Byron Koay ’06 and the Washington Program were made for each other.
Since graduation, Koay, an Economics and Government dual major, has been involved in D.C. politics in a big way. “I was always interested in politics going into CMC and thought it would be a great experience to live and work in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “I don’t know how it is now but when I was at CMC, the program was seen as a very competitive and prestigious opportunity to do something that not many students in the country get to do.”
Q: What did you take home from the Program?
Koay: Learning how to balance work and life probably much earlier than rest of my peers because we had to work a full-time internship, attend classes at night (which required reading and writing papers), and living a “real-world” existence (finding your own apartment, maintaining it, etc.).
Q: What kind of a career have you had?
Koay: After graduating in May 2006, I worked on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign in California. I moved to Washington, D.C. in January 2007 to work in opposition research at the Republican National Committee (RNC) in the presidential cycle. In 2009, I moved back to California to become research director for Steve Poizner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate. I returned to Washington, D.C. in summer 2010 to become deputy research director at the Republican National Committee and then stayed on through the 2012 cycle. I left the RNC in spring 2013 to be a founding partner at America Rising LLC where I currently am the Chief Operating Officer.
Q: Do you feel that participation in the Program was invaluable to you vis-à-vis your career?
Koay: Yes, the D.C. program was invaluable for my career. I realized how much I really loved working in the political arena after the semester program. It also taught me a lot about the work-life balance that is necessary to succeed professionally. Being a full-time intern in Washington, D.C. is equivalent to a real job and my employer at the time treated me as a full-time employee. I felt responsible for the tasks and assignments given to me and wanted to show that I was worthy of being given those opportunities and more. I also learned a lot about how D.C. functioned very quickly – from the importance of happy hours to being on time for meetings (little things make a huge difference).
Q: What is your fondest memory of the Program?
Koay: My fondest memories are not anything related to my work or classes. My fondest memories are my roommates and my classmates in the program. I am still very close to many of them and communicate on a regular basis. I have attended at least four weddings of classmates from the program. We are all across the political spectrum and some of us have worked directly against each other in campaigns but we are great friends and I attribute a lot of that to the program.
Q: What is the most valuable thing that you remember learning during your stint in the Program?
Koay: The most valuable thing I learned from the program is how you are responsible for your own actions. There are so many things that happen daily in the political world that you wish you could control but cannot. But you can control what you do and how people perceive you based on what you do at work. And that’s all that really matters. There is an amazing trend where a lot of people fail upwards in Washington, D.C. But that only gets you to a certain point before it is obvious someone is above their fighting weight. The people who work hard and aren’t looking to make a name for themselves are the ones that get results. And that’s what matters at the end of the day in any line of work.
Q: What in your view is the true value of the Washington Program?
Koay: The true value of the program is the head start you get on the real world and the rest of your peers. I understand that for many people these days, college is supposed to be an escape – and CMC’s campus provides many of those opportunities to hide from the real world. But this program provides invaluable experience and challenges you to grow as a person. From working full-time in a professional setting at lobbying firms, political organizations, and branches of the government among many others to learning how to find your own apartment and finding your way through a major metropolitan area, it’s an opportunity and experience that will propel your development as a person. After I finished the program, I felt I was ready for what post-college life would be like. And that also made me appreciate even more of my remaining semesters upon returning to CMC’s campus. You will be challenged in a way that you have never been academically and professionally but it will make you a better person.