A Conversation with Sydney Darwin

Young Alumni Profile: Sydney Darwin, B.A. Political Science 2017

By Julie Wrinn

In less than three years since earning her degree at UK, Sydney Darwin has become a terrific example of how a political science major can lead to a surprising array of fields. While still in school, Darwin worked as a digital media intern for Cornett, an advertising company in Lexington, and as a communications intern for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. After graduating college, she joined Richard Becker's campaign for the Kentucky House of Representatives as a campaign strategist. After that, Darwin served as a Marshal’s Aide for the U.S. Supreme Court and was soon promoted to assistant supervisor of the Marshal’s Aides. This led to an assignment for the Chambers of retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as a Temporary Judicial Assistant while his Judicial Assistant was on maternity leave. In January 2020, Darwin began the new decade in an entirely new field, at the cybersecurity contracting firm Obsidian Global, LLC. I asked Sydney to share more about these experiences as well as her time at UK. 

JW: Where did you grow up, and what drew you to the University of Kentucky?

SD: I grew up in Prospect, Kentucky, just a short drive from the University of Kentucky. I hadn't even considered attending UK until my parents talked me into visiting. I fell in love with the campus, and everyone I met on my tour was so kind to me. When I returned home and found out that most of my dearest friends were going to be attending UK, my mind was made up.

 JW: Your work as a campaign strategist for Richard Becker seems like the most recognizable path for someone with a major in political science. What was it like working for a campaign, and do you think you’ll do that again?

 SD: In my opinion, working for a campaign is invaluable experience for a political science major. There are so many skills that you learn while campaigning that can be applicable to any career, such as fundraising, event planning, public relations, and database management. If you have worked for a campaign before, you know it can be wildly exciting. The work is high paced, people oriented, and never the same. I think what I enjoyed the most was learning about the current affairs in each neighborhood we visited and hearing the personal stories of voters. Though politics can often be very polarizing, it is very cool to see groups rally around certain local issues. I probably won’t be in a place again where I can donate 40 hours a week to a campaign, but if I were, I would not hesitate to volunteer!

 JW: While an intern at the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), you performed website design, digital analytics, social media campaigns, and e-fundraising. Had you acquired those technical skills elsewhere or were you learning on the job?

 SD: I am a bit of a photography hobbyist, so while I had dabbled in website design and social media campaigns from time to time, I learned most of the communications/marketing skills on the job. Fortunately, NPRI gave me quite a bit of freedom and the opportunity to work independently on the projects I was assigned. When I was assigned a comprehensive website and e-fundraising design project, I jumped at the opportunity to learn. I think I spent probably 10 or so hours watching every YouTube video about website creation, and equally as long taking all the available Google Analytics courses. 

 JW: Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern University, and how are you combining that with your position at Obsidian?

SD: I decided to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern University because I felt that I still had so much to learn. My family has always joked that if I could be a career-long student, I would. On a more serious note, I have always dreamt of having a career that is both impactful and fulfilling. If I’m being honest, the idea of being able to challenge the way things have “always been done” in pursuit of better policy solutions drew me to public policy. Another thing that drew me to the Northwestern program was the flexibility to take classes online while working at the Supreme Court and now Obsidian in Washington, D.C. Obsidian’s mission is to develop cybersecurity solutions for government clients’ most difficult problems. The realm of cybersecurity policy is becoming increasingly interesting, and complicated, by the rising dependencies on technology. I am looking forward to learning the ins and outs of the cybersecurity world so I can eventually combine this knowledge with the skills learned throughout my M.P.P.A. program to contribute to cybersecurity and defense policy solutions. 

JW: What is the most important thing you learned during your time at UK?

 SD: One of the best things I learned during my time as a UK student is the importance of fostering relationships with your professors. I still keep in contact with many of my professors and have sought advice from them multiple times throughout my early career. From applying to graduate school to making career moves, their input has been invaluable, and they have kept me grounded throughout my experiences.

JW: Did you have a favorite class or professor?

 It’s hard for me to choose a favorite class that helped the most in preparing me for my career, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few professors who have been instrumental to my success. Both Dr. Voss and Dr. Zilis helped me immensely while I was writing my honors thesis. I have been able to use the skills learned from the two of them in both my master’s and work-related projects. Lastly, Dr. Swinford always (and still does!) went above and beyond to ensure his students had everything they needed to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. If you haven’t taken a course with one of these professors, I highly recommend it!

 JW: Do you have any advice for students considering or pursuing a political science major?

 SD: Don’t be afraid to take chances! I think imposter syndrome can be very prevalent in the field of political science. I never in a million years thought that I would be offered a job at the Supreme Court. I actually had to be convinced that it was even worth it to apply. You have to put yourself out there, whether it be for an internship or a topic you would really love to research. Don’t take rejection to heart. I received plenty of no’s, but all it takes is one yes!

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