Alumni help inspire, encourage students interested in social-justice careers
By David E. Nathan
The capstone event for Brandeis’ annual festival of social justice brought dozens of alumni and more than 40 employers to campus to inspire and encourage students considering public-interest work following graduation.
More than 150 Brandeis students participated in the third annual SoJust Leadership Forum, the final event of ’DEIS Impact, to learn more about careers in social justice from alumni and others who work in the field.
“This is the forum where you take the lessons you have learned at Brandeis and discover how to integrate them into your career path and life,” Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence told the students during his welcoming remarks at a packed Sherman Function Hall on Feb. 10.
Julia Simon-Mishel ’09, who co-founded the Student Peace Alliance as a Brandeis student and recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, served as moderator for a panel discussion with four alumni whose careers revolve around the pursuit of social justice: Yos Bugallo ’03, assistant director of inclusiveness recruiting, Ernst & Young; Tara Cook-Littman ’97, founder, GMO Free CT; Will Tickle ’03, director of impact investing, Ballentine Partners; and Blanca Vega ’98, director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, Marymount Manhattan College.
“Working in social justice, you can earn a paycheck doing something that is fun, worthwhile and will help change the world,” said Simon-Mishel, who plans to join Philadelphia Legal Assistance following her clerkship with the Honorable Norma L. Shapiro in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Cook-Littman, whose organization successfully pushed for enactment of a law in Connecticut that requires companies to list genetically modified organisms on food labels, said her Brandeis experiences helped launch her career as an activist.
“At Brandeis, I learned about the inequities and injustices that are worth fighting for,” she said. “‘Never be ashamed to be an idealist and believe you can change the world.”
Vega, too, found her activist voice at Brandeis, where she pushed the administration to increase opportunities for Latino students like herself.
“What do we mean by social justice?” she said. “To me, it was about racial equity.”
Bugallo began her career in the Office of Admissions at Brandeis before moving to New York University and then Ernst & Young.
“When I graduated from Brandeis, I never thought I would be in a corporate environment,” she said. “Now I consider myself a gladiator in a suit.”
Tickle, who has been with Ballentine since he graduated, characterized his work as being done “at the interesting nexus of economics/finance and social justice. I try to figure out ways to use the world of finance to re-instill in our world the values of community, fairness and family.”
Tickle shared news about the emergence of social-impact bonds, which are agreements that investors and the public sector enter into in which a commitment is made to pay for improved social outcomes in meeting challenging issues such as prisoner recidivism.
“It’s a way to create a public-private partnership that has amazing potential,” he said.
Cook-Littman stressed to the students the importance of finding jobs that will further their professional development.
“You want to choose jobs in social justice that will help you build the tools you will need later on,” said Cook-Littman, who developed her public-speaking skills while working as a prosecutor in New York after law school. “Think about jobs you want to take that will allow you to feel good about the work you do and also develop your skill set.”
Yugallo, who works with colleges and universities to help them better support their students from diverse backgrounds, left the Brandeis students with an important piece of advice.
“Be aware of the issues and ask the questions: ‘Why is this? Why is that?’ ” she said.
“If you’re not making people uncomfortable, you’re not doing your job.”
Following the panel discussion, students met in small groups with alumni and employers to network and learn about their organizations.
The SoJust Leadership Forum was co-sponsored by the Hiatt Career Center; the Brandeis Alumni Association; the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life; the Heller School for Social Policy and Management; and the Department of Community Service.