Sort By :
What is the importance of a liberal arts education? How does it give you the right toolset to build a successful career? Andrew Kaufteil is the former Executive Director of Alumni Relations for University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He is now the Director of Engagement for Cooper, a Silicon-Valley based design and business strategy firm known for finding creative solutions to grand problems. Here, he shares his story of how a foundation in the liberal arts has helped him build confidence, a sense of adventure, and multiple successful careers.
1. You graduated with a BA in Communications and Media Studies, Political Science and Anthropology from Macalester College. How has a liberal arts education influenced you in terms of who you are today?
A liberal arts education prepares you well for life’s twists and turns. At Macalester, we all learned how to think and analyze, how to speak and write, and how to be a leader. Also, when you go to a small school, you learn how to be accountable. Learning is cool, and skipping class is not. I’m 37, and I’ve already had three successful careers. I feel like my sturdy liberal arts foundation has provided me with the ability to think creatively and expansively, the confidence to take risks, and the ability to be flexible and successful in wildly different contexts.
2. Can you tell us what you loved most about your time at Macalester?
Macalester was a life-changing experience for me. What did I love most? The energy on campus was simply electric. Whether you were a vegan animal rights activist, a Mock Trialer, or obsessed with archaeology, everyone was engaged and passionate about at least one thing. I also loved the school’s commitment to internationalism. I made friends at Macalester from every corner of the globe — Iceland to Japan to Zimbabwe — and I’m often toured around Anthony Bourdain-style by fellow Mac alumni. And, of course I do the same when they’re in San Francisco. It’s like a secret pact.
3. What was your favorite class, and why?
My favorite class in college was “Reenvisioning Education and Democracy.” It was the perfect marriage of theory and practice; a project-based class, where we learned the fundamentals of United States education pedagogy and policy. We were required to complete an internship at a charter school serving low-income kids. I had the opportunity to teach math to these kids, but also to get to know them. These experiences brought to life, and added complexity to our classroom learnings. As a capstone, the entire class worked together to design the ideal middle school. This was a very difficult, satisfying, and exciting experience. And, unknowingly, my first experiences using design thinking.
4. What is the one piece of advice you would give to an incoming freshman class, moving away from home for the first time?
Take classes you are sure to do well in your first semester. College is a huge adjustment in so many ways. Many people are motivated to take the most challenging course load possible right out the gate. I recommend fighting that urge. If you have AP, IB, or other credits coming in, take one less class your first semester. Otherwise, take basic classes that you are likely to perform well in. You’ll have a lot of learning to do outside the classroom when you start school. And, it may be more difficult than you think to adapt to a new culture, climate, academic and life format. It is also difficult to recover from a mediocre first semester, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll have to.
5. You started your career as a lawyer, and then steadily built a highly successful career in alumni relations on the east and west coasts, capping your time in the education space thus far as the Executive Director of Alumni Relations at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). How did a liberal arts foundation equip you with the right toolset for a career shift from the legal to alumni engagement sectors?
Top liberal arts colleges, like Macalester, afford their graduates a multiplicity of job options, in both the short and long terms. Liberal arts colleges train you to be a well-rounded person with essential skills that apply to all jobs. I left Macalester knowing how to analyze, how to write, how to leverage resources, and how to be a leader. Whether you are a lawyer, a teacher, a podiatrist, or a Priest, these skills will ensure your success. I am grateful for the flexibility that my liberal arts degree provided me with. I’m not the only one who has made a successful leap from one realm to the next. My classmate who graduated with a degree in Art History works as a biotech research scientist, my classmate who was a psychology major is now a playwright and a famous actress, and my classmate who was a biology major is now the CEO of a successful Silicon Valley company.
6. Why did you choose to pivot from a career in law to alumni engagement?
Starting at age eight, I was obsessed with colleges. Instead of reading normal children’s books, I was reading college guidebooks. I visited 37 campuses and spent two high school summers on college campuses (Amherst College and Washington University-St, Louis.) I worked in the Admissions Office at Macalester. I went to law school for all the wrong reasons. My Mock Trial Team ranked 6th in the country. I studied abroad in South Africa and completed a study of the role of language diversity in the small claims court system. I also didn’t know what else to do. In law school, my favorite experience was serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal. I put my heart and soul into the Journal, and we went from being a fledging organization to being the 5th-ranked civil rights journal in the country. Right out of law school, I worked in litigation, but my boss at the time thought I would make a better judge than lawyer. I knew I wanted a career that was positive and that made people happy. Given my longtime fascination with colleges, and my experience on the journal, I was drawn to Alumni Relations, and landed my first job at Golden Gate University School of Law as Director of Alumni Relations.
7. What did you love most about working within a large, established university like UCSF? What did you like the least?
Working for UCSF was my dream. I absolutely loved working in support of health care, and for such an excellent, world-changing institution. UCSF is a leader in so many important fields of health care, from Neuroscience, to infectious disease, to cancer, and incredibly important things that affect us all are happening there. My best experience was when I actually lived the university’s mission. My mom needed a pretty complicated surgery, and I arranged for her care at UCSF. Her experience was absolutely incredible, and her outcome was perfect. After that experience, I walked around beaming with pride about where I worked.
