Cathy Green Solomon '82 - MSS Major

Joined the Obama campaign and now is on a number of non-profit boards of directors.

When I arrived on the Dartmouth campus in September 1978, I was undecided about a major. I enjoyed math and was good at it, but I had been entranced by a high school economics course, and was very interested in current events. Fortunately, I stumbled upon the Math and Social Sciences Open House, and everything came together. The program gave me the opportunity to tie all of these interests together in a way that fit with my quantitative thinking style, and the department heads (Bob Norman and Joel Levine) took a personal interest in creating a custom course plan in a way that would not have been possible in larger, more rigidly-structured departments.

My favorite course was Data Analysis, taught by Joel Levine. The use of computers to manipulate large databases was still in its infancy, and Professor Levine was working with students to provide linear regression capabilities that were pretty advanced for the time. I used the program for my senior thesis, which analyzed publicly-available government data sets to assess the impact of tax cuts on consumer spending. I was disappointed when my findings didn't show much of an impact (just a small one on durable goods), but Professor Levine was encouraging and told me that "no impact" was a finding itself. A valuable lesson!

After college, I first followed a rather unoriginal path and applied to business school, deferring Stanford for two years to work in management consulting. My ability to analyze data and to tell a story through numbers was a huge asset, both at work and in grad school. But I had the itch to manage a business and see results rather than simply recommend strategy, so after Stanford I opted to work for Quaker Oats (now part of Pepsico) in brand management. It was a great way to learn how to tie together all aspects of the business to achieve financial goals, and my analytical skills were an asset in budgeting, volume forecasting, and understanding market research. It was a pleasure working on iconic consumer brands including Cap'n Crunch and Life Cereal.

But eventually, the learning curve slowed down, and the culture of the organization was changing as the business world shifted its focus toward short-term earnings. I had young children at the time, and I began to feel like the time away from them was no longer worth it, so I left the workforce for a while. Bringing up kids in Chicago -- which is a microcosm of America in many ways -- I was struck by the systemic inequities that reinforce the cycle of poverty. I became particularly interested in the role of education, given the impact that great schools and teachers had had on my own life. I took some graduate-student-at-large courses at the University of Chicago to get a better grounding in the issues, and quickly realized that a lack of bi-partisan political will was the biggest roadblock in implementing reform.

This realization occurred as the 2008 presidential election was gearing up. I was very impressed with the bi-partisan, pragmatic approach to public policy taken by our then-Senator, Barack Obama, who had just announced his run for President, and decided that I should volunteer for his campaign in a big way. This was very early in the campaign cycle, and no one thought Obama had a chance to win, but I had never before encountered a candidate with his integrity. I had always enjoyed following politics -- I worked on the "D" at Dartmouth and vividly remember following the New Hampshire Primary -- when would I have the opportunity to work in a campaign headquarters close to home again? So I signed up, and was soon put to work vetting donors and inputting supporter data.

The volunteer coordinators figured out pretty quickly that I knew my way around a spreadsheet, and I was moved to the Financial Operations team. I was soon offered a staff position, and performed a myriad of analytical financial functions throughout the primary season. For the general election, we reorganized, and I took on the role of budget liaison with the fundraising team, where I was able to apply my experience analyzing consumer marketing tactics from my Quaker Oats days. When we won, I was asked to join the Transition Team to manage its budget. So I took the leap and moved to DC.

This led to an Administration position with the Department of Education, where I was responsible for the accountability and transparency of the Department's $97 billion in stimulus funding. One of the conditions of passing the stimulus bill was to provide an unprecedented level of transparency regarding when the money was getting out and where it was being spent, in an effort to maximize immediate impact and minimize fraud, waste, and abuse. Once again, I was working with government data sets to tell an important story about the impact of public policy. One of the high points was walking a New York Times reporter through the publicly-available data sets to prove that they did in fact add up to the 325,000 jobs that we reported we had saved; he was convinced and the story was on the front page the next day. I felt that I had come full circle from my senior thesis.

With the stimulus funds largely distributed, my role at Education was becoming less crucial, and I accepted an offer to move to the Executive Office of the President (EOP) as Deputy CFO in 2011. I then served as CFO from 2012-2015, overseeing budgeting, accounting, and procurement for the 13 "components" (e.g. White House, CEA, OMB, NSC, and others) that comprise the White House superstructure. I spent a great deal of time presenting and defending budgets to Congressional staff, and was extremely grateful for my ability to grasp and present financial data. For the final two years of the Administration, I was director of the EOP's Office of Administration, which included Human Resources, Facilities, Security, and IT in addition to Finance. Our largest task during this period was preparing for the Presidential transition, a huge task that involving everything from off-boarding White House political staff to preparing procedural briefing books to ensuring that all documentation was preserved and forwarded to the National Archives in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. It was an honor to participate in the peaceful transition of power.

After the Obama Administration, I wanted to be able to use my financial and administrative expertise to maximize the effectiveness of programs designed to help break the cycle of poverty. I was fortunate to be hired as Chief Operating Officer of N Street Village, DC's largest provider of housing and support services for women experiencing homelessness. Before retiring in 2021, I was proud to oversee a successful expansion of programming and housing capacity. With more time on my hands now, it is a pleasure to serve on a number of non-profit boards of directors, where I hope to continue using my skills and experience to help mission-driven organizations maximize their impact.

As I look back on my career, which has taken twists and turns that I never could have anticipated, I am profoundly grateful to Dartmouth and the Math and Social Sciences Department for giving me the confidence to take on new, sometimes daunting, opportunities, knowing that I had the analytical skills to be able to handle them. As a small woman and a bit of an introvert, I don't have the physical presence and charisma of many who have populated the realms where I have worked. But I always knew and understood the numbers, "And that has made all the difference."