Abby Kaluza ’22 goes from CSB to U.S. Senate Majority Leader’s office in a matter of months
Academics Alum Features
October 3, 2022
By Kevin Allenspach
Abby Kaluza ’22 has a ringside seat for history, and she can be reminded of how she got there every time she looks into a cup of coffee.
Less than six months after she walked in graduation at the College of Saint Benedict – then more than a little unnerved at the uncertain course for her future – she’s one of a dozen people working in the office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill.
Most weekday mornings, Kaluza hops out of bed in the Washington D.C. row house she shares with two roommates, eager to find out what will happen next as Schumer’s executive assistant. She manages his VIP phone line: the one used by other senators, members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Kaluza calls Schumer “Chuck,” but so does everyone else on his team. And their familiarity doesn’t mask the deep respect they have for a man who has been a New York senator for more than 20 years and is an architect of some of the most resonating conversations in American politics.
“I feel very lucky,” said Kaluza, who also ensures that Schumer gets to events on time and doesn’t miss meetings with constituents or press conferences – let alone votes on the Senate floor. “I get to work with some of the most talented, knowledgeable and hands-down incredible people on the Hill. They’re in the Majority Leader’s office for a reason and it’s because they are so capable and so good at what they do. This is definitely not where I saw myself landing with my first job out of college.”
This is how you network
If not for the extraordinary way she developed acquaintances into contacts and ultimately references, she’s not sure where she’d be – but it wouldn’t be right outside Schumer’s door. Kaluza majored in biochemistry and minored in political science with a public policy emphasis. On a whim, she applied for an internship in the office of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and spent last summer working for her and later Judy Chu, a U.S. Representative from California.
“I thought I’d go out and see what it’s like for the summer,” said Kaluza, who is from Cold Spring, Minnesota, and graduated from Rocori High School – about 10 miles from the CSB campus. “I didn’t see myself ever doing anything like that again. But I wanted to see how health and policy overlap. I ended up loving it.
“When you’re an intern, you have projects and tasks, but on top of that you’re lucky enough that your supervisors make sure you have scheduled free time. I had no idea what to expect from a Hill internship and a lot of people I first talked to said ‘You basically want to come here for the coffees.’ I was like, ‘What?’ But I learned it’s all about networking.”
She found databases available to her as a staff member and used those to meet with almost everyone in Klobuchar’s office, Minnesota Senator Tina Smith’s office and any other state pols that were Democratic affiliated because that aligned with her views.
“It was basically like, ‘Hi. I’m a Minnesota constituent interning on the Hill this summer. Do you have time to do coffee?’” Kaluza said. “I would have anywhere from four to seven ‘coffees’ a day. I’d get my work done and then that was all I did – go and get coffee with people.”
She researched where people on the Hill had gone to college and sought out anyone who went to CSB and SJU, and others with Minnesota connections.
“Whenever I got coffee with someone, I was always like, ‘Is there anyone else in your office I could talk to?’” Kaluza said. “I expanded on the California side because I knew people there to build my network. It’s kind of crazy. I kept a spreadsheet of every single person I’ve ever had coffee with and when I last followed up with them. As soon as I wrapped up my internship, I made sure everyone had my personal email and then I’d touch base with them throughout the year. It was kind of an insane strategy or mechanism I had, but I wanted to make sure I could reach out to these people in the end. By the time I graduated, people had moved around, and some are now in the Biden-Harris administration. But that was basically how I landed the job I have.”
From disappointment and frustration to excitement and elation
Kaluza applied for a U.S. Fulbright award during her senior year, and her hope was to use that experience to define the next step in her career. She was named an alternate, worse than a “no” in her opinion, and decided to look for answers in her spreadsheet. April and May were filled with Zoom sessions. By early June, she’d often submitted multiple applications daily and her frustration was reaching a peak. But among those jobs she’d applied for was a somewhat vague possibility: “Senior Democrat looking for XYZ,” she recalled.
“I didn’t know much more, but I was like ‘I can do that,’” Kaluza said.
One of the references from her spreadsheet, a person she almost didn’t list on that particular application, had been a scheduler in Klobuchar’s office and now was working for a politician in Maryland. She knew the two people hiring for the position in what turned out to be Schumer’s office. They reached out to her, and she gave a glowing recommendation of Kaluza.
“She called me one Wednesday afternoon and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get an email from Chuck Schumer’s office in like five minutes,’” Kaluza recalled. “She said it was for an interview and that I should fly out to Washington if I could.”
Despite the expense, Kaluza wanted to make a good impression and so she arranged to interview in person. About that time, she received a job offer from a private firm.
“I wasn’t real enthused about it, but by then I needed a job,” she said. “I told (Schumer’s office) I had another offer and they set another interview up for me the next day with their deputy chief of staff. And the day after that I got my job offer.”
She started before the end of June. And none of it would’ve come true if not for a fortunate meeting. Over coffee.
“If you don’t make those connections so someone can go to bat for you, you’re really going to have a tough time,” Kaluza said.
Working in the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Abby Kaluza ’22 often is on hand for visits by famous and influential people. Recently, she got the chance to meet actor, comedian and liberal activist Seth Rogen.
Hallmark of a degree from CSB or SJU
She was speaking about life in D.C., but her approach is in some ways a hallmark of a degree from CSB or Saint John’s University. Ninety-seven out of every 100 graduates from Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are employed, continuing their education or committed to a full-time volunteer program within a year of graduation. If not for Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s, she wouldn’t have had the cache to get a lab internship after her sophomore year with the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Without that, she might not have been selected for the Summer Leadership Fellows program, which made possible her experience with Klobuchar and a subsequent internship with the Minnesota Perinatal Quality Collaborative.
And without all that, she never would’ve gone from the CSB Senate to the real thing in a matter of weeks.
Ironically, despite that her parents, an aunt and an uncle all attended CSB or SJU, and that her mom is a financial aid counselor and assistant director of admissions for the schools, she originally wanted to go somewhere else.
“I was insistent that I was not going to Saint Ben’s,” Kaluza said. “I was like, ‘I want to get out of here.’ But eventually the experiences my parents had, and all the opportunities made a difference. It really came down to the fact that I could study abroad and there was so much support for internships. Looking back, it was probably one of the better decisions I’ve made.”
Regardless of which party controls power following the November mid-term elections, Schumer will continue as either Majority Leader or Minority Leader. No matter what happens, Kaluza’s future is much clearer and more exciting now.
“Eventually, I might want to go back to school,” she said. “I’m leaning toward a master’s in public health, and I’m interested in tying that to rural health and also reproductive health. But I definitely want to be here for a few years. You read about a lot of these meetings that go on between senators and it’s like I’m right outside the door when they’re taking place.”
Abby Kaluza ’22 smiles outside of the place where she works, which happens to be the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. Weeks after graduation, she landed a job as executive assistant to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.