As a high school student Benjamin Craig's motto was, "Here's my plate, load it on." He brought that mentality with him to Emmanuel, where he has always been ready to take on a new opportunity.
Greater Boston is home to thriving startups, storied financial firms, major media markets, world-class medical centers, leading universities and game-changing non-profits. How is Boston able to continually attract top talent and incubate innovative organizations?
Ali (Nigro) Brainard '11, James Sutherland '11 and Lydia Zepeda '17 experienced firsthand some of the myriad opportunities available to undergraduates in Boston—including internships with an award-winning magazine, a city councilor turned U.S. Representative, and the nation's top-ranked pediatric hospital. Now, as part of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's (GBCC) dedicated staff, they're giving back to the city to ensure Bostonians have the same career-igniting experiences for generations to come.
Greater Boston is home to thriving startups, storied financial firms, major media markets, world-class medical centers, leading universities and game-changing non-profits. How is Boston able to continually attract (and keep) top talent and incubate innovative organizations? At its essence, Boston is a great city to find—and do—meaningful work. A top 10 city, actually, according to WalletHub's assessment of the job market and socioeconomic status of nearly 200 cities in the United States.
But what is a Chamber of Commerce? In the simplest terms—it's a local organization that knows the ins and outs of its region's business landscape and advocates on behalf of its members and the economic competitive of the region of the business community. The GBCC in particular offers networking and informative programs and events; researches, analyzes and shapes public policies to sustain Greater Boston's competitiveness; and provides leadership development programs to help foster professional growth.
Political science alum and current GBCC policy and research analyst James Sutherland '11 has been with the organization since April 2017. There, he and a team of researchers work to ensure Boston's business climate stays strong, with policies that keep the region an attractive place to live, work, and start and grow a business. Some of the Chamber's current policy priorities include transportation, housing, climate resiliency, education and health care.
His foray into city issues began in 2011 during an internship with then Boston City Councilor at-Large Ayanna Pressley, where he ultimately served as her research director until 2017. While in Pressley's office, Sutherland's legislative work focused on economic development, voter access and democratic reform, land use and zoning, cycling infrastructure, data collection, social media and community relations.
"My internship served as my introduction into Boston's political world and fueled my interest in local elections and public policy," he says. "After completing my internship during the second semester of my senior year, I was hired as a staffer for Councilor Pressley and stayed in her office for more than six years."
Along the way, Sutherland picked up a Master's in political science and government and a Ph.D. in political science specializing in American and comparative politics from Northeastern University. His education continues every day at his job, he says, and he most appreciates the amount of continuous learning and numerous self-growth opportunities the GBCC offers.
Ali Brainard '11 joined the GBCC as a program manager in May 2016. In this role, she is able to work directly with some of Boston's best and brightest, engaging them in events and initiatives such as City Awake, GBCC's platform for the next generation of business and civic leaders; Executive Forums, which feature distinguished leaders from business and academia who address the issues affecting the region's core industries; Women's Network Breakfasts, designed to connect and celebrate women leaders; and the Chamber's annual Ten Outstanding Young Leaders Awards.
The communication & media studies major was active in the Student Government Association and campus ministry while an undergraduate, in an addition to taking on several internships in Boston and abroad.
"Upon graduation, I had a diverse portfolio of work to present to potential employers," she says. "I was prepared for any number of opportunities that came my way because of the depth of my experience, whether from my involvement on-campus or off."
Brainard's first internship was as an online editorial intern for Boston Magazine, where she dabbled in everything from Mother's Day city guides to nightlife event coverage. Next, she spent a summer in London on a British journalism and television studies internship, where she worked with TNT Magazine. Finally, during her senior year she served as an event production intern for the award-winning, Boston-based Rafanelli events.
"As a result of my internships, I learned I didn't want to work in magazines, but I loved writing content, which could serve me in many different jobs post-graduation," Brainard says. "I also learned that I had an interest in events, which I ultimately 'fell into' as a career path."
As she was preparing to graduate, Brainard worked closely with the College's Career Center to create a resume and explore job opportunities that she wouldn't otherwise have considered. In the end, it has led her to the Chamber, where her favorite aspect of her job is her team. "They are the most talented group of people I have come across," she says.
The most recent Emmanuel graduate to join the GBCC staff is Lydia Zepeda '17, a communication & media studies major and double minor in management and political science.
As the Chamber's Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Zepeda enjoys feeling connected to the Boston business community in her everyday work, whether drafting social media posts to showcase their member organizations or writing email campaigns for upcoming programs.
"The mission of the Chamber truly resonates within me," Zepeda says. "I love being part of an organization which is committed to making Greater Boston a place where everyone can thrive. I also love my team, I'm really lucky to work alongside such talented and supportive leaders."
Zepeda prepared for her marketing career through communications-orientated internships at Boston Children's Hospital and the Maine Department of Labor. A first-generation college student, Zepeda also appreciated the resources offered by the Career Center to polish her resume and conduct mock-interviews.
"Emmanuel opened a lot of doors for me and helped me network with reputable organizations that I might not have been able to connect with or otherwise had access to," she says. "Both internships helped me solidify what I wanted to do in my career and have helped me get to where I am now post-grad."
Each of these graduates credit influential faculty and staff for being their mentors through their four years and beyond. Sutherland's favorite professors were steadfast advocates for his academic growth and encouraged him to "think big." Brainard's was a great "connector"-going out of her way to connect students and alumni, helping them build relationships outside the classroom. Zepeda's involvement with multicultural organization H.U.E.L.L.A.S. (Helping Unite Emmanuel Latinos to Lead and Achieve Success) connected her to her mentor, who was always there to share career advice and make Emmanuel feel like her home away from home.
As far as their advice to current students? Use these four years to explore all your interests and continuously grow—through both coursework and cocurricular activities. "Your Emmanuel experience is what you make it," Zepeda says.
"I was an English major, but double minored in Psychology and Art History," Brainard says. "I truly believe that I am able to be a more understanding and creative professional because of that background."
Zepeda was able to combine her interests inside and outside the classroom with courses such as Introduction to Sustainable Development.
"After returning from my first Alternative Spring Break trip I was so inspired by the work we had done focusing on food policy and promoting sustainability that I immediately began looking for ways to integrate that into my academics," she says. "I loved that I was able to combine my passion for social justice into my coursework. My professor was also key in helping me think critically about important topics and apply them into real world situations."
And Brainard is hoping to pay it forward as a "connector," encouraging students to not be afraid to engage with her and previous generations of Emmanuel graduates.
"Start reaching out to alumni who have positions you're interested in, or work at companies you would like to learn more about," she says. "More often than not, they want to help and are happy to meet you for a coffee. I'm definitely one of those people, so, please reach out!"