McDonnell Academy cohort takes on New York City

Trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City over spring break have been a highlight of the McDonnell Scholars’ experience for over 15 years.

In 2022, more than 50 Scholars resumed the trip to Washington DC after a pause due to the global pandemic. This spring, Scholars from two cohorts visited New York City to experience its lively atmosphere and multicultural environment, enhance their leadership skills, and grow their professional network. Joining them on the trip was the Academy’s founding benefactor, John McDonnell, whose vision continues to shape the program in important ways. 

Although the weather was cold, the camaraderie and conversations were warm and frequent. I enjoyed seeing our Scholars engage across cultures, cohorts, and disciplines to build our very special community.

Laura Benoist
Spring cohort trip builds connections, magnifies impact  

Over the course of three days, the Scholars met with leaders from the financial industry, the United Nations, and the media as well as members of the New York City community, including a prolific entrepreneur from WashU.  

Guest speaker, Mark Fedorcik, head of investment banking at Deutsch Bank emphasized the importance of not underestimating the power of relationships. Another colleague at Deutsch, Riddhi Barman, co-head of FIC Americas and global co-head of structuring, highlighted how to leverage education and experience to foster an impactful career by identifying your interests, skillset and networks. After a tour of the UN Headquarters, members of the UN Office of the Legal Counsel, including Miguel de Serpa Soares, under-secretary-general for legal affairs, spoke about their commitment to assisting with legal arrangements and providing legal advice on peacekeeping and other UN operations and activities. They also shared their own insights on navigating an uncharted career landscape and gave the Scholars their contact information for networking and follow-up.

Visiting the United Nations headquarters was a life-changing experience, as it offered me the opportunity to witness the inner workings of one of the world’s most influential organizations, particularly the office of legal affairs. I also thought about how important it is to preserve and defend international peace.

Larry Atakora-Amaniampong
PhD Candidate, McKelvey School of Engineering

The Scholars also visited the New York Times and heard from Michael Benoist, and Clare Toeniskoetter, editors of The Daily podcast. Both colleagues were generous with their time and answered questions about content management, interviewee relationships, the challenges of obtaining authentic news in a social media landscape, and work-life balance during the demanding hours required to produce relevant and impactful stories.

Inspired programming features art, entrepreneurship & leadership

Additional programming included a private before-hours tour of the Guggenheim Museum featuring elaborate installations and textile works by internationally celebrated artist Nick Cave, a Fulton, Missouri native. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation consists of an international constellation of public museum locations including New York, Venice, Bilboa, and Abu Dhabi. In contrast, the Scholars were invited to another art-fueled and intimate showing of the privately held Hort Collection in the Tribeca home of Jamie and Peter (d.2022) Hort. Hort shared her mantra of “buy what you love”, her attraction to diverse genres of emerging artists, and the importance of finding ways to incorporate her patronage of the art into a meaningful mission, supporting the Rema Hort Mann Foundation. The foundation awards unrestricted grants and community-based grants to promising emerging artists and cancer patients undergoing treatment. 

Scholars motivated by St. Louis connections found in New York City

Another highlight of the cohort’s visit to New York was an authentically prepared dinner at Xi’an Famous Foods, home to signature Liang Pi “Cold-Skin Noodles”. Jason Wang, CEO and owner, welcomed the Scholars to his Long Island City location for a private dining experience featuring several of the most popular versions of the noodles. Wang told the Scholars about his brief stint in the corporate sector after graduating from WashU’s Olin Business School. After mostly working corporate jobs throughout college, he decided to fully invest himself in the family business, learning every aspect from the ground up and spearheading the company’s expansion from one “hole in the wall” eatery to 12 New York City locations. Wang also shared his views on entrepreneurship and offered insight into creating opportunities and sustaining networks. 

Fostering personal connections through shared experiences

On the last day of the trip, the Scholars met with former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. She shared her career experience as the first elected woman to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate.

One speaker who particularly inspired me was former Missouri State Senator Claire McCaskill. Her words left me feeling motivated to work hard, believe in myself, take calculated risks, and seek out new opportunities for growth. 

Judith Sokei 
PhD Candidate, Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences

All of these sessions were interspersed with social experiences, such as a team-building scavenger hunt at Grand Central, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway, and a rather aggressively rushed but fun 35-minute lunch at a local eatery between meetings due to traffic and the challenges of moving 50+ people through the streets of New York.

The intercultural, interdisciplinary, and unique perspectives of our Scholars enrich the McDonnell Academy community, and we continue to cultivate an inclusive culture in which different points of view are valued and respected. The spring cohort trip is yet another vehicle for Scholars to create personal connections through their shared experience in the McDonnell Academy.

Visit the McDonnell Academy Flickr page for more photos of the trip.