Didier Barjon, class of 2014, heads the Congressional Black Associates group and recently started working in U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office.
Didier Barjon arrived at the East Falls campus in 2010 with an undeclared major and a passion for running cross country and track. What he didn’t have was an inkling of an idea that his time at the University would ultimately land him a job in Congress, but that’s exactly where he is today.
Born to Haitian parents and raised in both New York City and Tampa, Fla., he contemplated pursuing an engineering degree. Taking courses in the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Law and Society program, though, led Barjon to create a blueprint that led him to serve as a legislative assistant to the U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and as president of the Congressional Black Associates (CBA).
Several weeks after that latter position saw him quoted in a New York Times article about diversity in U.S. Senate offices, Barjon spoke about how his time at the University fortuitously prepared him for a career in the nation’s capital.
As a sophomore, he regularly led campus tours for the Office of Admissions, while considering law school as a future option. Law and Society program director Evan Laine asked Barjon to guide stakeholders and other visitors through the “Single Bullet Exhibition” at The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy.
There, Barjon met Rob Skomorucha—the University’s director of government affairs—who steered him toward applying for internships on Capitol Hill, where he once managed Congressional interns for then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden.
Barjon gives him a lot of credit for focusing his career path, but Skomorucha humbly plays that down.
“Didier may be affording me too much credit for his choice of career path!” Skomorucha says. “He is a naturally talented young man, an exceptional young leader and a remarkably good person. When I first met him, his dedication to public service was apparent.”
Still, those conversations set Barjon on a path that saw him secure a six-week internship with his hometown member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14), before taking a job with then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman (and current California attorney general) Xavier Becerra.
Later, Barjon would return to Castor’s office as a legislative correspondent, which soon developed into a legislative assistant role, eventually taking on her technology and telecommunications policy portfolio.
“The university and Law and Society program, are geared toward helping students harness their creativity.” –Didier Barjon
Two years later, Barjon went to work for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), with a focus on technology, telecommunications and civil rights issues. Finally, this August, he joined Schumer’s office, where he advises the Minority Leader on technology and telecommunications policy.
“This can mean anything from looking for ways to close the digital divide, to 5G implementation and other emerging technologies. Internet consumer privacy is another major item that falls within the tech/telecom portfolio,” he explains of his new job. “I help Leader Schumer stay current on the many different bills being introduced and assist in coming up with ideas that he can lead on as well.
“I meet with stakeholders ranging from academics, advocates, think tanks and industry leaders to hear all of their perspectives as well. And, I meet with my counterparts for different Senators to hear what they are working on as well and help them advance their policy agenda.”
Barjon’s career trajectory speaks to the importance of the student/faculty relationship at Jefferson. He credits Laine and other professors for urging him and other students to take internships earlier in their academic careers so that their resumes stand out when it comes time for commencement. He also values the creative environment at Jefferson, particularly within the Law and Society program.
“Everything fit together to give me my start,” he says. “The internships make you more marketable than others who still list their high-school clubs on their resumes.”
As for his time in the Law and Society program, Barjon notes that the pre-law and government-based classes taught a diverse, theoretical and methodological approach to problem solving. Debate style lectures and small class sizes (which allowed him to thrive) helped hone the analytical skills to prepare him for a policy career.
“The university and program, are geared toward helping students harness their creativity,” Barjon says. “You can’t work with professors one on one, where they know your name, many other places like you can at (Jefferson). It helps with the unique situations, like those we’re all dealing with right now.”
Words like those are music to the ears of Laine, Skomorucha and Barbara Kimmelman, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences.
“Didier represents the kind of students who fill the Law and Society program and make it the success it is: knowledgeable about the world and capable of contributing so much, and committed both to their own careers and to making a positive impact on their society and world through those careers,” Kimmelman says.
“I have enjoyed watching Didier’s leadership and excellent reputation propel him upward through a series of rapidly more demanding and responsible positions on Capitol Hill.” –Rob Skomorucha
Laine notes that Barjon—who is also heavily involved in an alumni mentorship group—has been a “true friend of Jefferson and especially the Law and Society program,” helping arrange internships for students and behind-the-scenes tours of Congress.
Barjon says it’s only right to help students in the way that he was helped while at Jefferson because it can help shape their careers in the way that his was shaped.
“He has fully taken advantage of opportunities afforded to him by the Law and Society program and is passionate about giving back,” Laine notes.
Barjon’s tips for current students?
- Be innovative and do not get complacent. Find ways to gain internship experience, even remotely if necessary.
- Try out different types of internships. You never know what you may end up liking.
- Build your network. Talk to professors, alumni or just go find people with interesting careers on LinkedIn. Your network is not just professional; make a lot of friends at Jefferson.
- Do well in school. Some people know they want to go to grad school but many others do not make that decision until a few years after they graduate—a high undergraduate GPA is not everything—but can make admission to a great school much easier and generally qualifies you for different types of scholarships and financial assistance.
As things stand, Barjon needs to acclimate to a new job which—thanks to the pandemic—has rendered him unable to physically meet other staffers though he’s virtually surmised that “the team is phenomenal.”
“It is great to see that the Democratic Caucus in both the House and the Senate have created diversity initiatives to help congressional offices and committees reflect the diversity of the nation.” –Didier Barjon
With Washington D.C. being a social city, the shutdown has forced him to rely on that creative Jefferson style for networking and interacting. Even searching for a home to buy—with the help of Cameron Griffith, a fellow alumnus who works in real estate—must be approached differently with virtual visits, and socially distanced on-site tours.
Alluding to the recent New York Times story in which he was quoted, Barjon noted that the pandemic has impacted major events like the Congressional Black Caucus annual legislative gathering, which would have come to D.C. in recent months.
“Influential Black people from all over the world come to that conference, and it’s a place where you can meet one person who will change your entire career,” he says. “That networking aspect isn’t there anymore and we still don’t know the future of that.”
He explains that the Times reached out to him as president of the CBA, which aims to enhance the political, social and economic capabilities of hundreds of Black staffers on Capitol Hill.
“It is great to see that the Democratic Caucus in both the House and the Senate have created diversity initiatives to help congressional offices and committees reflect the diversity of the nation,” he says. “This is where the CBA has been extremely active. We have a job board and resume bank to ensure CBA members know of job openings, and hiring managers can reach out to CBA for candidates.”
Like Laine, Skomorucha has kept in touch with the former student, and seen his professional growth from afar.
“I have enjoyed watching Didier’s leadership and excellent reputation propel him upward through a series of rapidly more demanding and responsible positions on Capitol Hill,” he says. “I find real joy in encouraging our students to pursue their dreams. A few short years ago, Didier was an incredibly promising undergraduate. Now, he is one of our nation’s bright young leaders. I am so thrilled for his success and, especially for the lifetime of good that he will do for our country.”