COLA Connections Newsletter: Spring 2016

Alumni Spotlight: Christopher Samp-- Making His Mark on Washington DC

Christopher Samp graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy, and in 2010 completed his Master’s degree in Science, Technology, and Public Policy. He currently works as a research assistant for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (Illinois) and is heavily involved in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in Washington DC.

How would you describe your RIT experience? Do you have any distinguishing memories about it?

Attending RIT was a life changing experience for me. Growing up in Michigan, for much of my early education I felt very much an outsider; I had to fight hard to fit in by educating my hearing peers that my deafness was not a limitation. After my senior year of high school, I did not want to follow many of my classmates to University of Michigan or Michigan State because I felt like I was missing something from my student experience. I participated in RIT’s Explore Your Future (EYF) program, which was career exploration for Deaf and Hard of Hearing high school students. I fell in love with RIT, made many new friends and was determined to make RIT my home-away-from-home. When I received my acceptance letter, I was thrilled.

RIT is a wonderful school with unlimited opportunities. As a student, I took on many leadership roles, including NTID Student Congress President, NTID Senator and various positions within Sigma Nu fraternity. RIT helped me develop my leadership skills and my passion for public service, which I still carry with me today.

What kind of work do you involve yourself in now that you've graduated?

Currently, I work as a research assistant for a senator in the United States Senate. I do everything from handle incoming correspondence, archive letters, track hundreds of amendments, assist with speechwriting, collect and analyze data, supervise interns, meet with constituents, and do research for a legislative staffer. I enjoy spontaneous projects every day. The United States Congress is a fascinating place.

In my spare time, I am involved with Deaf in Government (DIG), a non-profit organization that serves as an employee training and resource group for Deaf and Hard of Hearing government employees. Being involved with that organization allows me to meet professionals who work in other federal agencies and it also allows me to stay on top of issues affecting the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face at your work and in your community involvement?

There is a big demand for increased access to ASL interpreters in the federal workplace because Deaf employees want to be more involved with their hearing peers. Also, each federal agency has limited resources to provide enough accommodations. There is a strong need to educate employers on how they can make the workplace more accessible to people with disabilities and stay up-to-date with current accessibility technology.

I am fortunate to have a very supportive supervisor and to work in an office where the staff are proactive in making sure that accommodations are arranged for staff meetings, constituent meetings and professional development opportunities. I have had some technical challenges with my accessibility technology, such as finding my videophone’s connection occasionally blocked because of network security changes, but my boss has always been understanding of my situation and makes sure that technical issues are resolved as soon as possible.

What are some of the biggest successes you've had at your work and in your community involvement?

One of the most memorable experiences was writing a speech that was actually delivered and put on congressional record. It was a great privilege to have that amazing opportunity.

Another point of pride was the recognition of my volunteer work for Deaf in Government. Over the past five years, I’ve been involved with membership development, website development, fundraising for DIG’s scholarship program, professional development and training conferences. At the 2015 annual appreciation ceremony, the president of DIG stood up in front of everyone and gave me a personalized, special recognition for my hard work. I look forward to many more years of volunteering with the organization.

How did your studies at RIT prepare you for your work?

My studies at RIT not only prepared me for my career, but also for life outside of my career. The courses I took through the Public Policy department taught me important data analysis and problem solving skills. I’ve learned how to collect and analyze data, come up with feasible solutions to complex problems, understand history and different points of view, look at the bigger picture and think outside of the box. I still use many of these skills in both my workplace and in my community.

In addition, I like to think that I’ve earned another unofficial degree from RIT, “Community Service, Leadership, and People Skills.” Through interactions with students, professors, advisors, administrators and support staff, I’ve learned to be a leader, a team player, a mediator, an educator, an advocate and a hard working professional. Those skills cannot be taught from any textbook and I am very thankful to RIT for these experiences.

What advice would you give someone studying at RIT hoping to do something similar to what you do?

I would advise students to take advantage of their summers by building some relevant work experience into their résumé. There are many candidates competing for the same jobs, so having more than one co-op or internship experience strengthens your résumé.

Also, do not be afraid to network and ask for a casual information interview with a potential employer or with a person who could make a referral to an office that could have a job opening. Ask questions and take notes from that person’s experience (e.g., what does he/she like the most about the job, how did he/she get there, what are essential skills needed for the job). Also, be thankful and gracious for the person’s time. Send a ‘thank you’ note!