UCSF is a huge employer, the second largest in the City of San Francisco. With 22,000+ employees, some hierarchy is inherent, and change is slow. I fancy myself a creative go-getter type, and grew curious to see what it was like to flex those muscles in a smaller, flatter, less formal, faster-paced environment. I love UCSF, and leaving was very difficult, and painful, but I decided to take the leap, so I didn’t have to wonder “what if?”
8. What would you say to students on how to make the most of alumni support while in school, and be engaged as an alumnus after school?
Alumni connections can be your gateway to career success. Attend a school with a strong tradition of alumni connectivity. Very few students and young alumni think about leveraging alumni connections and finding mentors. Volunteer with the alumni and development office while you are a student. Attend events as a student representative. When you attend events, don’t stand in the corner. Go chat with alumni, collect their cards, and follow up with them. Ask them questions about their time as a student, and be interested in what they do now. (Don’t only talk about yourself!) Develop a genuine connection, and keep in touch. Mentorship is a lot about chemistry. And mentors choose you as much as you choose them. Only good things will come of that. Same holds true after you graduate.
9. At Cooper, you get to creatively flex your mastery of engagement campaigns that cater to a wide range of audiences. How has your time here influenced your style of strategic thinking and leadership?
In seven months, my experience at Cooper has completely altered the way I approach problems, and the way I think and communicate. Coming into Cooper, I had three major learning curves: (1) learning how a B2B consultancy works, (2) learning the fundamentals of private industry marketing, (3) learning design thinking. In these months, I’ve stretched in so many ways. I am a more direct and authentic communicator. I am infinitely more open to, and less threatened by, feedback. I ask way more questions, and specifically, “why?” I feel extremely empowered to be creative and risky. I am laser-focused on metrics, results, and deliverables. The biggest surprises so far: even though Cooper is a private company, it is the leanest place I’ve ever worked. It is also one of the most mission-driven; Cooperistas believe in their bones that our methods and work are making the world a better place.
10. You founded Scales of the City, an a cappella group in the San Francisco Bay Area. How did college help you develop your personal interests, such as a cappella? What was your favorite performance, and what are your favorite songs to sing?
Attending a liberal arts college provides you with many opportunities to get involved with extracurricular activities and to develop as a leader in these pursuits. In college, I was a member of the Mock Trial Team (we placed 6th in the Nation while I was on it!), the Concert Choir, and I was also the President of the Multicultural Admissions Student Advisory Board, which focused on recruiting students of color to Macalester. Extracurriculars became such a big part of my life, that I became an extremely active adult. I currently serve on various boards of directors, including on Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation Board of Directors, and volunteer quite often.
I founded Scales of the City back in 2011. My favorite performance with Scales of the City so far has been a flashmob wedding proposal. We totally stunned a woman who was being proposed to by her long-term boyfriend, and I sat right next to her when it happened. The boyfriend rented out an entire restaurant. We were all innocently sitting around eating and conversing, and then BOOM, we started singing and dancing a choreographed dance that would make Bollywood producers proud! Many of us were overcome with emotion when she said yes. Some of us even cried tears of joy!
My favorite songs to sing are 80s songs that provoke lots of nostalgia, like Time of My Life, In Your Eyes, Mad World, and Part Time Lover.
11. You have traveled to 37 US states and 40 countries. Please share a few of your most interesting experiences with us.
• Attending two weddings in India was an incredible treat, especially the one where I learned a few choreographed Bollywood-inspired dances (Lungi Dance is my favorite, of course.)
• Getting attacked by a baboon at Cape Point in South Africa was a scary experience. Luckily, I fended him off by throwing leftover paella on him (He was mighty confused.)
• Spending the day on the Mekong Delta, pulling tropical fruits from vines, eating snake venom, and visiting a Cao Dai Temple, where they worship Victor Hugo, was awesome.
• I loved Kapadokya, Turkey: the wines, the caves, the hammams, the rugs. So good.
• Seeing a Macalester sweatshirt at not one, but two, random department stores in Seoul, South Korea, was a highlight of my life.
12. If you had one piece of advice to give to students aspiring to study abroad, what would it be?
First of all, studying abroad is a game changer. It teaches you to be adaptable, relativistic, and able to relate to people who are different from you. Do it!
Advice: Go somewhere or do something that pushes you, feels a little risky, that’s a little outside your comfort zone. With study abroad, you’re inherently going to leave your comfort zone, and this is a great context for you to test and expand your limits, and learn how to deal with ambiguity and challenges.
Andrew Kaufteil is the Director of Engagement for Cooper, a design and business strategy consulting firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Andrew has over 10 years of experience with marketing and alumni relations across multiple organizations, including UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley. Andrew earned his BA from Macalester College, and his law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
ReachIvy sincerely hopes that this article serves as a critical tool to increase your knowledge base. For study abroad consultation or career counselling with ReachIvy, Submit a Query now! Also, review our resources section to access our free premium content.
TO ACCESS OUR PREMIUM CONTENT AND REACH YOUR EDUCATION & CAREER GOALS