Three Department of Politics and Government alumni came to Professor Nancy Lind’s Professional Development class to discuss their varied career paths and to provide advice to students in their job hunt.
Andy Byars ’18 told students that he graduated in three-and-a-half years but took advantage of the opportunities provided by the department. Currently employed by Recall Strategies, a grassroots public affairs organization focused on renewable energy, he recalled how some of the first connections he made in the Summer Washington, D.C., Field Experience he took in his freshman year have followed him to his career today. He discussed how the energy developments he is involved in today provide massive revenue generation for counties and school districts but how it is his job to persuade communities to adopt these developments.
While a student, Byars served as field manager for former Governor Bruce Rauner and enhanced his network connections as a student intern to his career today. He talked about the excitement of knocking on doors and selling his candidate.
Tim Zollinger ’89 serves as an attorney for a 16-member law firm in Sterling, where he focuses on municipal work for villages, cities, special districts, and particularly, school districts. Currently he is working with municipalities who need legal advice on how to regulate marijuana in their communities when it becomes legal in Illinois in January 2020.
Zollinger worked his way into the political realm by serving as the Republican County chairperson in Whiteside County for eight years and with organizations like the American Red Cross. One of his most exciting experiences was serving as a delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention. He encouraged all students to attend at least one national convention. He told students that they should not just chase money in their jobs but should be “true to themselves.”
Dan Wagner ’89, M.S. ’92, discussed his journey into politics as a spiritual journey as his God placed him in the right places at the right times. He felt a calling to use his God-given talents to help others.
As an Illinois State student, Wagner began as the vice president for the Association of Residence Halls his freshman year and moved up to president his second year. He also was selected as student regent and as president of his fraternity pledge class. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he returned to Illinois State to work for Alumni Services establishing chapters around the country. From there, he felt a calling to the priesthood and tried that. After serving in a high school, he no longer felt the calling and returned to Bloomington-Normal as a graduate assistant in the Office of the Illinois State University President and as director for Leadership McLean County.
Wagner was pulled away from these positions to State Farm Insurance after earning his master’s degree but then received a call from Lee Daniels, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Wagner initially turned down the position but then was approached by his supervisor at State Farm and informed that he would be an executive on loan to Daniels. Using his networking, he met Dan Goodwin, a billionaire who hired him and retrained him to work for the Inland Realty Group where Wagner currently serves as senior vice president of government relations.
All the speakers agreed that you did not need to be a straight A student to be successful, but you needed to be involved and have a strong work ethic. Byars said it best, “Work ethic beats talent any day.”