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Ellen Schwartz

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Class Year: 2017
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Major: International Affairs
Extracurriculars: Steering Committee Member, Student Organizations Committee; Vice Chair, Student Organizations Committee, Steering Committee Member, International Affairs Symposium; Cochair, J Street U; Research Assistant to Professor Elizabeth Bennett

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Collaborative, energizing, eclectic

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

I was initially drawn to Lewis & Clark because of the excellent reputation of the international affairs program. I was really excited to take Middle East politics and international relations classes with Cyrus Partovi, senior lecturer in social sciences, due to his immense personal and political experience in the region. I was also drawn to location, because Portland had everything I wanted in a city.

“Being in small classes really helped me sharpen my public speaking and interpersonal skills, and the collaborative and supportive atmosphere taught me how to work well in a group setting.”
Tell me about the research you did with Assistant Professor of International Affairs Elizabeth Bennett, LC’s 2018 Teacher of the Year?

Where to even start in discussing the life changing experience of working with Dr. Bennett? My peer and fellow transfer student, Ben Beecroft, and I began working for Elizabeth the summer preceding senior year. That summer, we worked on a few different projects. The first was helping her with research on ethical consumerism in the recreational marijuana market in Portland. Elizabeth had spent the previous year traveling to many dispensaries around the city to learn what kinds of products were available that offered what is considered a more “ethical” (e.g, organic, sun-grown, fair treatment of workers, etc.) alternative to mainstream products. The process of marijuana legalization in Portland allowed Elizabeth the unique opportunity to study the emergence of ethical consumerism and to help shape the conversation around more robust environmental and labor standards than were possible prelegalization. For this project, I primarily assisted with coding data. This was my first time doing coding for qualitative research, and it was an incredibly useful skill to learn. The other major project I worked on that summer was helping with the research on Voluntary Sustainability Standards Setting Organizations (VSSSOs). Elizabeth had us analyze the standards for many of these third-party organizations to evaluate how effective they were in addressing global income inequality. We would print out the standards, and search for content such as the wages they required producers to receive and if the standard required collective bargaining for workers. Our findings showed that many VSSSOs’ standards did not go above and beyond the labor regulations of the International Labour Organization.

I helped Elizabeth with editing the articles she submitted to peer-reviewed journals and the book chapters she wrote. At first, I was nervous to edit the work of someone I idolized academically. But it ended up being a ton of fun to give her substantive and formatting edits. I also edited a large number of reference lists, which sharpened my citation skills, and did literature reviews as needed.

Describe your job. What do you like best about it?

I work as a program manager at Housing Unlimited Inc., a nonprofit affordable housing corporation that provides permanent, affordable housing to adults in mental health recovery. I am currently participating in Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, in which I work full-time at an NGO and spend time outside of work participating in educational programming about Judaism and social justice, as well as poverty and inequality in the U.S. My primary role at Housing Unlimited is to manage the 330 person waitlist. I spend much of my time on the phone talking to applicants currently in homeless shelters, unaffordable market-rate housing, residential mental health programs, etc. I also assist with property management, including visiting Housing Unlimited’s 72 scattered-site properties 4 days per week and interacting with our tenants, doing property showings, scheduling house meetings, etc. I also assist with administrative tasks and public education as needed.

My favorite part of my job is being a compassionate ear on the phone to applicants on the waitlist when they call. People are often apprehensive about applying to live in shared, independent housing, or are used to dealing with larger housing agencies where they get a machine or someone who isn’t incredibly friendly when they call. It’s always gratifying when someone is happy and relieved that I recognize their voice, am patient with them, or go the extra mile to ensure that they keep up with all their deadlines for submitting forms to us. It’s exciting to be the first person people interact with from Housing Unlimited, and to be able to represent the organization in this way.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for your work?

Lewis & Clark provided me with both the hard and soft skills to succeed in the workforce. Being in small classes really helped me sharpen my public speaking and interpersonal skills, and the collaborative and supportive atmosphere taught me how to work well in a group setting. The leadership positions I had at LC also strengthened my managerial skills, executive functioning, and ability to delegate well. My academic experience was equally important in preparing me for my work. I took a very diverse course load that allowed me to build a strong foundation in the social sciences. My classes at Lewis & Clark taught me how to think both critically and systemically, and my professors really encouraged me to think about how to choose a career path that would both contribute to building a better world and in which I’d be effective.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

If you get the opportunity to work with a professor during college, take it! A relationship like that with a professor will give you an excellent mentor and reference when applying for future opportunities, and can really build your research and work experience. Also, get involved with student organizations on campus and in your major. It’s a really awesome way to meet other people, and to nerd out and make academics and work more exciting and fulfilling. Your peers are your absolute best support network. Also, at a small school like LC, there are plenty of opportunities to take on leadership roles in organizations. Lastly, everyone’s college experience is different. There is so much pressure to do college in a very specific way and an implication that if you don’t follow a concrete, linear path that everything will fall apart. That is NOT TRUE. If you need to take extra semesters, do it. If you want to study abroad (or want to just stay in Portland for all 4 years), that’s great. Need to switch your major as a junior? Go for it! Failed a class? It’s ok. Just reach out for help and accept support, this is more common than you think and a completely fixable problem.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

This is going to expose me as a nerd, but my favorite class was probably thesis with Dr. Bennett. My thesis was the first original research I had ever done, and opening up such a big and personal project to critique from Elizabeth and my peers was a surprisingly vulnerable process. I was allowed room to take risks, but also given enough support and guidelines to write something coherent and important. I was super afraid to put my thesis up for honors and have the whole department look at it, but doing that process made my paper even better than it would have been. I also loved the collaborative process of peer editing, and the opportunities to become a better public speaker during my thesis presentations. I also have to give a special shoutout to Dr. Cyrus Partovi’s Middle East Politics class. This class taught me so much about the history and contemporary political landscape of the Middle East. I appreciate Cyrus’s rigorous attention to detail, and the high standard he set for us.

What was your favorite spot on campus?

I love the view of Mt. Hood by the reflecting pool. You really can’t beat that!

What was your favorite thing about living in Portland?

I love how close it is to such a stunning and diverse range of natural wonders. Crater Lake, Opal Creek, Mt. Hood, the coast, and the Painted Hills are some of my favorites. Also, brunch in Portland is fantastic.

What was the biggest challenge you faced at Lewis & Clark?

My biggest challenge was probably maintaining a good work-life balance. It was really important for me to regularly exercise, get enough sleep and do self-care activities for my mental health, and it was often difficult to take time away from studying to intentionally do those things.

What is your best Lewis & Clark memory?

There are a few. One is the regular meetings with my J Street leadership team, which is made up of some of my closest friends. The social justice-oriented Jewish community I formed with these friends was my safe haven and intellectual home. We still keep in touch and collaborate on actions involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and leftist American Judaism. Also, I will forever cherish the office hours I spent with my IA professors, Kyle Lascurettes, Cyrus, and Elizabeth in particular.

Where did you find community on campus?

J Street, Hillel, the Queer Student Union, the International Affairs Symposium, my roommate

How has Lewis & Clark changed you?

Lewis & Clark didn’t teach me what to think, but how to think. I believe I am a much more critical, systemic thinker than I would’ve been without my education. My peers and professors have taught me so much about how to be a good student, friend, and professional.

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