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photo of Emily GonceEmily Gonce

Her work experience through IPA put her a cut above her competition

Emily Gonce (MPA ’02) has taken full advantage of the real-world experiences she gained as a grad student at the University of Delaware.  She is now a director in the Office of Governmental Affairs at the New York Life Insurance Company.

As a federal lobbyist, it’s critical to understand the legislative process, particularly the importance of legislative committee work and the critical role that staff plays in drafting legislation and shaping public policy. While she was a Legislative Fellow for the Delaware General Assembly, Gonce learned first-hand how government really works.

“I have to credit the Legislative Fellows Program for giving me a solid understanding of the inner workings of the government,” Gonce says.  “Without that insider’s view, I wouldn’t have been prepared for my current job.”

Lobbyists don’t lead dull professional lives, especially in today’s political climate.

“The grassroots lobbying part of my job is most exciting,” Gonce says. “What that means is asking someone who may not ever have been involved in the political process to learn about key legislative issues, then lobby them and develop long-term relationships with their members of Congress.” She adds, “It’s particularly gratifying to see people’s opinion of government change—from initially feeling like they can’t make a difference, to actually seeing things happen because of their participation in the political process.”

Beyond the lessons learned while working for the Delaware General Assembly as a student, Gonce cites something deeper about the nature of the integrated education fostered in the University of Delaware’s MPA program and especially in the Institute for Public Administration.

Without question, Gonce believes “the value of real work experience” was the most important thing she garnered.

“IPA truly pushed students to develop themselves professionally,” Gonce says. “The fact that we were required to have real jobs—not ones where you shuffle papers and don’t get paid—really made the difference.”

She adds, “Because of my Legislative Fellows experience and work at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, I was confident in my resume when I started applying for jobs.”

Of course, the post 9-11 economic climate wasn’t conducive to finding the right job quickly.

After she graduated, Gonce applied to more than 100 positions in Washington, D.C., and New York City.  She moved to Hoboken, N.J., and took the first job she could find—at a publishing company in New York, “mainly because it paid well,” she says.

Gonce quickly moved from there to what was, for her, a more mentally stimulating job at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.

Gonce explains, “The Wagner School set up an internal consulting firm—the Partnership for Innovative Practice—which would generate revenue for the school by developing continuing education programs for local nonprofit organizations. I was part of the team that conducted a needs assessment of the nonprofit then developed a curriculum based on those needs. Many programs included conflict resolution and negotiation, strategic planning, SWOT analysis, and other similar topics aimed to develop the skills of nonprofit executives who hadn’t previously taken coursework in such subjects.”

Gonce stayed at NYU for about three years then decided to get back into government work. She says, “Knowing that I wasn’t going to move to Washington, D.C., I looked for corporations with strong government affairs offices. I found a Senior Governmental Affairs Consultant position at New York Life, applied, and was offered the position. I quickly learned the ropes at New York Life and have enjoyed being there for over four years now.”

Her newest position as a director in New York Life’s Office of Governmental Affairs is filled with challenges.

Gonce describes a big political obstacle. “The Congressional Budget Office’s list of top sources of lost revenue to the government includes life insurance—a product that has enjoyed tax-free status since the tax code was created. Congress has continued to recognize the social value of life insurance by not taxing it. Now, as Congress struggles to find revenue, the life insurance industry is at risk of being targeted for new product taxes and increased financial regulations.”

Because of these economic uncertainties, much of Gonce’s time is spent leading lobbying initiatives that educate key members of Congress about the importance of life insurance to their constituents. “The ‘grassroots’ aspect of my job,” Gonce says, “entails mobilizing New York Life’s 20,000+ agents and employees to participate in the political process.  This means getting them to meet with their congressional members locally, attend town hall meetings, email their congressional representatives to vote for or against a specific piece of legislation, etc.”

Gonce concedes, “Since the public’s opinion of government is never stellar, it’s a challenge to convince agents and employees that their participation does matter, and does indeed help our cause.”

Another challenge is fundraising. “It’s difficult asking people for money in a tough economy,” she says.

When Gonce is not working at New York Life, she devotes much of her time to helping with the high-end barbershop, called The Hoboken Man, that she and her husband opened in Hoboken, N.J., this past fall.

“Running a small business is incredibly rewarding and very educational—particularly if that business is in an industry in which you are not an expert,” Gonce says. “Neither Steve nor I nor our other business partners previously had any knowledge of how to run a barbershop, but we all have expertise in business management. I’ve focused my time on public relations and marketing but have been intimately involved in every aspect of the barbershop, from researching location demographics and finding real estate, to the interior design, to the hiring of staff, to day-to-day management. I’m pleased to report that the business is going well and that we are already looking to expand to other locations.”

What does the future hold for such a successful lobbying executive and businessperson?

“Long-term I expect to continue to grow in my role at New York Life and focus on expanding The Hoboken Man or develop other small businesses. I’d also like to get more involved with local nonprofit organizations, perhaps on a consulting basis, or as part of a board of directors,” she says.

Gonce also enjoys traveling. She particularly likes Italy and has traveled recently to Indonesia and Hong Kong as well.