemic affected her as a young professional and the ability to make connections with her colleagues. Ms. Dillard explained how she took advantage of online team bonding activities and made an effort to meet in person for happy hours or coffee. She also tried to keep in touch with colleagues who she had previously met in person and reached out to new people in her organization as well.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ms. Dillard, and I think that her experiences as a recent health policy graduate will be a helpful example for William and Mary students.