Owen Zighelboim's experience at Sanford had a profound impact on his personal and professional journey, as he discovered a community focused on finding policy solutions, and it instilled in him a belief in his own strengths.
In his work today with the Peace Corps in Fiji, he sees the significance of public policy in the communities he serves. He emphasizes making policy more accessible and efficient for positive change.
We asked Owen to reflect on his time at Sanford and the years since.
What impact has Sanford had on your professional and/or personal journey?
When I got to Sanford as an undergraduate, I wanted answers. I wanted a professor to tell me the best way to serve others and how to do it. What I found instead was a community that wasn’t after answers so much as solutions. And despite the enormity of the issues in question, they kept showing up. Ready to learn, ready to listen. More important than answers, I found my kind of people at Sanford. They believed in me first so that I could believe in myself.
Why does public policy matter in 2023 and beyond?
If public policy is a reflection of our society’s values, then I’m both scared and optimistic about what it says that I’m willing to live with. Sure, it has its issues, but I can’t think of a more worthwhile goal of making policy a more accessible, more efficient means of change. I also think the prevailing attitude towards it says something about where our priorities are these days: seduced by the appeal of a quick fix instead of charging into the belly of the beast. Sometimes, I feel like public policy just needs a rebrand (and the help of this newsletter).
What is the most interesting highlight so far in your career?
Quitting your job is never fun, especially when it feels like you’re betraying the people who believe in and depend on you. So, I wasn’t too excited to tell my boss about my plans to quit and join the Peace Corps. I was mid-sentence expressing my remorse when she stopped me. “Why are you so worked up? You’d be an idiot not to go.” Turns out she was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer herself. With her blessing, I felt relieved of the potential betrayal and grateful I had found such a supportive boss. Plus, the encouragement helped me believe that with the Peace Corps, I was heading in the direction I was meant to go.
Terry Sanford implored students to ‘stand for something.’ What do you stand for?
I stand for ownership. When I take ownership of who I am and the world I live in, the fog somehow clears. My responsibilities expand, and I’m invited to engage in places ridden with conflict and contradiction. Where I otherwise wouldn’t want to go, I mean. Life is more of an adventure in that way, and it calls us to support each other as we stumble around in our search for truth.