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Christian Soura

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’99 International Politics | Executive Vice President, South Carolina Hospital Association | Columbia, SC
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Christian Soura

Liberal Arts Major: International Politics

Hometown: Downingtown, PA

Current Location: Columbia, SC

What enrichment activities did you participate in as a student?

I didn't participate in any of these. Money was tight, so I took a heavy course load and worked summers and breaks so that I could graduate early.

What was your first job after graduating from Penn State?

For the first few months, I continued my summer/break job as a contractor for Vanguard. I was a business technology manager there for the Real Estate/Facilities division. This might not count as a "first job after graduating," since it was a continuation of an earlier role. After Vanguard, I attended graduate school in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I completed an master's there and was a teaching and research assistant.

What was your favorite class?

My favorite class was PLSC 452 Government and Politics of Central and Eastern Europe taught by Catherine Wanner. It's tough to identify a single reason—there were several. First, I suppose there was some currency to the subject. The course focused on fairly contemporary matters—the Cold War, the (still unfolding) post-Cold War era, and all the uncertainty that came with it. We traced our way through in-depth reviews of several countries in the region and had great discussions about the comparisons/contrasts. I hadn't really spent much time thinking about Central Europe in particular prior to this course, but even more than twenty years later, I still think back on this class regularly, share examples from it, and have reading habits that have certainly been influenced by it. Professor Wanner wasn't from the Department of Political Science—I think she was from History and Anthropology, but that was something I appreciated about this course, too. She brought a somewhat different focus than some of the other faculty would have brought to the subject. We had a small class—only twenty or so—due I'm sure in no small part to the fact that it was at 8:00 a.m. I'd have welcomed a chance to take more classes with her afterwards, but the offerings and my schedule didn't allow it.

How did your liberal arts education and skills prepare you for life after graduation?

The first thing that comes to mind is that a good liberal arts education sets you up to be a leader—to understand the moral component of leadership, to be able to recall and recount the best and worst examples of leadership being exercised, and to recognize and appreciate the differences between leadership and basic management. A liberal arts education should prepare you to identify and properly diagnose the problems you see around you in society, to see the countless causes and influences, and to consider various solutionsand then the positives and negatives of each of those options. At the same time, that education should prepare you to consider the limits of our understanding, the imperfect ways we make decisions (and the imperfect data we make those decisions based upon), and the consequences that attend all of this. The liberal arts prepare you to ask a lot of questions, and hopefully, come up with some half-decent answers. I've spent most of my time since graduation working as a public servant—as a political appointee from 2001 to 2017. During most of that period, I was at the center of the government's decision-making process. I felt like a liberal arts education was ideal training for this, because I thought I emerged with a better appreciation for the moral dimension of our work than many of my colleagues who had degrees in other disciplines.

What networking advice would you share with current students?

When I was hired by the Senate Appropriations Committee, I was taken under the wing of our deputy director, who was also a Penn State grad. I learned a great deal from him, not just in terms of the substance of policy, but when it came to how the legislative process really worked. I left the Senate after four years, but in every job I've had since, I called upon that experience, which has been invaluable. That said, I've never been one to consciously "network." I don't do social media, for instance. My advice on networking would be pretty simplistic. First, work really hard all the time and with the right intentions. You don't have to be ostentatious about this, but I've been fortunate that people around (and above) me have recognized and rewarded this. Second, always be doing something. Don't sit around and watch TV. I never "just" had a jobI was always an officer for some nonprofit or civic group, too. I've been an adjunct for years, etc. Stay busy. Third, follow the interesting work—and if your job isn't interesting enough, reshape it until it is. In all the times that I've been making a decision about which job to take, I've never taken the option that paid the most—usually because it wasn't the most interesting role. If you're willing to do the legwork on your own, your boss is almost always going to give you some latitude to do other projects that interest you on the side. And don't feel like you have to just apply for the jobs that are posted someplace. A couple times in my career, I went and sought someone out who didn't have a job posted—I described what I could do for them and why I wanted to do it—and came out with a job that had been invented on the spot. Don't be constrained by the prefabricated options laid out before you.

What role have mentors played in your career progression?

I've never really had a formal mentor, although certainly a few folks have played a similar role at times. I learned a great deal about policy and about how government really works from our deputy director at the Senate Appropriations Committee. Later, my first boss in the governor's office was only a few years older than me, but he and I still talk about once a month, and he's been an important sounding board as I've weighed my career choices through the years. There is also another former colleague who I've now interacted with in multiple capacities—in Pennsylvania government together, then in the healthcare and higher education arenas in Georgia and South Carolina. In between, he was a source of good advice when I considered leaving government. None of these individuals reached down to drag me up the ladder behind them, but they all gave me thoughtful and well-reasoned advice.

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