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By Annika Aristimuno PPS/International Comparative Studies ‘26

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Annika Aristimuno
Annika Aristimuno

Before departing for Washington, D.C., I thought my career path was clear cut. I was determined to follow in my mother's footsteps and pursue a career as an immigration attorney. Little did I know the Sanford Pathways program would throw my plans for a loop.

Participating in the inaugural Sanford School Pathways program was an enriching experience beyond measure. It was not just a weekend trip to D.C.; it immersed us in the dynamic world of public policy, revealing countless ways to make a real impact.

Our program began with a workshop at Sanford led by Professor Dani Zapotoczny and Professor Emeritus Tony Brown, which grounded our values and prepared us for the whirlwind of experiences to come.

Bright and early, we boarded the bus, ready for a journey that promised to expand our perspectives. Every moment brought fresh insights from thought-provoking panels with private-sector workers to illuminating discussions with Hill staffers and site visits.

Among the panelists, Jake Van Leer, an ACLU Voting Rights Project attorney, left an impression on me. He candidly shared the challenges of staying true to his passion for voter rights amidst the allure of corporate law positions—a struggle I relate to as a public policy student focused on immigrants and human rights.

His discussion about navigating a different career timeline struck a chord. I've been there—watching friends in consulting, finance, and tech receive job offers while still waiting for advocacy opportunities to open up. It can feel isolating as if you're falling behind somehow. But hearing Mr. Van Leer's story reminded me that marching to your own beat is okay.

Conversing with him afterward about deferring law school shed light on various aspects of the journey, offering insights into the pros and cons of deferring. His story reinforced the understanding that there's no singular "right" path to success—each individual's journey is unique. That’s something worth remembering when the pressure to fit in gets overwhelming.

'My Struggles Were Not Unique'

After a stimulating day of panels, the evening seamlessly transitioned into an alumni dinner. Guided by thought-provoking questions, our conversation centered on recent failures. As our discussion unfolded, I understood that my struggles were not unique. We all encounter setbacks and moments of uncertainty; it's just a part of the human experience. More importantly, these challenges are what shape us and propel us forward. Through shared experiences, I remembered that it's perfectly normal to stumble and fall because it's in those moments that we truly learn, grow, and ultimately carve our path to success.

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Students posing on the steps of the Capitol
Students in the program on the steps of the Capitol.

Our group split into domestic and global policy tracks the following day, and we visited separate sites. On the Global Policy track, we had the privilege of visiting the World Bank and the U.S. Department of State. Before the trip, I knew little about these institutions, but I approached the visits with an open mind, eager to learn.

Hearing about the diverse roles at the World Bank across various departments left a lasting impression on me. One narrative in particular resonated deeply: Roshni Khincha's role in utilizing data to assess policies and drive infrastructure projects funded by the World Bank.

Listening to Khincha, I drew parallels to questions I've explored in my academic journey, particularly in an International Comparative Studies course where I examined wind farms in North Carolina. Through my research, I uncovered disparities between the promised economic benefits and the actual outcomes, such as the discrepancy between job creation during construction versus post-operation. This nuanced understanding of policy implementation and its real-world ramifications aligns closely with my Public Policy 301 class discussions.

What fascinated me the most was how seamlessly I bridged insights from my coursework to real-world applications during the panel discussions at the World Bank. It ignited my curiosity to continue analyzing complex systems and evaluating their efficacy in driving meaningful change. Perhaps in my future endeavors, I'll have the opportunity to examine initiatives like a rural school's female leadership program, discerning its impact on the local population and advocating for adjustments to maximize its effectiveness. This journey of connecting theory to practice excites me about my future career path.

Reflecting on my Duke education so far, I cannot overstate my gratitude for my comprehensive learning experience. Despite the challenges, like the 10-page paper I’m writing right now, I'm filled with a sense of fulfillment as I see the pieces of my academic journey falling into place. Through immersive experiences like the Sanford Pathways trip and professional insights, I'm confident that there are opportunities to pursue my passions and effect meaningful change.

Through immersive experiences like the Sanford Pathways trip and professional insights, I'm confident that there are opportunities to pursue my passions and effect meaningful change.

Annika Aristimuno