March 7, 2022

Careers in State and Local Government: Affecting Change from the Inside

By Sophia Bruton, Public Policy Undergraduate, '22

On February 18, 2022, the Center for Child and Family Policy hosted a Careers in Child and Family Policy event focused on positions within state and local governments, with guest speakers Kelly Andrews and Alena Antonowich. Both speakers discussed their education and career paths, followed by a question-answer session relating to their jobs’ impact and professional trajectories. This event is one in a series dedicated to helping Duke students at all levels learn about careers and professional opportunities relating to child and family policy. Through this exploration, students gain exposure to a wide variety of jobs, as well as build their network with those with similar professional interests.

Kelly Andrews is currently a program coordinator for the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center and a creator of the Durham Misdemeanor Diversion Program. Before her work here in North Carolina, Kelly did similar work aiding juvenile populations who had run-ins with the law in Florida. Kelly emphasized that she did not set out to do this work, but through mentors, exposure, and passion projects, she found herself in the impact-causing role she is in now. When asked about times in which she felt like her job was having a positive influence on child and family communities, she spoke about the Durham Misdemeanor Diversion Program. Specifically, she discussed the young adults and their parents that found access to resources like college counseling through the aid that her program provided: “Having people cry tears of joy about these kinds of things…it makes the whole process really rewarding.”

The great part about working for local and state governments doing this kind of work is that you can find a job that interests you almost anywhere.

Alena Antonowich

Alena Antonowich is a current MPP student at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, and a former analyst at the New York City Department of Education. Antonowich spoke about the bureaucracy and politics that surrounds a big city’s education system, and the importance of learning how to navigate it. For example, she said that in NYC, there is a civil service exam that you must take to be eligible for many city government positions. She said this can be challenging for those not familiar with the system but suggested reaching out to people working in state or local government to learn more about how a given system is organized and recruits staff. She also talked about the reward that came with the work she did, and how this type of rewarding work is not hard to find in government positions. Her advice to students was to find something that you are passionate about in this line of work, know where you want to live, and combine the two, saying, “The great part about working for local and state governments doing this kind of work is that you can find a job that interests you almost anywhere.”

This meeting provided students with one major takeaway: while there is no one path to professional success, government work provides a great avenue for those who want to impact policy. Neither speaker set out to work in government, but both have found that working in government gives them an opportunity to affect change from the inside, which they both view as the most direct route to positively impacting the lives of the children and families. This ability to make a real impact is what they both find rewarding about their work and fuels their dedication to the career paths they have chosen.

Sophia Bruton is a senior at Duke University majoring in Public Policy with a Psychology minor and a certificate in Markets and Management. She aspires to do work in the intersection of the private and public sector by using policy solutions to solve social problems and will be working as a public sector consultant next year.