“If you’re interested in making a social impact,” said David Jasso, “there’s an avenue to do that.”
Jasso ’20 was one of about 50 Boston College undergrads to gather in the elegant Fulton Honors Library last month, the room lined with books and graced with vaulted stained-glass windows overlooking the Carroll School atrium. In business-casual threads, the students milled around tall cocktail tables, munched on brownies and blondie bars, and peppered upperclassmen and young alumni with questions about their recent internships and new jobs—all aimed at changing the world for the better.
The occasion was Career Paths with Social Impact, a networking and panel event co-sponsored by the Edmund H. Shea Jr. Center for Entrepreneurship and Managing for Social Impact and the Public Good, an interdisciplinary co-concentration and minor offered by the Carroll School of Management and the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, respectively. What are the avenues open to budding leaders and managers who want to make a difference? That’s what the students came to find out.
For the first portion of the evening, they mingled and met informally with a scattering of their peers, identified by nametags, who had internship experiences to share.
Tiffany Liu ’19, for example, told a small clutch of students about her internship at Gravyty, which harnesses big data and machine learning to help nonprofits determine the optimal time—of year and day—to call potential donors. An information systems student, Liu handled all of the startup’s social media and marketing, and she spearheaded a case study on Gravyty’s partnership with the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. Liu caught the social impact bug in the Carroll School’s Portico course. “Tech doesn’t just exist in a box,” she said. “It can be used for good in the world.”
Alumna Caroline Grindrod ’17 works full time for Building Impact, an organization that links corporate volunteers with nonprofits. She told students about her efforts bringing sixth-graders from the Boston Public Schools to meet with tech professionals, collaborate on mobile app prototypes, and compete in a Shark Tank–inspired competition called Guppy Tank.
Jasso—a Management & Leadership student also co-concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Social Impact—recounted his summer in San Francisco managing logistics for Lava Mae, a nonprofit that turns old buses and trailers into mobile shower units for the homeless.
Then, once students took their seats, they heard the perspectives of four seasoned professionals, prodded by questions from moderator Julianne Smith, assistant director of the Boston College Career Center. This collection of execs illustrated the diversity—and unpredictability—of career paths for the socially conscious.
“Tech doesn’t just exist in a box… it can be used for good in the world.”
To start with the resident Eagle, Rory Cuddyer left the Heights in 2011 with a degree in English and Philosophy and a plan to attend law school. But after working for a year as a paralegal, “I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach,” he said. “That’s when you know it’s time to leave that job.” A volunteer stint on the U.S. Senate campaign of Ed Markey, Morrissey College ’68, J.D. ’72, led to a job on Marty Walsh’s campaign for mayor of Boston. That in turn led to a position as the city’s “Startup Czar,” a liaison to the local tech and entrepreneurship scenes.
In June, Cuddyer was promoted to chief of staff for the Environment, Energy, and Open Space Cabinet. He’s thrown himself headlong into the city’s efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050. “We’ve got to take concrete, actionable steps” on resiliency, Cuddyer said, citing a flood barrier under discussion that might cost billions of dollars, but would protect tens of billions in assets and businesses, not to mention hundreds of thousands of residents.
The Brit on the panel, Nick Propper began his career in the 1990s as a buyer for a London department store; today he is the COO of New York–based Porter Novelli, a PR and marketing firm that specializes in corporate social responsibility. At times, he said, doing the right thing has meant turning down business. When a fast-food chain wanted to update its image by highlighting a new salad, Propper pointed out that “most of your menu still exceeds the recommended daily allowance of everything” and suggested they spend the money on changing their practices instead of peddling spin.
Panelist Gregg Croteau has helmed UTEC (formerly the United Teen Equality Center) in Lowell, Massachusetts, for nearly all of its 18 years in existence. As executive director of a small nonprofit, Croteau must do a little bit of everything, from policy work to operations to marketing to working directly with youth. UTEC provides a safe haven for teenagers and young adults struggling to shed gang ties and get past significant rap sheets. “These are young people with serious criminal backgrounds,” Croteau said, making straight employment difficult.
To that end, the organization has opened three social enterprises in which the youths can gain work experience. There’s a culinary program—which includes a café, a catering service, and a commercial kitchen—as well as a woodworking shop and a mattress recycling business. Cutting boards made by UTEC-trained workers are sold in Whole Foods stores across New England, and almond butter will follow in the spring.
And there’s a Chestnut Hill connection: UTEC’s director of social enterprise partnerships is Ed Frechette, the Carroll School’s new (and first) social entrepreneur-in-residence. Next semester, Frechette will teach Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship, a course that had to be expanded to meet demand.
The course’s growth, like the turnout that evening in the Honors Library, is a testament to what many see as the growing passion among today’s students for careers having social impact, whatever the sector.
Indeed, aspiring world-changers “shouldn’t think in terms of profit versus nonprofit versus public sector,” said the fourth panelist, Jennifer Aronson, associate vice president for programs at the nonprofit Boston Foundation (which, coincidentally, was involved with the Guppy Tank). Instead, she told the students, think of where you can have the most impact. Nonprofits like hers are only part of the solution, she said. Often, if it’s motivated to be responsible, “the scale of what a corporation can do is larger, because it’s well funded.”
When pressed on first steps for the students in the room, all four panelists suggested applying to internships and fellowships in the fields they’re interested in. “Ninety percent of our entry-level hires are interns who move up,” said Propper.
In that sense, one can already see the avenues opening up for Liu, Jasso, and the other undergrads who’ve begun interning—gaining experience and making connections while doing good.
Patrick L. Kennedy, Morrissey College ’99, is a writer in Boston and the co-author of Bricklayer Bill: The Untold Story of the Workingman’s Boston Marathon.