When the White House calls, you pick up the phone. Even if it’s finals week.
Andy Estrada ’12 got the call of a lifetime spring of his junior year—an impromptu interview for a coveted internship at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “I had no notice and no time to prep. I just had to mobilize,” he said.
Mobilizing is something of a specialty of Estrada’s.
Estrada, a government and religious studies double major, landed the internship in the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance the following fall, kicking off his career in politics and public service. Now, Estrada serves as senior communications officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest private philanthropic nonprofits in the world.
In this role, Estrada focuses on media relations and engagement. “What I love about it is that so many of the people I’m working with are ridiculously smart, and it’s almost like speaking with them is speaking a different language. I mean, we’re talking about big things like eradicating polio,” Estrada said. “What Colby taught me, and what I do on a day-to-day basis here, is take the brilliant things that they say and help turn it into something that everyone can understand.”
Turning a dream internship into a career path
As for his whirlwind semester “abroad” in D.C., let’s just say it was a little more exciting than working the information desk in Pulver Pavilion in Colby’s student center.
“The role of advance is thrilling, and it’s something I had no idea existed when I was a student,” Estrada said. “You go a week ahead of wherever the president is going, working through all of the logistical pieces, whether it’s building a crowd, finding a site, or working with local media. You have to think through all of these different aspects so that when the president arrives, it’s seamless.”
No one notices the work the advance planning team does to craft the scene for a rally or a meet-and-greet when it’s done well. It’s advance planning’s job to make the president look and sound presidential at just the right moments—and that no meme-able mistakes happen in front of the camera.
“As a 22-year-old, you don’t think you’re going to go to the White House and actually staff the president of the United States,” said Estrada. “This offered me the opportunity to do that and fueled the passion I had to get involved in public service.”
Estrada joined the re-election campaign of Barack Obama and Joe Biden after graduating from Colby, putting his degree to the test across states like Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire, before joining the team at headquarters as one of the advance planning coordinators.
“Coming out of such a strong Government Department at Colby, I had a good sense of the framework of politics from an academic perspective,” he said. “But more importantly, it gave me critical thinking skills. I was thrown into these high-pressure situations and had to quickly come up with solutions and adjust to a new reality. I think Colby was the perfect training ground.”
The fast-paced nature of the work can make it easy to forget the history-making stakes of every moment. “It wasn’t until I was sitting in the crowd on election night, listening to Obama’s victory speech, that I could stop and say, ‘Wow, we just did something great,’” said Estrada. “It was definitely a magical moment.”
A different kind of public service
Few industries have built-in finish lines like politics. No matter how talented you are at your job, every few years, you have to find another. “After the inauguration, I was able to stay on and work for the Department of Transportation for a few years, where I moved into communications,” said Estrada. “I was happy with that. I wanted to be in public service, and here I was. But the funny thing about political appointees is that at the end of the administration, you all get the boot. I had to think about my next move.”
Estrada joined his second presidential campaign in 2016, this time for Hilary Clinton as the North Carolina press secretary. In the whirlwind months leading up to election night, he worked directly with local reporters to answer their questions, coordinate logistics on upcoming events, and tell Clinton’s story.
But this time, election night didn’t feel as magical. “Once again, it’s this big historic event, and you’re just so focused on the work and getting to election day. The very last rally of the campaign was in North Carolina, and the energy was electric. And to go from that to 24 hours later, watching the dominoes fall one by one, was devastating.”
If there’s one thing Estrada learned during his time at Colby, it was the art of the pivot. “I think part of the beauty of a liberal arts school is you have that flexibility to dive into a passion or an interest,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t be a part of the new administration, but I wanted to find something I could still feel good about waking up every day to do, and to serve.”
That’s when he got the call from the Gates Foundation. It was time to mobilize again.
The liberal arts in action
Working in media engagement requires well-rounded skills, from analytical thinking to public speaking. “Colby offered me a space to explore my interests,” said Estrada. “In doing so, I ended up acquiring a lot of skills and knowledge I might not have.”
He’s the first to laugh at how well his time at the Pulver information desk prepared him for his internship in advance planning, for instance. Said Estrada, “We used to joke that I was just the DJ for the student union, which, that’s the fun part, but it’s also a place you have to think on your feet. At any given moment, you have to be prepared to help a parent, student, or visitor and be ready for anything.”
His advice to students? Keep an open mind on coursework and extracurriculars. “I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do after Colby, and only a few years later, that plan completely changed,” he said. “Life throws wrenches at you that you don’t expect. But Colby equipped me to jump into a different sector and different roles.”
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