Melissa Schulte

Alumni of Political Science

melisssaQ&A with Melissa Schulte (MA 2007) Managing Director, Black Ankle Vineyards

How would you describe your time at CSULB? My two and a half years at CSULB were challenging, thought provoking, and certainly went by in a blur! I started the program because I knew that I was not ready to stop learning about political science academically when I finished my undergraduate degree at San Diego State University. The program, spoken very highly of by many of my professors in San Diego, really lived up to the standards I had anticipated. Never in my academic life have I worked so hard, pushed myself so hard, and never have I felt such satisfaction upon completion. I managed to finish my M.A. with a 4.0, but only because of the effort and extra time put in by the staff and professors in the political science department at CSULB. They not only want you to succeed, they teach you how to succeed. To be honest, that made all the difference. 
What made you want to study political science? I was going to school at San Diego State with a major in psychology, and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to study abroad. When I went abroad, for the first time I was exposed to politics outside the United States, also dealing with the way that my government and it’s actions were viewed by people living outside U.S. borders. It opened my eyes and made me, at the age of 19, thirst for more information. I wanted to understand why, and studying political science helped me get closer to at least critically thinking about why. 
Which course(s) or professor(s) had a big impact on you while you were completing your degree? Honestly, all of them. My first class started with Dr. Haas and my last class ended with both Dr. Haas and Dr. Cabrera Rasmussen as they helped me through my comprehensive exams. In between I took classes with Dr. Martinez, Dr. Haesly, Dr. Wright, Dr. Dennis, and many more. They were all different, all interesting in their own way, and all were masters of their subjects. The professors that I worked with were rigorous, but the subject matter they exposed me to was just as rigorous. I think that your experience, the impact the programs both graduate and undergraduate will have on you, depend on the amount of “you” that you put into it. My advice – dive in – you will not only impact those in the class around you but will be impacted by those professors and those articles that make you think. 
What path did you take to get to your current job? I took a long path to my current role – you could even call it somewhat roundabout! I am only 27, so I certainly have a ton of room to grow… and change! While studying at CSULB, I elected to work on an internship for a United States Senator through an independent study class. I moved to Washington D.C. for a little less than 6 months and completed my internship. Following graduation and the internship, I moved to San Francisco and got a job working with woman-owned clean technology start-up companies in the Bay Area. After a few months I became intrigued by the way that national laws affected the new green-technology movement, and moved back to Washington D.C. with a job as a legislative staffer for the same United States Senator for whom I’d worked as an intern. Let me stop for a moment here. Internships are one of the best ways to move you from your academic career to your first jobs in public policy out of school. When I called and asked for a job, they already knew my name, my writing style and research techniques, my academic background, and my work ethic; because of this, I got a big job working for a Senator in environmental policy. Working for a Senator means that you meet more people than you will ever remember. Although I can tell you, I will always remember my current boss, owner and wine-maker Sarah O’Herron, whom I met while working on “The Hill”. About a year after I met Sarah, I was blind sided when she offered me a position that essentially required that I manage the business side of her winery. I discussed this opportunity with my chief of staff, and she encouraged me to dive in. So, I dove into the practical application of what I had been working to encourage through public policy – “green business” — at the greenest winery on the east coast. I cannot say that I will never venture back into working directly with public policy, but what I can say is that the experience that I have gained at CSULB, working for clean-tech companies in San Francisco, the U.S. Senate, and now the winery, is something that can never be taken away from me. In the future, if asked what I bring to the table, I can honestly reply: I have the academic education, and the practically applied skills I need to start a business, assess how that business can benefit from its interaction with both legislation and the agencies that implement it, and am flexible enough to understand how to grow that business in the current political climate. I owe that answer to the professors at CSULB, the employers that worked with me and taught me how to work in the real world, and the people that recognized that my work ethic meant that I deserved a shot. My foundation was my education, and as I move forward in the future, my foundation will continue to be my education. 
What does a typical day at work look like for you? I work from home about 70% of the time. My computer and my IPhone are my life-lines to the rest of the world, connecting me to potential partners, customers, and legislators. Given my background, I am also very active in an interest group called the Maryland Wine Association – an organization that works for and fights for the interests of wineries in Maryland. 
Tell me about a project that you are particularly proud of that you have worked on in your current job. It is not so much of a project as it is the entirety of the winery itself. We were recently recognized nationally as National Public Radio’s winery of the year and have received numerous state and national awards for both the quality of the wine and our sustainable farming practices. I am proud that we have done all of this with little time in the business. 
How do you think that your studies at CSULB helped prepare you for the success you’ve had in your professional life? CSULB’s M.A. program taught me how to succeed. It taught me how to persevere and use what I have learned both academically and professionally to ensure the people that I work with that I am up to any challenge. 
What advice would you give a current student who is seeking to follow a similar career path? Give it your all, in school and then out. People will notice, and the right people will give you a chance to show what you can do.