When Seth Bynum ’15 was a freshman at Vassar, he took an urban studies course that helped him understand what he calls “the power of place.”
“The conditions that exist where you live affect everything else about your life,” Bynum says. “Taking that class helped me figure out that I wanted to make the world a better place by making communities better places.”
Bynum took the next step in that quest after he graduated, landing a fellowship from the Coro Foundation, an organization that runs public affairs training programs in New York, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco. He was one of 12 college graduates enrolled in the program in New York City.
During the nine-month fellowship, the Coro fellows met with elected officials, business leaders, and community activists, and they were placed in six jobs in government, private businesses, and not-for-profit agencies. Bynum worked for the Port Authority of New York, a public employees’ labor union, a political consulting firm, a property developer, a not-for-profit housing organization, and a not-for-profit agency called New York Cares, which provides volunteers for various community projects in the city.
Bynum says the experience helped him understand why some initiatives in business and government fail, and why others succeed. “That whole nine months taught me what change looks like and that it happens through collaboration, when systems work together,” he says. “It takes a lot of cooperation from a lot of stakeholders to make things work.”
Bynum says he’s been applying that knowledge at his new job with Benenson Strategy Group, a polling and consulting firm run by Barack Obama’s former pollster, Joel Benenson. He joined the firm in June. “My job is to determine my clients’ strengths and weaknesses and then devise a plan to address those weaknesses,” Bynum says. “Most polling organizations stop after they gather the data. We offer our clients solutions.”
After consulting with his clients, Bynum writes the questions used in the surveys, then analyzes the data, and develops a strategy to implement the necessary changes. His clients include Bank of America, Verizon, and a Chicago charter school. “The key to our work is to give our clients a quick turnaround,” he says. “We can prepare a survey and analyze the data in a matter of weeks.”
Bynum majored in economics with a minor in urban studies. He says that, starting with that first urban studies course taught by International Studies Lecturer Tim Koechlin, Vassar prepared him well for the work he did as a Coro Fellow and is doing now at Benenson. “Tim used to tell us, Vassar graduates can do two things: write well and think critically, and since I graduated, I’ve had to do both of them all the time,” he says.
Bynum is living in Queens with two fellow alums, Marco Castro ’15 and Evan Carberry ‘15, who was a teammate on the varsity basketball team. “I still play a little basketball to stay in shape, and I do a lot of running,” he says.
Bynum says he also learned the importance of continuing to learn after his formal education ended. “One of the things that was stressed during my Coro fellowship, and also at Vassar, was the importance of self-reflection,” he says. “It’s important to constantly assess what you’re doing and to ask what effect your work is having on others. That’s the only way you’ll get better at what you do, and it’s something I’ll practice the rest of my life.”--Larry Hertz