On Thursday, March 1, five alumni in government, politics and law professions returned to their old stomping grounds to impart wisdom on the current students at Manhattan College.
The event, which was a panel hosted by the Government and Politics club in Kelly Commons 5B, was an opportunity for students to ask questions and learn from a group of alumni who have made strides within their individual industries.
Junior Jaycie Cooper was impacted by a similar panel during her freshman year at Manhattan.
“When I was a freshman they did an alumni panel with the Government and Politics club,” said Cooper. “I’ve been in the Government and Politics club since I was a freshman. I was inspired to actually become a government major because I went to this panel first semester of my freshman year.”
The Government and Politics Club member felt it was time to have another panel and took the reins on organizing one.
“We’ve been doing a lot of events, but we haven’t done a panel since, and so I was like, ‘Honestly we need to do another panel,’” said Cooper. “I was inspired. If I can just inspire two people by having them come and talk about their careers that would be great.”
Cooper was able to get more than just two as Daisy Rodriguez, George Fontas, Melissa Bekisz, Lester Marks and Peter Laserna all agreed to come. All five shared their experiences, stories, advice, etc. during the night.
Rodriguez is the Director of Government and Community Affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Bronx. Looking back at her time at Manhattan, she considers government faculty member Winsome Downie as a major reason why she is where she is today.
“For me that was Dr. Downie,” Rodriguez said about a professor that was impactful during her time at Manhattan. “I call her ‘Ma’ so that alone tells you. She inspired me to come to this school. She always encouraged me to do great. She always empowered me beyond anything else to continue my studies and not to be afraid, and take those challenges and keep moving forward.”
Some of the advice she gave to the students wanting to get into politics was to do internships, get some experience in government, volunteer, participate in community boards and most importantly: become familiar with your locally-elected officials.
“Get to know who your elected officials are first of all,” Rodriguez said during the panel. “I think it’s very important. There have been times when I’ve had folks come and interview with me not knowing who their city council person is, who their assembly person is. That tells me you’re not serious. You need to know who your representatives are.”
Fontas is the Chief Executive Officer at Fontas Advisors. He reflected on his time at Manhattan as both a great time and one in which he could think about making a change in the world.
“It’s a great time for students,” said Fontas. “It’s a place where you can really open yourself up to thinking about what you want to do with your life and what kind of change you want to make in the world or not.”
Fontas came into college with dreams of being the mayor of New York City. While that didn’t come to fruition, he still knew he wanted to become involved in politics and Manhattan’s rich history made his decision easy.
“One of the reasons why I came to Manhattan College was because it has such a deep history and experience with elected officials and politics and government, etc.,” Fontas said during the panel.
Bekisz is the Associate Attorney at David A. Gallo & Associates, LLP. During her time at Manhattan, she didn’t know the exact direction she wanted to go in career-wise. She ended up switching her major multiple times. It got to the point where she was told she couldn’t change it anymore or else she’d risk not graduating on time.
She settled on Communication as her major with the intention of going to law school upon graduation.
“I thought Manhattan gave me really good guidance on being like, ‘Okay you can do that, but you then have to really focus when you’re in law school,’” said Bekisz. “I thought that was really important and it put me in the right direction, but still left it open for me to kind of figure out.”
While college is a valuable way to set yourself up for your future endeavors, Bekisz also mentioned how valuable it is in making life-long friendships.
“I made some of my best friends in the whole world and I feel like it’s a good time to make those connections,” said Bekisz. “Not even just for business, but for friendships. They’re like my family.”
Marks is the Director of Government Affairs and Administration at the Lighthouse Guild. While his current profession is in the realm of government, that was not always the case for Marks. During the earlier part of his college years, the MC alumnus pursued radio.
“I interned at one of the alternative rock radio stations here in New York City where Howard Stern was on the radio,” Marks said during the panel. “It was a great summer. It really was a phenomenal summer. I went to so many concerts.”
His perspective on what he wanted to do in life and what was important, changed in the blink of an eye one Tuesday morning.
“And then 9/11 happened. It really changed obviously a lot of things, but it changed my focus a little bit,” Marks said during the panel.
One piece of advice from Marks is to get involved in college.
“Obviously get involved in as much as you can,” said Marks. “I don’t think I did that as much as I could have as a commuter.”
The final member of the panel, Peter Laserna, is an Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. After Manhattan he went to law school, but his experience at Manhattan was helpful in his law studies.
“My experience generally at Manhattan College was extremely helpful in law school,” Laserna said during the panel. “It was essential to have those critical-thinking tools that you developed here as government majors.”
One of his biggest pieces of advice for students is not related to academics, but rather extracurriculars. He went on a couple of service trips (now referred to as LOVE trips) during his time as a student and he recommends it for current students.
“I strongly recommend that people sign up for those trips,” said Laserna about the LOVE trips. “I think it is extremely helpful, extremely important to get a perspective of the world. To see different things. To see how people in other parts of the world are suffering and sort of try and take in their experience if you can. And obviously try and do some good in your time here.”
The Government and Politics panel was a way for Manhattan students to learn about the career paths they may be interested in pursuing from the perspectives of five individuals who were in the same classrooms as them not too long ago.