Alumni Profile: Amy Schectman

Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Amy Schectman

Education

  • Johns Hopkins University, BA in Political Science
  • MIT, Master in City Planning

Biography

Amy Schectman

Amy Schectman has worked in the public and nonprofit sectors to advance affordable housing and social justice. Amy plays a state and national advocacy role. She serves on Governor Charlie Baker’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts, and is president of the board of Citizen’s Housing and Planning Association, the statewide umbrella organization for affordable housing professionals. She also serves on the board of the national Association of Jewish Aging Services, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, the executive committee of Massachusetts Healthy Aging Coalition and The Governors Counsel on Aging. She has been invited to The White House four times, and has hosted U.S. Congressmen, U.S. Senate staff, and state legislators numerous times.
 
A theme across Amy’s career is collaboration to maximize the impact of resources. As Governor Michael Dukakis’ Director of Capital Budget and Planning, Amy helped convene cross-agency collaborations on key policy agendas. Later, at the Boston Housing Authority, Amy secured the City’s first two federal HOPE VI grants, $50,000,000 each, to revitalize large public housing developments with comprehensive modernization and the addition of social services, economic development, health care, and community programming, offering residents not only shelter but pathways out of poverty as well as promoting neighborhood revitalization.
 
As the Town of Brookline’s first Economic Development Director, Amy instituted holiday festivals to stimulate small businesses, negotiated development/preservation of over 500 affordable housing units, and brought stakeholders together to support a revenue-generating developments with public amenities.
 
Serving the state again, as Director of Public Housing/Rental Assistance, Amy repaired relationships with local housing agencies, led a major rehab of existing state public housing, worked on homelessness prevention and rehousing programs, and enhanced social programs to support housing residents.
 
In her ten years at 2Life Communities, Amy has worked with the board to create a vibrant strategic plan, created a quasi-endowment to support agency innovation, built and nurtured an effective team at all levels of the organization, and launched an aggressive expansion campaign to fill the gaps in the senior housing affordability marketplace.

Amy has a B.A. in political science from Johns Hopkins University, and a Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Amy's Story

What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?

I was always interested in making the world a better place, so I thought political science would help me understand how policies get made and implemented, as a key tool in promoting social justice.  I have gone in and out of both local and state government, and used knowledge to advocate from non-profit organizations where I worked.

What influenced your choice of graduate programs? How have they shaped your career choices and professional ability?

I remember being delighted to discover urban planning as a field—it combined my love for analytics and use of data to drive process and policy, with a deep commitment to using those tools to promote equity and justice.  All of my jobs have made use of this dual focus.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Feeling that I am advancing an agenda designed to make life work better for those generally left out of the mainstream prosperity of the nation.  I have been privileged to always work for organizations with a clear sense of mission.

What motivates you to do the work that you do?

Making a difference in improving lives on the ground and advancing policies that institutionalize these advancements.

What is the biggest challenge you've encountered in your career? How have you managed to overcome it?

There’s always a big gap, if you are working to promote equity, of the gigantic need and meagre resources.  There’s no simple answer on overcoming it, but it always involves creatively drawing in resources and documenting impact to “make the case” for private and public funds.

Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, is really challenging for people at all stages of their career. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?

The topics you work on are much less important that the people you work for and with—as long as the topics are clearly mission-driven and advancing your view of making the world better.  Always look at who is at the top of the organization—even if you’re in an entry-level position.  If you can’t believe in that person or top group, it’s not a good career move.

What professional development experiences or opportunities shaped your early career?

Early on I worked in government, where the gap between resources and goals is huge—and so there’s always room to grow and take on more professionally.  So I learned early how to bring people together who come from different perspectives and organizational mandates to develop common aims and means.  I learned the importance of writing to convey meaning and effectively influence outcomes.  I learned early to challenge the way things were being done, with data and analytics to back up my points.

What professional development activities do you find really useful these days?

I have an executive coach, which is really meaningful.  I participate in a number of CEO forums and organizations bringing together people in my field tackling similar issues.  I try to foster a culture in our organization of honest feedback—so I can learn from my team how to improve.

What's the best piece of career advice you've received?

Don’t be afraid to “go for it”.

What career advice do you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?

It’s a wonderful field, filled with collaborative folks who support each other across organizations.  Again, always assess WHO you will work with and for—find people you admire and work for them, even if you don’t think the actual job is exactly what you hoped.

Do you have any tips for networking or job searching for current students and recent graduates?

MIT is a powerful name and people who are alums are generally always willing to talk with you.  I think job hunting/networking is part of your career—the people you meet during the informational interview stage become allies and resources, so make the most of these conversations and remain in touch with them long after they meet with you.

What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration?

Friends, family.  I entertain a lot (minimum of one dinner party/week; usually 2)

Do you participate in any volunteer/community service activities? If so, how do you balance your professional and personal responsibilities?

No magic to this—we all do our best.  Currently my community service stuff tends to be within my field so it’s professional as well as personal.