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Kathryn Wertheimer ’17

Can you tell us what made you choose TCNJ and choose to be a History Major?

When I was applying for colleges I wasn’t certain what career path I wanted to pursue, but I did know that I loved history and I was happiest when I was studying it. I decided to major in history and explore other subject areas by picking up minors (for me, that was sociology and Russian studies)

When you were a student, you took advantage of a lot of the unique experiences TCNJ offers.  Can you discuss these in more detail?

My freshman year I began studying Russian and luckily for me, this was at a time when TCNJ had received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to send students to Russia to stay with a host family and volunteer at a local school. Even years after graduating, this was my favorite experience that I had at TCNJ. In addition to traveling to Russia, I studied overseas in Bologna, Italy for a semester where I focused my studies on social justice and interned with a local non-profit that works with the unhoused community to connect them with resources and opportunities.  Lastly, I participated in an internship with Dr. Bender and TCNJ’s Hurricane Sandy Oral History Project. I traveled around the state, mostly to New Jersey’s coastal communities, to interview individuals impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
You’ve had an interesting career path since you graduated.  Can you tell us what you have been up to since graduation?
After graduating, I started my career at Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey working with our government affairs team to lobby members of the state legislature to override Governor Christie’s veto of family planning funding.
 
After working at Planned Parenthood, I went on to work in the legislature serving as Communications Director and eventually as Chief of Staff to Deputy Speaker Valerie Vainieri Huttle. While working for the Assemblywoman, I managed our office’s communications and policy portfolios. Specifically, I worked to draft and steer the passage of a package of legislation that improves how sexual assault survivors are treated by law enforcement and the judicial system, as well New Jersey’s Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act to safeguard access to abortion and other reproductive health services. Additionally, I worked in the aftermath of COVID-19 to draft and pass a package of legislation aimed at improving New Jersey’s long-term care system. 
 
Following my work in the legislature, I worked for Governor Murphy’s re-election campaign as Deputy Director of Coalitions and Outreach where I worked with our allies in labor and progressive spaces to maximize support for the Governor’s re-election campaign. Following the conclusion of my work on the Murphy campaign, I moved to Oregon to serve as Communications Director for Tina Kotek’s successful governor’s race in Oregon where I led our communications work for a challenging 3-way race. After the Kotek campaign ended, I moved back to the East Coast to work for Everytown for Gun Safety as a Press Secretary covering our litigation and research work. 
 
How did majoring in History help prepare you for the work you have been doing?

More than anything, majoring in History improved my writing skills – something that is critical to my work. My work consists of writing press releases, talking points, op-eds and more — and my time as a History major no doubt helped me to sharpen these skills so that I could hit the ground running. Looking back on my work in the legislature, my studies at TCNJ (especially in history courses) also helped as I evaluated, and worked to draft, policy proposals.

What will you be doing five years from now?

Who knows! To be honest, I never anticipated going into politics. When I graduated college I had my sights set on a completely different career path but I love the work that I do and I’m excited to see where I go next! What matters for me is knowing that I am working each day to make a difference. 

What advice would you have for a prospective TCNJ student and History major?

Don’t limit yourself. Never in a million years would I have thought that majoring in History would open the door to working on political campaigns or in government offices, but it has and it can for you, too. Be open to new experiences, find as many internships as you can — and if you are torn on what you want to do after graduation, find as many different internships as possible to discover new lines of work that you might not have pictured for yourself.  Lastly, find mentors at every stage of your career and once you feel established, pay it forward by mentoring the next generation. Find people that you can trust — people who will not only give you advice on next steps, but who will lift you up and encourage you to aim higher and to take risks. 
 
As a woman in politics, I have been lucky to find mentors who encourage me, who make me feel like I belong and who remind me that I’m a value add – I hope that everyone can find strong mentors and friends to help them feel confident and valued.
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