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Hard Work Lands Alum at Dept. of Homeland Security

After graduating from UMass Amherst, Philip McNamara ’97, joined the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as the assistant to the director of party affairs and delegate selection. “It was my first ‘professional’ job,” reflects McNamara. “I was 23 and figured I would stay there for a year or two.” After the first year, however, McNamara became the deputy director of party affairs and delegate selection, and, in 2002, the director. His temporary job effectively became an 11 year career.

At the DNC, McNamara was responsible for selecting national convention delegates from all states and territories and coordinated the presidential nominating process. Essentially, he and his team made sure the 2000, 2004, and 2008 conventions ran smoothly.

In 2009, McNamara left the DNC to become the executive secretary for Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The timing was right since his hard work at the DNC had finally helped to put a Democrat into the White House. The years building up to Obama’s election were intense: “the hours were long, the pressure was high, but everyone just kept at it, from election cycle to election cycle – during off-years, congressional mid-terms, and presidential election years,” he reflects. Finally winning the White House was the reward for years of late nights and hard work.

As executive secretary, McNamara works closely with scores of top DHS officials. He and his team draft decision memos, gather information, and sketch briefings for the secretary and deputy secretary. “My desk sees paper, lots and lots of paper,” he says. “If the material is going before the Secretary, more than likely it stops on my desk first.”

McNamara attributes his success in DC to his work ethic. “I would like to think I got to where I am because I am super smart and people and organizations need my excellent ideas. That's not the case.” Instead, he recognizes the importance of working hard: “Staying at work until the job is done is not just a nice saying; you actually have to do it."

He also tries to instill this work ethic into his employees and interns. “I tell any intern I meet in Washington: ‘Thanks for being free labor.’ Then I quickly say ‘I am not going to ask you to do anything I haven't done myself.’” That includes hours of data entry, folding and stuffing envelopes, photocopying, and filing. “You just need to pitch in and get it done,” he says.   

He encourages current students to “work hard, be responsible, take initiative and keep your head down.” Once you land a job, “get to work. Don't be the first to leave every night, and don't take the longest lunch.” This hard work will pay off, he says, “top performers are always noticed and rise to the top.”

This dedication to success and commitment to hard work is something he hopes to bring to the Department of Political Science Advisory Board, which he joined this summer. “The faculty is increasing; the number of majors is increasing…I want to do whatever I can to help that forward progress continue,” he says.

Like many alums, McNamara sees the size of UMass as one of its best features: “The school is large enough to have an activity, club, sport, or cultural event you are interested in, but also small enough where you can have 15 person classes and one-on-one time with your professors.” The size also means opportunity: “You want to take a class on Shakespearean lit? You can. You want a class on meteorology? They have it.  A class on the biology of cancer and AIDs? UMass has it.  A class on hotel management?  They have it.  If you can't find a class that interests you, chances are it doesn't exist.”

“I look back fondly on my days at UMass,” he continues. Whether it was attending men’s basketball games as UMass entered the Final Four or serving as a Residential Assistant in Orchard Hill, UMass offered everything McNamara needed for a memorable four years. And he sees the Advisory Board as one way to give back.

News Type: 

  • Alumni News