Hopkins alumni share experiences in public office

For The News-Letter

LEON SANTHAKUMAR/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR  The panelists, guests of the Hopkins Law Affinity Group, discussed their work as Maryland public servants.

The panelists, guests of the Hopkins Law Affinity Group, discussed their work as Maryland public servants.For The News-Letter

The Johns Hopkins University Law Affinity Group invited Hopkins alumni with careers in public service to meet with students, faculty, alumni and friends of the University at the Mason Hall Colonnade on Monday to speak about their experiences. The alumni shared their motivations for serving the people of Maryland and outlined their responsibilities as elected officials.

Attendees had the opportunity to speak with many Maryland public servants, namely State Senator Bob Cassilly, City Councilman Bill Henry, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, State Delegate Mary Washington, State Senator Bobby Zirkin and State Delegate Charles Sydnor.

The core of the conversation focused each panelist’s path to his or her position, the challenges they faced and that they continue to encounter working for the government and their endeavors and successes.

The speakers shed light on what working as an elected official is like, giving advice and warnings to prospective public servants and sharing their insight into current political issues in Baltimore and on the national stage.

Many of the panelists stressed that community service was the primary motivator of why they chose to seek elected office.

Kamenetz, class of 1997, has invested much of his time in executing infrastructure renovation of public schools and improving education throughout Baltimore.

“This is a great job because of your ability to impact people’s lives in a positive way in the long-term,” Kamenetz said. “People want the government to work. They believe that the government will provide solutions. I’m optimistic that we can.”

Zirkin, class of 1993, also stressed his desire to help solve the social problems that currently plague the City of Baltimore and highlighted the non-partisan working style of his committee.

“I love being in the legislature. It’s a tremendous opportunity to do things for the people,” Zirkin said. “In our committee, you leave your party at the door. There’s no partisan way to solve many problems, such as heroin addiction, and it’s not what you see in politics most of the time where people break up into teams.”

Other guest speakers emphasized the more challenging aspects of public service, particularly when the people’s views of the government are antagonistic.

They also answered questions on the current political issues in Baltimore but remained positive when addressing careers in public service and law.

Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington of Baltimore’s 43rd District, a Hopkins alumna, cited the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act in Maryland, which aimed to improve the conditions of pregnant women in prison, as one of her proudest achievements in office.

“Public service is very important. I think for people who are talented, educated and are doing well in life and have relative privilege, being part of service is a good thing,” Washington said. “Public service, particularly being an elected official, is very difficult these days and so I want to have an opportunity to say that dedicating some portion of your career, whether it’s as an elected official or volunteering at some non-profit organization or helping raise funds for organizations or developing solutions to our social problems is very important.”

Washington cited Hopkins as a positive influence on her career.

“The thing is, I learned how to do that here at Hopkins,” she said. “When I was a graduate student here we engaged the community, and I just think it’s really important for Hopkins to be a part of the community of Baltimore.”

The panel discussion was organized by a member of the University’s Affinity Groups State Delegate Charles Sydnor, who wanted the attendees to gain insight about public service and its relationship with law by interacting with Hopkins alumni working in the field.

He advised students who are interested in policy and law to immerse themselves in the community more.

“Get involved. Find out who your elected officials are. Realize that politics isn’t always at the federal level,” he said. “You have local officials who are always in need of assistance and volunteers. You have state officials like myself who always are looking for volunteers and ways of connecting. Take advantage of the opportunity you have right here at Hopkins as a government affairs program. If you have an interest, see where the opportunities are and try to take advantage of it.”

Junior Chase Alston, the community outreach and alumni relations director for the Black Student Union, attended Monday’s event looking for advice.

“I wanted to check it out and see what the alumni have to say about doing community outreach in terms of the legal side of community outreach and what there is to do in the Baltimore community specifically and what we can do as undergraduates before going into law or policy,” Alston said.

Though the event had a low student turnout, Senior Associate Director in Affinity Engagement Elena Thompson encouraged students and alumni to attend future Affinity events.

“The idea really is to bring people together around common interests, backgrounds, passions to make connections for networking, for information sharing and resource sharing and for personal development and professional development,” Thompson said.

Hopkins has designed affinity groups for alumni in specific career paths to learn from each other and network.

Affinity groups hold events throughout the year.

The Alumni Association’s website details information about Affinity groups.

“Affinity communities are groups made up of members of the Johns Hopkins community, predominantly alumni and students who come together around an industry vertical or subject/area of interest,” the website says.

There are 25 Johns Hopkins Affinity Communities that host events varying from healthcare to the arts and women in business.

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