Grad Alumni Spotlight: Samantha Levy

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Samantha Levy is a May 2017 graduate of the Steinhardt School, where she received a Master’s in Food Studies.  She is currently Policy Manager of American Farmland Trust.

How did you find your current job and what Wasserman services or programs did you use, if any?
When I first got to school, I scheduled an appointment with a coach at Wasserman, to begin the process of thinking about my career and how my schooling would serve my career path. Throughout my time at school, I went to workshops to develop my networking skills, my resume, my cover letters etc. (the services and advice are general but they are really good at helping you develop yourself as a professional… and they’re free with your tuition, so you might as well, right?). Throughout, I called on my excellent coach at the Wasserman Center, to have appointments or by e-mail if I ever needed help drafting cover letters, resume editing, interview prep, networking questions etc., and she was really helpful and responsive. Three semesters in, I got an internship with Senator Gillibrand where I worked with her legislative assistant on an issue that concerned American Farmland Trust (AFT), and I scheduled a conference call with the director of the organization. After the call, he sent me the job listing and asked me if I knew anyone who might be a good fit. It just so happened that I was graduating in 4 months, and the position was very pertinent to what I was studying, so I applied! My coach helped me prepare for the interview (and believe that I was ready for this type of position…), and supported me throughout the process. I also attended a salary negotiation workshop, and when the position was offered to me, it helped me structure my research, thinking and pitch to negotiate a higher starting salary (which I did successfully). All in all, along with my advisor in my department, Wasserman was INCREDIBLY helpful, and I highly recommend making use of the services they offer. I now have a great job with benefits doing pretty much what I set out to do when I went to school!

What’s your favorite part of your work?
Learning and strategizing ways to be effective. But also, building coalitions to get things done and actually meeting with lawmakers to advocate for policies that better the lives of the people that I want to help: EVERYONE (everybody eats right? And we want a sustainable food system? OK good.)

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Managing my workload and prioritizing tasks. At non-profits, we often end up wearing many hats, and while this is exciting and a great way to get diverse experience and exposure to all different kinds of work, I also always want to ensure I’m getting the most important things done while not letting other tasks slip through the cracks. So far, well managed to-do lists and weekly check-ins with my boss where I ask for clarity on priority have been great ways to address this challenge!

What classes or projects did you work on in school that helped prepare you for the work in your current position?
I took an Environmental Policy and Politics course (through the Environmental Conservation Education department in Steinhart) whose assignment was to write a white paper, bill, and memo. For that assignment I chose to focus on Agricultural Conservation Easements (a main focus at AFT) as they bridge the gap between public policy, agricultural sustainability, environmental objectives, and law. The assignment was a great way to dig in on the topic and gave me some experience writing the types of documents you are asked to produce as a policy manager. I had a similar experience taking Food Policy in my own department and writing policy memos.  My first week on the job I was asked to produce one, and since I had the experience thinking about policy problems and producing those documents in class, I felt comfortable and confident. Finally, I would say taking Economics was amongst my most useful classes. Being someone who cares about the environment and sustainability in agriculture, having the “real world”, “realistic” perspective is something that makes me much more well rounded in the policy arena, as farms are businesses.

Were there any jobs or internships you held in graduate school related to your current work?
Yes! I got advice early on from someone working for my dream organization that in order to work in policy, you should get political experience. So, I worked for a Federal senator and a State assembly member (for free both times as an intern), and I was proactive in seeking out and securing those positions for myself.

What advice do you have for current students looking for jobs in your industry?
Figure out what you want to do, and lay out a plan to do it. Exhaust your brainstorming abilities in targeting all the different things you can and must do today, tomorrow… to make that happen. Pinpoint organizations you want to work for, and talk to people who work there: ask for and heed their advice. Work (even for free, if you can, just to get your foot in the door; this type of generosity tends to come back to you in positive ways) for visible organizations that are effective in the world.  Don’t be afraid to accept a position that seems a little out there if it holds promise to grow with the organization.  Also, learn about your field, network, and you will get the opportunity to do the work that you want to do eventually by taking the position.

What are some common misconceptions about your work?
It’s all about keeping farmers on the land! I guess I would say that most people don’t know who AFT is, which is sad, or what agricultural conservation easements are. They are a way for farmers to protect their land from development forever, and therefore to ensure that America (or each state) has farmland available for the future by protecting this important, finite, natural resource. But AFT does so much more! We are building markets to institutions so that farmers have higher value commodity market opportunities, and we are ensuring that the next generation of farmers is able to have access to land, and that senior farmers (30% of our farming population currently) are able to choose to sell their farmland to the next generation of farmers. My work is multi faceted and rarely boring!