By Emily Chicklis
Last Wednesday, Nov. 30, a group of students and professors gathered in the Kotzen Conference Room to learn about “A Day in the Life of a Policymaker.” The event was hosted by the Simmons School of Social Work, but among the students in attendance were majors in history, political science, business management, physical therapy, public policy, and, yes, social work.
Christie Getto Young earned her M.S.W. at Boston College and her J.D. at Northeastern University, and she is now the Chief of Staff for State Senator Sal DiDomenico, a Democrat who represents the Middlesex and Suffolk districts. After graduating from Boston College, Young began her career in clinical counseling, but she “didn’t love it.” Because her father and brother work in law, Young spent her whole life saying “I’m not gonna be a lawyer;” however, her attraction to policy led her to leave her counseling career and enroll in law school at Northeastern University. She went on to hold various positions in legal services before finding her dream job working in the state senate.
Young did not speak from behind a podium or a desk, as most guest speakers at Simmons do. Instead, she encouraged conversation and questions among the more intimate audience by having everyone sit in a circle. In that same spirit, she was frank and open about the realities of her position.
Legislative staffers are “overworked and underpaid,” Young said, but she also emphasized the importance of their role. “Legislators trust their staff more than almost anyone else…you work for a person, which is different than working for an organization.” Along with working “for a person” rather than an organization comes more opportunities for advancement and a tangible influence on policy.
For those interested in pursuing a career in public policy, Young recommends a degree in the field, though a Masters in Public Policy is not a necessity. A communications background, on the other hand, even if it only consists of a few college classes, is highly prized in legislative staff hopefuls.
For those who, unlike Young herself, prefer to continue on with a career in social work, she also offers advice for interacting with policymakers: “What matters is that you know your organization, that you know the people you’re representing.” For social workers, it is essential to build relationships with local legislators, so when the time comes to ask for their help, they will already be familiar with your organization and your population of interest.
In a world overrun by powerful lobbyist groups, vulnerable populations need champions in government. And so, as Young concludes, “it’s especially important for social workers to speak up.”