Public Service Spotlight
Vice President for Economic Development at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?
Currently, I am the Vice President for Economic Development at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, I sit on the Boards of Directors of Dancewave and the Brooklyn Boulders Foundation.
The Chamber is an organization that promotes the business health of its members and the economic vitality of Brooklyn. My job is to focus on creating an environment that fosters growth and development in Brooklyn.
As the sole borough-wide economic entity, the Chamber must and does stay on the forefront of issues impacting the business and non-profit community. Nothing has exemplified this more than the response to Hurricane Sandy. Within one week, our organization in collaboration with the Borough President and Brooklyn Community Foundation, established the Brooklyn Recovery Fund. Our members and businesses stepped up and provided funding and resources to non-profits, on the ground, that were assisting those affected by the storm. This is exactly the sort of collaboration that demonstrates how interconnected all sectors of society are - private, government and non-profit, working together as one.
Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?
I received my Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Wisconsin in 2003 and a Master in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner in 2010. Professionally, I began my career as an AmericorpVISTA volunteer with the New York Legal Assistance Group, then moved on to manage corporate fundraising at Volunteers of America - Greater New York. From there, I began my work with the Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, directing his economic policy and initiatives, as well as the Borough President's discretionary capital funding. In the fall of 2012, I accepted a position at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce as Vice President.
Throughout my career, I've prided myself on working with the academic world and using the resources of students and faculty to assist my professional work. This culminated in two excellent collaborations with NYU Wagner's Capstone program, where I initiated two separate projects: 1) 4th Avenue in Brooklyn Visioning Project and 2) the Bedford and Union Armory Revitalization.
What led you to pursue a master's degree in Urban Planning? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?
At the time I was working full time with the Borough President, I decided I needed an academic supplement to my work, which was effectively to fund and create public space in Brooklyn. Wagner offered an excellent array of working and active professors in the field. I valued the opportunity to work with faculty who were practitioners in Urban Planning and Policy to guide my own work.
In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?
My work demands that I understand that policy, politics, business, government and non-profit intersect and are one, that there is no separation. Wagner planted this seed and being aware of the 'big picture' has been more valuable than any discrete skill I've learned over the years. I'd place additional emphasis on the political nature of all public work. The political understanding I gained from Wagner was the single most important information I learned and utilize.
Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and / or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?
Without question - Kate Ascher; she is a 'doer' and has participated in many New York City infrastructure or policy projects. Her class wasn’t about analysis; it was a case study in how to do work that impacts people and how to effectuate change.
Participating on the tail end of the Atlantic Yards project was also entirely influential on my career. Despite not having the opportunity to choose challenges we face in our careers, I’ve learned that the way we manage those we are presented with is a greater reflection of our real skills and determination.
Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?
Wagner Happy Hours...public servants can have fun too! In fact, keeping a positive attitude in what often is a very sobering (pardon the expression) atmosphere is probably one of the most important things you can do to keep from becoming 'jaded.'
Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, would you please tell us how you made it work?
My best advice to those who are not fully funded to attend Wagner - be a Part Timer and keep your career going. I stretched my education out over three years and it was the best decision I made. Staying in the field is critical to maintaining your trajectory as well as keeping your finances on the right path. This is not a career that will allow you to pay off your debts and financial obligations immediately. Additionally, the value employers place on experience and connections is monumental in our field, being a full timer can dent your wallet and career progression if you are not completely funded.