On the Fast Track
For more than a year, Chelsea LeMar ’07 kept the figurative trains running at the US Department of Transportation (USDOT).
As Special Assistant in the Office of Advance and Scheduling, Chelsea coordinated all aspects of travel for US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“He travels a lot,” she said. “If I was in the office, I would be setting up flights, hotels and meeting for upcoming trips. If I was on a trip, I was running around coordinating.”
Chelsea began honing her scheduling and event planning skills immediately after graduation from Hastings College with degrees in English literature and political science. She moved to Denver, first working on the 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee in Denver and later on President Barak Obama’s historic 2008 campaign.
“I was able to do that because of a contact I had made while interning in Washington, DC,” Chelsea explained. “It was an all hands on deck kind of deal when the convention ended, so [the Obama campaign] put me on the road. I was doing advance for the campaign, which means I was traveling ahead of the principles to set up the event and make sure the event went smoothly when they arrived.”
“I did two Barack Obama events, two Michelle Obama events, two Hillary Clinton events and quite a few concerts. The concerts were the most fun and the least amount of stress,” she said.
After President Obama’s election, Chelsea served as Operations Manager for the Inaugural Balls at the Presidential Inauguration Committee but had no official or paying position immediately within the Obama Administration.
“I was doing advance for the President as an advance associate,” she said. “They weren’t paying me.”
What the position lacked in compensation, it made up for in experience.
“I was the site lead for [“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”] when the President was in Los Angeles, and Garth Brooks was singing on the show that night,” Chelsea said. “The President greeted him backstage, and Garth called me ‘Chels.’ (I had met him before the President arrived.) That was a little embarrassing.”
After frequently accompanying the President to meeting with DOT staff, Chelsea sought a full-time political appointee position there.
“I joined DOT because when I met the Secretary, I was really impressed with him and his staff,” she said. “I thought it would be a great place to work. [It] turns out I was right!”
Although she thrived in the Office of Advance and Scheduling, eventually she felt drawn to the policy realm. A promotion to Special Assistant to the DOT’s Under Secretary for Policy allowed her to expand her expertise in transportation policy. Having learned to run figurative trains, she learned more about how real trains operate.
“In the policy shop, I was working with mostly [Capitol] Hill people who had spent most of their careers working for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House [of Representatives],” she said.
On a day-to-day basis, she helped the Under Secretary manage his office’s relationship with Congress, setting up meetings with the White House and Congressional members and playing an active role in the meetings.
“When any policy related to transportation is up for discussion, the Hill is interested to work with DOT to make sure the President will sign off [on the issues] when it gets to his desk, and DOT is interested in working with the Hill to make sure the details are in line with the Administration’s stance on the issues,” Chelsea said.
In August 2011, Chelsea left Washington, DC, to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at the London School of Economics (LSE). Her current goals include a career in international development. Transitioning from a high level Executive Branch position to academia has required some adjustments.
“The deadlines [and mentality] are very different, but I am enjoying it,” she said.
Chelsea credits Hastings College’s environment for preparing her for success on the campaign trail, in the Executive Branch and at LSE.
“HC was a place where I could experiment, and play, and take on challenges with a lot of support and grace,” she said. “I figured out early on that I was able to do anything during my college years as long as I apply myself and work the right channels at HC. This mentality has stuck with me as I have pursued my career in politics.”
She encourages others interested in a similar political career to simply engage.
“Start volunteering in your community for the candidate of your choice,” Chelsea said.