Photo courtesy of Connie Huynh Fife.
It’s well known that Stanford has trained and educated countless professionals in state and federal government, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. But those interested in local government, like alumnus Connie Huynh Fife, have also found Stanford to be a great launching pad for their careers.
“The local government sphere at Stanford is small,” Fife said. “But once you find the right connections, doors open.”
Fife graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in public policy in 2015 and a master’s degree in public policy in 2016. By building relationships at Stanford, including at the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Fife identified a career trajectory and opportunities that led to her first job after graduation. Today, she works for her hometown of Chula Vista, California.
“Working in the city where I grew up was always a goal of mine,” she said.
Making BLC connections
When Fife arrived at Stanford in the fall of 2011, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. After dabbling in economics, public health and communication, she settled on a public policy major her junior year.
Her senior year she attended an event hosted by the Stanford City Manager in Residence program, which brings local city and county managers to campus to discuss their work and how local governments are run.
“It was so eye opening and it made me find direction and realize that I wanted to pursue a career in city management,” Fife said.
She reached out to Bruce Cain, Stanford political science professor and director of the BLC, because he was familiar with and had connections in local government. He connected her to other professionals in the field and showed her which Stanford courses would support her interests, including Defining Smart Cities, Political Power in American Cities, and Regional Politics and Decision Making in the Silicon Valley, all of which she took. Cain, who would become Fife’s senior advisor, also encouraged her to pursue a fellowship with the city manager of National City, California, the only female city manager in San Diego County at the time. Curious about the lack of female leadership in cities, Fife said the job motivated her to continue working in local government.
“Bruce Cain was so open to helping me establish some connections and pointing me in the right direction,” Fife said.
One of those connections was Preeti Hehmeyer, associate director of the BLC, who encouraged Fife to apply for a scholarship to attend a city manager’s conference in Palm Springs. There, Fife met the city manager of Menlo Park – a connection that would serve her well in her career.
“I followed up with them after the conference and said, ‘if there are any opportunities to get an internship with your city, please keep me in mind,’” she recalled.
A few weeks later they contacted Fife with an offer for an internship, which she completed in three months. After finishing her master’s degree in 2016, she landed a job with the city of Menlo Park as an analyst in the city manager’s office, working on various projects.
“An analyst’s job is to be a Jack-of-all-trades. I worked on employee recruitment, city development, policy analysis, and other special projects,” she said. “The analyst’s role is so versatile and I love it. I really like being in the nitty gritty of local government.”
After working in Menlo Park for a year, Fife landed a job as a management analyst for her hometown of Chula Vista, a role she held for four years. She was recently promoted and is now a development automation specialist for the city, a role in which she leads the development services department in streamlining processes and incorporating modern technology to assist internal and external customers.
For students who are uncertain about their academic or career paths, as Fife was when she first came to Stanford, she encourages them to explore their interests, especially during the summer quarter.
“Summer is a beautiful time to pursue your interests. Do an internship in a field that you’re potentially interested in pursuing down the road as a career because this will give you a glimpse into whether you really do want to pursue that field,” she said. “If you love it, then great, keep pursuing that track; if not, no problem, you spent a summer exploring and now you can pivot to a new field. When you graduate, employers look at your resume and if you don’t have work experience, they won’t know what you’re work capabilities are.”
And for those interested specifically in local government, she encourages them to expand their networks.
“Establishing connections can really help you navigate this territory,” she said. “The connections I made at the Bill Lane Center are what got me my first job out of college.”