Alumni Spotlight: Garrett Conway (Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs)

  • Name: Garrett Conway
  • Organization: Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs
  • Position: Community Liaison
  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Degree(s) & Alma Mater: Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs, majoring in Law and Public Policy and minoring in Public Management from Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Master of Jurisprudence from Michigan State University College of Law.

Can you tell our students a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?

As a Community Liaison, my job requires me to be the “front door” to state government for cities, towns, and counties in my region, East Central Indiana. I serve as a two-way conduit of knowledge and expertise, seeking to understand the needs and priorities of the communities in my region. I help with technical assistance, convening regional and state partners, and presenting resources in the form of both programmatic and financial offerings from OCRA, state, federal, and other partners. The best part of my job is that I get to meet so many people from all over the state, from Clerk Treasurers of small towns to federal agency representatives. Every day is a new opportunity!

What did your professional journey look like from college to your position today?

My journey has taken me to places I didn’t foresee. Initially, I started on the path to be an attorney; going to law school and planning for a career in the legal profession. However, after my first year of law school, I decided that I wanted to have a more hands-on approach to community development – so I decided a master’s degree would be better suit. I wrote a thesis on antitrust law in industrial agriculture and graduated with my masters a couple months later. I moved back to Indiana and found the perfect position for me to showcase my educational background and passion for community advocacy – Community Liaison. Although I’m not where I would have pictured myself when I graduated from IU in 2021, I like to think that life has guided me to where I need to be in 2023.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow your career path?

I would encourage those students who feel the push to take the “logical next step” in their career path to break out of the mold. Don’t take the path that has been laid out in front of you by society or a predetermined education-to-career pipeline. You are an individual with unique qualities and abilities! Experiment with your internships. Don’t be afraid to try a new career path. Make your life choices based on what you want to do, not what you feel the “logical next step” is. Finally, don’t let the fear of perception hold you back from doing something out of the box. You are only beginning your journey, so experiment and be authentic! You’ll learn more from trying new things than from sticking with something you know you don’t like only because it’s scary to make a change. In my experience, you like yourself and your career a lot more when you are doing something you genuinely enjoy. I wouldn’t have found the position that fits my background and my personality if I had kept my head down. That’s my advice, keep looking up until you find what makes you happy.

What skills are most important in your role?

Being the kind of person that is easy to talk to is something that I’ve found to be important in this role. I have so many conversations throughout my day that require me to listen and understand where people are coming from. I must be a person who people feel comfortable sharing information with, being honest and genuine makes those conversations a lot easier. I also have found that when I give someone a chance and care about their story, they open up and share the details that provide a deeper understanding of the situation that would otherwise be missed if I was apathetic.

What trends do you see on the horizon in this type of career?

There is an idea called “Third Places” in community development. These are places that Robert Putnam, is his book Bowling Alone, describes as being the traditional setting where people of all walks can get together and share their experiences and ideas: coffee shops, bowling leagues, services clubs, and other places that aren’t work or home. Since COVID and even before, we are becoming more and more isolated from each other. Third places provide a space to get to know our neighbors and create connections. I see on the horizon a push for creating more third spaces in our communities, and I encourage you to find an opportunity to create those connections with your community. The power of third places creates interconnectivity, leads people to care about what happens in their communities, and gives people a broader perspective. We have to create those bonds to see past the individual and appreciate our role in creating a better life for everyone in our communities.

How was a failure or disappointment instrumental in your development?

I wouldn’t consider leaving the lawyer pipeline a failure or disappointment now, but at the time it felt like utter defeat. However, I know that if I had kept my head down and followed the path that I thought was destined for me, I wouldn’t have found the joy I know today. If something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to try something different. All heroes in classic literature have ordeals, tests, and moments of defeat; if you want to be the hero of your story, don’t be afraid to fail because your story will be better because of it. It may feel like a failure in the moment, and you may be worried about what others may think, but you are the master of your fate and the main character of your story, so make your story an inspiration to others.

By Miranda Redman
Miranda Redman Associate Director of Career Services