MSU alumna Katelyn Wilcox is the assistant chief of protocol for the State of Michigan, where she works to strengthen Michigan’s international alliances. She graduated with a B.A. in French and a B.A. in Finance with an International Business specialization in 2010. Find out more about Wilcox, her time at MSU and her career in the following Q&A.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Each day looks very different for me as Michigan holds several key international relationships, including a very valuable and unique partnership with our neighbors to the north, Canada. We are blessed to hold several active Memoranda of Understanding that allow Michigan businesses to enter numerous international markets on economic and research and development collaboration, including some in specific industries, such as automotive, agriculture and technology. Our international footprint is large, and we work daily to maintain communications with our international partners globally and here in the State of Michigan. A day could range from high-level meetings with diplomats visiting from foreign countries, to helping coordinate logistics for international delegations, to assisting in long-term planning of visits to targeted regions for business development throughout the globe.
What other positions did you hold prior to joining the State of Michigan?
I worked for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., for nearly six years. I served in several different roles, including as a legislative assistant for both Congressman John Moolenaar and his predecessor, former Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Congressman Dave Camp. I supported several key legislative portfolios for Michigan’s 4th Congressional District, including trade and foreign affairs. I also worked in the Michigan Legislature during my time at Michigan State University, working as a page in both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate, before interning in several different legislative offices.
Did you have any internships and/or study away or abroad programs that influenced your career?
My freshman orientation at MSU touted “it’s not a matter of when you’ll go, it’s where,” and from that point on I was dead set on a study abroad program in France. During summer 2008, I studied abroad in Tours, France. It was the experience of a lifetime and my first time traveling internationally for more than a few days. What transpired was two months of intensive language immersion and study, with opportunities to learn about the history and culture of France while seeing what the country had to offer firsthand. I still remember this experience fondly, and without a doubt, it changed my life and led me to continue my pursuit of a career in the international arena.
A key internship for me happened in the summer of 2009 in Washington, D.C., when I interned for Camp. I learned more about federal policy, key legislative priorities for his district, and even did research for a publication that was distributed to Ways and Means Committee members during a hearing on health care policy. The internship also gave me an opportunity to meet and build a vast network of individuals in the Washington, D.C., area who specialized in international affairs, trade and government relations for the State of Michigan. Many of the interns I met along the way have taken careers in federal government or government relations.
In addition, there were several internships in the Michigan legislature when I was a student at MSU that helped guide my career. I had the honor of working for the Michigan legislature from 2005–2010, which helped shape my understanding of state government, policy and how both intersect with the business community.
What should students take advantage of while they attend MSU?
It’s never too early to take advantage of study abroad and internship opportunities. MSU has a lot of resources to make connections with individuals and alumni across the globe. Utilize those connections. Craft a plan and a path for yourself on where you want to be and use every resource available to you to build a network far and wide that can help you achieve it. I used every summer at MSU to intern, study abroad or work. Take the time and use it wisely.
What advice do you have for new graduates entering the workforce?
Follow the open door — you never know where it’s going to lead you. It’s OK to figure it out as you go along and that everyone reaches where they are through different channels and processes. You never know what one conversation or where one internship might lead you. Every experience is valuable, even the ones that are difficult and make you want to quit!