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UVM Alumna Finds Her Passion for Politics and City Government

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Photo: Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, with his staff Jen Kaulius, Mike Kanarick, and Brian Lowe.

By Lisa Schnell, PhD
Associate Professor, Interim Dean of the UVM Honors College

Last fall, I asked Jen Kaulius, an Honors College Scholar from the Class of 2012, to be part of a panel of current and former students who would speak to our Honors College students about career development. Jen works as the Administrative Assistant to Miro Weinberger, the Mayor of Burlington.

All of the students on the panel were wonderful. But Jen, in particular, struck a chord with me and with the students, and so I asked if she might agree to an interview that would allow me to share her experience with folks beyond our first-year Honors College class.

One of the things I particularly love about Jen’s story shows up right away in the interview, in her answer to my first question.

Tell us about that first Burlington meeting that sparked your interest in working for city government.

I was a senior at UVM, living in an apartment with some great friends. One housemate, Thomas, had applied for an internship with the Miro for Mayor campaign (at that point it was early October 2011, and the campaign was in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination). Thomas said that I would be interested in hearing Miro talk, that Miro’s past work experience and his campaign platform resembled many of my interests and areas of study in CDAE’s Community Development at UVM. I attended a Miro for Mayor campaign event in mid-October at AO Glass on Pine Street, and it felt like a light bulb switching from off to on. I started volunteering for the campaign the following morning.

I love that it was a friend of yours who encouraged you to go to that meeting! UVM has so many career resources for students that sometimes we overlook the fact that often the best career resource of all is a great friend who knows you quite a bit better than any of the grown-ups you might know on campus.

So, you ran Miro Weinberger’s successful re-election campaign for mayor in 2015, and served as an intern coordinator for his first campaign in 2012. And you’ve worked since 2012 as his Administrative Assistant. While at UVM, did you imagine that you would be working in politics?

During my time at UVM, I really did not have much interest in politics. I was proud to vote for Barack Obama by Pennsylvania absentee ballot in November 2008, my freshman year, but that was the extent of it. For me, once I got involved in the Miro for Mayor campaign in the fall of 2011, I experienced firsthand what the energy on a political campaign feels like. I loved how much I was learning about the city I live in, and feeling like I was using my community development UVM background to actually make a direct impact in the Burlington community. After the Miro for Mayor campaign’s success on Town Meeting Day in 2012, I applied for the administrative assistant position in Mayor Weinberger’s office, where I’ve worked for the past three years as the Mayor’s scheduler. It is extremely rewarding to work in local government — you can have a direct impact on people’s lives on issues both large and small.

Can you say a little bit about how UVM helped prepare you for your career?

I loved my Community Development & Applied Economics classes. They were grounded in practical topics and had hands-on components in real communities, both here in Vermont and abroad through service-learning courses. Whether through coursework or internships, I had tangible working and learning experiences in Burlington, St. Albans, Rutland, Honduras, Belize, and my hometown of Easton, Penn. I was fortunate to be a member of the Honors College, where I met many of my good friends and trusted professors — I remained close with these connections all four years at UVM and beyond. My CDAE professors and advisors were always emphasizing the importance of internships — to get real world experience, to try something new, to test what your passions are.

What advice would you give to current undergraduates trying to choose a career path?

Try not to overthink it. For me, I had to let the pieces fall into place. Sign up for interesting courses and when you find something that grabs you, stay with it. Go to lectures. Tag along with your friends to a new club meeting — I walked into a Water Tower meeting in the fall of my sophomore year, and I copyedited for the newspaper until the last issue of my senior year (and I met some of my best friends). I have always found that it’s best to trust your gut feelings — if you’re interested in an opportunity, follow it. Give yourself the chance for your light bulb to switch from off to on.

lisaschnellLisa Schnell, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Interim Dean of the UVM Honors College.

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