Meet your Networkers: Robert Benner

Attending one of our Winter Break Networking Events? Allow us to introduce you to some of our amazing Alumni Networkers who will be in attendance! We asked our alumni to answer a series of questions, and their responses are for you.

Robert Benner Headshot

Robert Benner, attending the Washington DC Career Networking Night.

History major and class of ’14.

Program Associate for Smart Cities with Transportation for America.

  • Tell us about your job and how you got there.

I work on the Smart Cities team for a transportation advocacy non-profit. Along with my boss, I helped launch a national network of 17 major US cities focused on innovative transportation projects in October. We focus primarily on helping cities develop pilot projects and policies for automated vehicles, work effectively with TNCs (e.g. Uber and Lyft), and manage their data collection efforts and platforms. My day to day responsibilities vary, but I engage in a lot of content and curriculum development for the meetings of our cities, handle most of the logistics and operations work, and writing reports or blog posts. It’s all over the place, but I’m having a blast.

How I got there is a little less clear cut. Moved to DC in early 2015 with zero idea what I wanted to do and no resume experience beyond a few stints in coffee shops. Had a few internships that were all over the place – including a few months writing text messages for Bernie’s campaign. Still couldn’t figure out what to do, but had absolutely fallen in love with city life. So I picked up a few urban studies/planning classics (Jane Jacobs, “The Power Broker”) and started applying for jobs in transportation, real estate, and economic development. Through a lot of networking and some serious luck, ended up with a part time position at the organization where I am now. It was a six month position, and it turned out I liked it a lot, so after about two months I started telling everyone I worked with that I hoped to stay on full time. 

  • What advice do you have for students starting in their careers?

My biggest piece of advice is to embrace failure. I took a seminar on “Ulysses” at UVM. It’s an impossibly difficult book to read. Way too hard. But whenever anyone expressed frustration with it, our professor  would chime in that if we knew what we were doing, we weren’t learning anything. That if we knew exactly how to comprehend what we read, it wasn’t worth reading. Today, I view a lot more than James Joyce through this lens. Thinking back to where I was earlier in my career (anywhere from two weeks to a year and a half ago), I’ve recognized that no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have bad interviews, you’re going to mess up assignments, and you’re going to make a fool of yourself once or twice. It’s absurd to think you won’t, so embrace it. Laugh at it. Treat it as a learning experience.  Check it off the box of things you won’t do again and take solace in the fact that your professional self continues to grow.

— Adler Chris, Marketing Assistant, Career Center

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