GW is the Epitome of Opportunity, But it’s What You do With it That Matters

zach kahn blog post

By Zach Kahn, BA in Organizational Sciences 2016

As a second-semester senior, with graduation just weeks away, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on my entire collegiate experience. I have been reassessing the validity and implications of some of the most significant decisions I’ve made over these past four years.

Since January, I’ve thoroughly considered (and re-considered) whether or not Washington D.C. was the appropriate environment for me. Whether pursuing my major and minor would benefit me in my desired industry (technology) and specialty (marketing), whether joining my fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon,and other students organizations, including The GW Hatchet and TEDxFoggyBottom, were a good use of time. And whether internship programs at companies like Nest and Harry’s, would translate into marketable skills and formative, professional experiences.

Concurrently, as a second-semester senior, I’ve been repeatedly asked one specific question by parents, faculty, and younger members of the GW community. That question? Bearing the knowledge and experiences that you now posses, if you were granted admission to GW, would you accept it?

The answer? A confident and resounding “yes,” and here’s why…

In my experience, The George Washington University offers students a unique set of keys with which they can unlock, and later appreciate, their personal and professional identities. By virtue of sitting at the cultural epicenter of one of the most vibrant, diverse, and influential cities in the world, GW is endowed with a unique ability to present students — oftentimes from rural towns and developing countries — with a “traditional” college experience coupled with a genuine taste of what it means to live, and work, in the “real world.”

It’s rare, stimulating, and, at times, downright overwhelming. The opportunity to be a student in a city brimming with all kinds of political, economic, and social opportunity is leaps and bounds more qualifying than the textbook curriculum offered exclusively within the confines of an overpopulated lecture room, or campus quad, as is the case at many other institutions. It’s what you do with that opportunity, however, that will determine your propensity for success.

When I came to GW, I was certain of my desire to enter the technology industry in a marketing / business development capacity. I knew that I would need to enroll myself in programs and courses that pertained to these efforts. What I didn’t know, however, was the specific academic path that would facilitate my ability to achieve this goal.

On advice from my advisor in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, I chose not to internally transfer into the School of Business in order to pursue a degree in Information Systems Technology. Rather, I would remain in the Columbian College, with a minor in Business Administration from the School of Business. I would pursue the newly developed, and widely praised, Organizational Sciences program focusing on the means by which organizations, their leaders, and their teams communicate, grow change, and, eventually, succeed. It was a less clear path than the one I had initially anticipated, but the program and its faculty have equipped me with broadly-applicable insights and skills that I have been able to successfully employ in extracurricular and, later, professional experiences.

As indicated, there is no better atmosphere to test and refine your academic acumen than in a student organization. Institutions like the Sigma Phi Epsilon (DC Alpha) fraternity and The GW Hatchet proved to be fertile environments to assess the means by which individuals communicate, collaborate, and challenge one another, their beliefs, and the enveloping organizational culture and structure. As a member, and later Vice President of Communications, for the DC Alpha chapter, I was able to witness and affect the opportunities and threats associated with a large, social organization chock full of rich, philanthropical history and communal norms. And as a Board Member of The GW Hatchet, I witnessed similar circumstances benefit, and plague, the political and economic sustainability of an organization with equally historic precedents. Apple and BlockBuster, the White House and Congress, were no better examples of organizational development, success, and decay than the day-to-day experiences of being an agent of the Greek Life and GW media communities.

The only superior means by which students can prepare for the working world and, more importantly, understand themselves, is by participating in a formal internship program. Just three weeks after arriving at GW, I was fortunate enough to happen into one such opportunity at a digital agency called iStrategyLabs (ISL), then-located off of Dupont Circle. It was a heavy dose of serendipity mixed with determination, and it was the single most transformative element of my college career. Suddenly, the potential of the “outside world,” or what exists off campus, was recognized and my passion and appetite to learn and grow accommodated few bounds. My year and a half at ISL helped me land a position at Harry’s, the men’s grooming startup in New York City. That then helped me find a marketing opportunity with the Uber DC team when I came back for my junior year. These internship programs equipped me with the skills, experience, and network necessary to further cultivate my marketing and business development proficiencies at Nest Labs in Palo Alto this past summer, with TEDxFoggyBottom today, and hopefully so on.

You’re in the cultural capitol of the world and, with that, the single best decision you’ll make as a young professional is to throw yourself in the midst of its chaos and work you way back to order. The George Washington University, and by extension Washington, D.C., is the epitome of opportunity- but it’s what you do with that opportunity that will set you apart.

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