Courtney Spence on How U.S. Senate Campaign and Staff Jobs Shape Public Service Career

In Chapter 3 of 15, non-profit executive and Students of the World founder Courtney Spence answers "How have your assorted public services experiences shaped what you seek in a career?" Spence shares how she was raised in a very politically active household where she learned the power of the vote. Public service roles provide Spence purpose. After college, Spence begins a public service career in politics, working for both Senator Hillary Clinton and Dallas Mayor and U.S. Senatorial candidate Ron Kirk. The political experiences inform Spence's decision to pursue a different public service career as a non-profit founder of Students of the World.


Erik Michielsen:  How have your assorted public services experiences shaped what you seek in a career?

Courtney Spence:  Well, first of all I’m really thankful you used the term public service because I think the highest and best use of politics is public service.  I grew up in a very politically active household and I really believe in the power of the vote and the power of the elected official, whether it’s city council member or President of the United States.  And I was also raised by parents that instilled in me that I could be any of those things.  Now, that’s probably not going to be the case but you know it was still -- it was there.  So, this concept of public service, really giving back and serving a greater community beyond yourself is really what I think politics should be about and I was fortunate enough to work directly for two individuals who I think really understood that concept.  Senator Clinton didn’t have to run for office, she had her own legacy in her own right, but she felt the need and a desire and a sort of sense of responsibility to continue her life in public service after the White House.  And you see what she did to get through that and where she is now today, it’s – the change that she’s able to affect and the change that she has and the inspiration she has given to so many young girls all over the world is, and myself being one of them, is really powerful. 

After I spent about six or seven months in Senator Clinton’s office in DC, and then an opportunity to work for Ron Kirk’s senatorial campaign in Dallas came up and Senator Clinton was very encouraging of him, so we had a meeting and I said, “I think I need to go back to my home state and go help this guy win.”  So, I pretty much moved down to Dallas within a week and that was my second experience in politics.

I think for me, looking at a kind of career that I want, given my experience in the public service arena, it made me really challenge myself because I want to be in a place where I feel like I’m giving back at my highest and best use – my greatest potential.  I have been given so much in my life and therefore I should be giving a lot in my life.  I do it because it feels right and it feels good and makes me feel happy and it makes me feel like that’s the trajectory I need to be on.  Now, is that in politics? As I sort of sat back, I’m not sure if I’m great at making the compromises, great at running the campaigns.  I’m not sure that that’s in my chemical structure to be able to withhold or withstand all of that.  Is my highest and best use in the non-profit world? Maybe so.  Is it the Students for the World gig for a while and then something else?  Probably, but who knows?   I think that it’s just one of those things that makes me, has made me continuously re-evaluate what I’m doing with my life because I know that there is a responsibility to give back and understanding what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing and what you’re good at and what you’re not good at is really an important part of that.