An occasional series highlighting a member of our faculty, our alumni community, and a current student.
Associate Professor Aaron Sojourner
Can you tell us a little about the year you spent in Washington, DC?
It was really a dream come true. I served at the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) as senior economist for labor. The CEA has a chair and 2 members, who are political appointees. The Chair is basically a cabinet member and is Senate-confirmed and reports directly to the president. The CEA also has about 8 senior economists, who are generally on one-academic year leave from universities or government agencies like Commerce or State. I was there from summer 2016 to summer 2017, and worked in both the Obama and Trump administrations. CEA also has a small but excellent staff of junior economists and interns and a handful of career staff. Each senior economist covers a different area of economic policy. I covered the labor market including all things work, jobs, employment, wages, compensation, and labor-market regulation; education including early childhood, K-12, higher education and workforce development; and criminal justice as well as pitching in on many related topics including immigration, health care, and infrastructure.
CEA’s job is to provide economic analysis and advice to the president and to other parts of the Executive Office of the President, such as the National Security Council, National Economic Council, and Domestic Policy Council to help ensure that the White House is making well-informed, reality-based decisions in choosing its positions. We are like a trusted in-house economic consulting firm that is at the table and understands the decisions policymakers are grappling with. Then our job is to hustle and come up with the best-available, more-relevant evidence about likely impacts and tradeoffs involved in choosing alternative policy options and to put that evidence into timely, easily-digestible form so that extremely busy people can make good use of it. Our job is often to bear bad news and shoot down feel-good ideas by foreseeing and explaining likely, unintended consequences. We also write public-facing reports, to try to influence the public debate towards issues and evidence that the administration judges to be important.
One of the most interesting parts for me was, every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Employment Situation report, which estimates the number of new jobs created in the economy the prior month and how unemployment and other labor force statistics changed. Each month, as senior economist for labor, I was responsible for getting an advance briefing from the BLS Commissioner a day early, leading the writing of a memo interpreting the news for the president, and then on Friday morning, just before it was released publicly, helping brief the U.S. Secretary of Labor about the news.
Can you tell us about research that you’re excited about?
Over the last 3 years, I helped establish and develop a research partnership with the Human Capital team at the Minneapolis Public School district. Their team has been very strategic and thoughtful about introducing excellent human capital management practices into the district’s operations. They have invested in building state-of-the-art measures of teacher effectiveness and other systems that make continuous improvement possible and we have been working with them to help illuminate what’s working and what’s not. In one study, for the first time, we connected pre-hire data on applicants for teaching jobs to post-hire data on their effectiveness and retention and have been analyzing what kinds of applicants turn out to make the most-effective and longest-serving hires. By looking across thousands of applications and hires and summarizing the relationships in a quantitative model, we aim to improve districts’ selection processes. This can create huge value locally and around the country. The gains in student learning that the model appears able to generate could lead to many fewer kids suffering ineffective teaching and losing years of academic progress. These learning gains are likely to generate earnings gains down the road worth over $50,000 in net present value per classroom per year for a generation of children.
What will you be teaching this academic year?
In spring, I will teach our core Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining class for our first year MA-HRIR students. I will also teach a Ph.D. seminar on human capital policies.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Our faculty and staff design the MA-HRIR program to be — as close as we can get to an optimal opportunity for you to build your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Every course, every lesson, and every assignment is chosen for a reason. We do the work to create learning environments for you and you have to do your part. Put in the work to master the skills and content and you will enter your next career phase well-equipped to make valuable contributions to a team. Later, it’s harder to master this on your own, without the elaborate scaffolding around you. So the program is a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You are investing in it with your time and your money. Invest with your effort too.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Mostly I hang out with my wife and kids. We play games, read, shop, and volunteer. I also practice martial arts.
What are you currently reading?
Our Declaration by Danielle Allen. She often writes op-eds for the Washington Post. I really appreciate her thinking and writing about principles of citizenship and healthy politics. I feel an urgent need to recommit to finding better ways we can live together and air vigorous disagreements without aiming to destroy or demean each other.
Is there any little-known fact about you that people might be surprised about?
I took a year off college, worked as a bicycle messenger during the day and delivered food on a scooter at night to save up money and then traveled around India and Europe for 3 months each. It was my first time overseas.
Alumna Meghann McKee Albertson, ’13
Where are you working currently?
I am currently a learning and development consultant at Microsoft. My role focuses on the learner experience across two global, company-wide initiatives, new employee learning and the deployment of our leadership principles to employees. I am creating and driving an onboarding journey that connects new employees to each other, our culture, meaningful learning, and their individual purpose. I am also leading efforts to share our leadership principles out to all employees across the globe through meaningful learning that results in lasting behavior change and furthering the cultural transformation.
What’s your favorite part about working in the HR field?
Making an impact in the lives of others.
What was your favorite part of the MA-HRIR program? Did you think the program prepared you well for the “real world”?
As a student that had worked prior to making the decision to pursue a graduate degree in HR, I really appreciated the balanced approach to the MA-HRIR program. I felt the cohort experience during the first year created community and a foundation of education to build upon. I enjoyed having the option to select courses in the second year and determine which areas to focus. The facility and program staff were wonderful as well. I believe the MA-HRIR program prepared me to be an effective HR professional with a broad education in various functional areas.
What’s a hobby or something fun you like to do when you’re not working?
I enjoy getting outside as much as possible, whether it be a run, bike ride, walk with my dog, hike, or happy hour. I consider myself a bit of a foodie and like to check out local restaurants and try out new recipes in my kitchen. I also get a lot of joy from volunteering in my community through the Girls on the Run program.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Don’t stop learning. Education is a life-long pursuit that doesn’t just happen in a classroom. Create a personal board of directors for your career, a group of people you consult with regularly to get advice and feedback. Find deeper meaning in your work. Turn your passion into your life’s purpose.
First-year Student Alexus Hudson
Why did you choose to attend the Carlson School’s MA-HRIR program?
When I did my initial research on what school I wanted to apply to, the Carlson School’s MA-HRIR program really stuck out to me. Not only is it a top human resources program, but it is also in a location that I haven’t explored before. I’m used to moving around so after undergrad I got an itch to move, and Carlson gave a chance to do that. Another reason I chose the MA-HRIR program at Carlson is because they really focused on diversity, and I believe that diversity is important in every community. So the fact that I had to write a whole essay on diversity during the application process really showed me what Carlson was all about. Lastly, I love the high employment rate after graduation.
Where did you go for your undergraduate degree, and what was your major?
I attended Clemson University, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Management with an emphasis in Operations.
Do you have any work experience?
Over the summer of 2017 I was anHR Intern, and the two summers before that I was a camp counselor.
What’s been your favorite part of the program so far?
The GBCC (Graduate Business Career Center) has to be my favorite part by far because they work really hard to make sure that we are prepared for on-campus recruiting. They have so many resources that the students can use so that we can be successful during the recruitment process.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I mostly like to relax at home and watch either a movie or a television show.