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As any fan of The West Wing knows, the chief of staff is responsible for a wide variety of functions. Amy Spanbauer Maier ’98 understands this better than most.

An international affairs and economics & business graduate, Maier serves as chief of staff for Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), overseeing approximately 20 people in four offices in Washington, D.C. and Nevada. Her position includes responsibilities as communications director and senior adviser on political and policy issues.

Maier had interned with Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), serving her home and college states.

“I learned the type of work that occurs in a Capitol Hill office and in a district office,” she says. “It was good to see both sides of the Congressional office in that regard. On Capitol Hill you focus much more on policy, whereas in the state you focus more on constituent services.”

Soon after arriving in the nation’s capital, Maier was in the enviable position of weighing multiple job offers.

“I found Mr. Gibbons’ political positions to be in line with mine generally,” she says. “His office provided me with the opportunity for hands-on experience and for forward advancement in a fast-paced environment. The opportunity to take on more responsibility as time went on was something I was definitely looking for in a job.”

Like most of her peers fresh out of college, Maier started on Capitol Hill as a staff assistant, answering phones and opening mail, but it helped her to learn about the district and the person for whom she was working.

“Dedication and a desire to succeed will then enable one to move forward to more demanding positions in the office,” she says. “Many Congressional offices promote from within to maintain a level of institutional knowledge and to reward those who have started at the bottom and worked their way up. In addition, the young professionals on the Hill have a variety of outlets to further their policy acumen, and the whole environment spawns many networking opportunities and the ability to learn from your peers.”

For Maier, her opportunities led her up the ladder quickly.

“To be a chief of staff at 29 is not the norm,” she admits. “However, I have learned a lot from my colleagues on the Hill since I started in 1998. And my commitment to my boss, my tenure of over seven years now, and his trust in me have made the situation work very well.”

One thing she learned on the Hill was that politics in practice is not as theoretical as it is in college courses.

“Politics is very different than policy,” she says. “Unfortunately, the two don’t always intersect. And explaining policy decisions to the general public through the media creates yet another complication because you often have to boil down complex policy into a 15-second sound bite.”

Maier looks back at her years at Lafayette fondly.

“The best thing I gained was my willingness to try new things and to study different subjects,” she says. “I found the educational and social structure of Lafayette encouraged students to be exposed to a wide variety of ideas and to appreciate different opinions. In the process, the students learn a lot about themselves and not to fear the unknown.”

That teaching also helped her speak her mind, “to look at issues from a variety of viewpoints, and to learn from history,” she says. It seems those principles are as valuable on College Hill as they are on Capitol Hill.

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles