Kennedy, Buttigieg, and Mutombo: Business and Politics in Hyde Park

Most of what we focus on as The Booth Experience team is, of course, aspects of life within the MBA community, and what it is like to be a student at this business school. Yet, one of the greatest assets of life at Booth is your membership within the broader University of Chicago community. Just as we are fortunate to attend one of the finest business schools in the world, the University is also home to schools of law, medicine, and public policy (and many others) that are among the best in their respective fields. And, while there is an endless stream of activity at the business school, to really deliver on the underlying promise of the university, you have to explore beyond the walls of the Harper Center.

One of the many factors in my decision to apply to business school was the reality that I’d never taken a business course in my life. My undergraduate degree was in politics and, while there are clear transferable skills between politics and business, my time at Booth has filled in many crucial gaps in my education. Yet, my lifelong enthusiasm for all things political has hardly subsided since college, and my time at the University of Chicago has given me some incredible opportunities to indulge this passion, largely through the University’s Institute of Politics.

Just one block down Woodlawn Avenue from the Harper Center is the University’s Institute of Politics (IoP). Led by David Axelrod—former Chief Strategist for President Obama’s presidential campaigns—the Institute of Politics serves as the center on campus for all things political. They lead voter registration drives (according to TurboVote, UChicago had the highest student voter turnout in America in the 2018 midterm elections!), host political fellows, and present an incredible speaker series, free to all UChicago students. This speaker series has provided a fascinating opportunity for me to get outside of the Harper Center and to engage with the broader world of politics and policy.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg with IoP Director David Axelrod

My first exposure to the IoP’s speaker series came last year, when I saw Doris Kearns Goodwin speak about presidential leadership over at Ida Noyes Hall, just across the summer garden from the Harper Center. Her talk was held at lunchtime—which is to say between my morning and afternoon classes—and hearing her share stories of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and LBJ was such a delightful change of pace between microeconomics and accounting that I immediately subscribed to the IoP events newsletter. Despite the time constraints of 1Y recruiting, I attended several more IoP speakers during my first year, hearing Ambassador Caroline Kennedy on diplomacy, General Stanley McChrystal on leadership, former Senator Jeff Flake on the Senate, and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo on the challenges facing his nation, among others. 

Though my primary engagement with the institute has been through its speaker series, I also got the chance last year to take advantage of the IoP’s Fellows program. This program brings luminaries from fields such as politics, journalism, and activism to the Institute for a quarter, to engage directly with students at the University. One of the hallmarks of this program is office hours, wherein students can sign up to meet one-on-on with the Fellows at the Institute, for discussion. I signed up to meet individually with former Senator Claire McCaskill at the IoP, and had the opportunity to get her thoughts on the future of political campaigns and political marketing. It was easily one of the most memorable moments of the year, and impressed upon me the incredible breadth of opportunity that exists at the University of Chicago, especially if you push even a little bit outside of your day-to-day world.

When I returned to campus this Fall, I was looking forward to seeing what the IoP had in store and sure enough they have another quarter of impressive guests coming to campus. I’ve already gotten the chance to attend several of these events this Fall, including John Kerry (pictured in the header) speaking on climate change and Pete Buttigieg sharing his vision for the country as a presidential candidate.

In fact, last night, some friends and I got the chance to go see one of the IoP’s perhaps more unconventional guests: Dikembe Mutombo. In addition to being one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, Mutombo is the NBA’s Global Ambassador and has played a critical role in humanitarian efforts in his native DRC. His conversation with sports journalist J.A. Adande ranged from changes in the game of basketball to Mutombo’s successful mission to build a hospital in Kinshasa in memory of his mother. As far as Tuesday nights go, it was hard to beat.

NBA Legend & Humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo with J.A. Adande

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