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ASU alumna reflects on path to D.C.


ASU alumna and Amtrak employee, Caroline Nielson Decker

ASU alumna and Amtrak employee Caroline Nielson Decker.

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May 18, 2018

Political science alumna Caroline Nielson Decker, who graduated in the class of 1992, felt that Arizona State University gave her a deep appreciation for our system of government, the legislative process and how business and public policy are interconnected.

“As a political science major, there were so many classes that piqued my interest in the political process and public policy and I am grateful to have had so many outstanding professors and dedicated faculty members that encouraged me and inspired me in my studies,” Decker said.

Although attending law school after graduation was initially her plan, she first wanted to gain a hands-on perspective and decided that Washington, D.C., was the ideal place to do it.

At the time, the Capital Scholars program at ASU had not yet been developed, so Decker participated in a program called The Fund for American Studies (TFAS). While taking classes at Georgetown University, she interned in the government affairs office for an oil and gas company.

“I had never even contemplated working in the energy sector and yet this experience was eye-opening,” Decker said. “During my two-month internship, I learned as much as I could about the company, the industry, and the policy issues they faced.”

Washington, D.C., for Decker was love at first sight. A month after graduating in December 1992, she moved across the country and has been in D.C. ever since.

Throughout her career, Decker has worked on the Hill as a legislative director and also as a chief of staff. She was able to translate her legislative experience into a position with Amtrak. Then from 2011 to 2015 she worked on transportation policy issues with American Trucking Associations before returning for her second stint with Amtrak.

Decker’s current position is vice president of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service line. Her team is responsible for the design and development of the service plan for Amtrak’s busiest and most profitable line of service.

“Every day is different which is part of the allure and excitement of working at Amtrak,” Decker said. “Often, I’m on the go — traveling on our trains to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, meeting with crews, visiting mechanical facilities, making stops at our stations, the list goes on.”

Even though she didn’t participate in the Capital Scholars program herself, Decker has hired over a half dozen interns through the years with Amtrak. Recently they haven’t been able to sponsor students, so she attends various Capitol Scholars events on Capitol Hill.

“I recently attended an event at the new ASU building in Washington, D.C., and it is an incredible facility and differentiates ASU from so many other academic institutions,” Decker said. “Every time I see it in downtown D.C., I’m reminded of my pride for ASU.”

Decker encourages students to make the most of the internship experience like she did in college and learn something new every day. For students considering a career in public policy, government affairs, or politics, the Capital Scholars program deserves “very strong consideration,” according to Decker.

“Just the mere exposure and introduction to Washington, D.C., as part of the program is a huge advantage,” Decker said. “Having the experience of being a Capital Scholar will serve as a solid foundation for establishing a career path anywhere — not just in Washington. Beyond that, the friendships, the education, the hands-on experience is so valuable, and it will reap infinite rewards.”

Even though her journey has had twists and turns, it all started at ASU for Decker. Whether students want to stay in Arizona, go to D.C., or travel the globe, Decker said the ASU Sun Devil network is strong and growing.

“ASU alumni are making major differences around the world and you will soon be charting your own course and making amazing contributions as well. Good luck and go Devils!”

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