Isabelle Van Hook graduated from Hamilton College in 2011 with a degree in world politics. She works as the Political Fundraising Manager at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
We all know the occasional frustrations that come from living in “the Hamilton bubble.” It can feel like “the real world” is so far away from life on The Hill, but I’m convinced that the bubble is excellent preparation for life off The Hill.
The Hill is really a life-skills playground for students. There are infinite opportunities for skill-building and growth, if you look around or ask. My particular Hamilton playground was the Levitt Center, where I gained skills and started a community-based project that became something concrete I could show off in job interviews.
My Levitt Center community-based work in Utica helped me land a job as a field organizer in Allentown, PA to re-elect President Obama (plus a connection from a Hamilton classmate — you really can’t beat the Hamilton College alumni network!)
After we won the election, people would ask what was next for me. I said I wanted to work in major gifts fundraising for Planned Parenthood — after all, fundraising is building relationships and engaging people in important causes — and for me, a continuation of the work I’d done on the Obama campaign. Fast forward a few months and I was working as a temp in the Human Resources department of Planned Parenthood. HR was not my passion, but it was a chance to prove myself and show my work ethic. I spoke with my manager and told her that I was really interested in the major gifts fundraising department — and when an entry-level position opened up, she made sure I had a chance to interview.
I learned that no one was going to read my mind to figure out what my interests were and where I was interested in growing professionally. I was especially interested in the political advocacy and electoral work the Planned Parenthood Action Fund did, and made my interest known. Anytime there was fundraising work to do in that realm, I volunteered to help on the project, and reminded my colleagues of my background in political science and how passionate I was about that work.
My telling and asking paid off, and in October 2015, I was offered a new position as the Political Fundraising Manager.
Hamilton taught me to be a self-starter. I obviously learned important lessons in the classrooms, but what has stuck with me the most is what I learned through the Levitt Center. As a student, I wanted to work with my refugee peers in Utica, and the Levitt Center helped me make it happen. Say yes to opportunities that might not seem like a perfect fit — you can use your skills to pivot to the next opportunity that fits better. Human Resources wasn’t a career I wanted to pursue, but it helped get me get my foot in the door. By showing my work ethic, telling my managers what my goals and interests were, and asking for the opportunity to do what I was most passionate about, I was able to find my way to my dream job working to support the incredible efforts of our Action Fund staff, volunteers, and activists to protect and defend reproductive health and rights.