Alumni Spotlight: Brendan Mochoruk
Raised in East Grand Forks, the University of North Dakota has always played a big role in Brendan Mochoruk’s life. Not only is his father a professor in the Department of History, he grew up going to UND football and hockey games.
“So when I was offered a spot on the football team at UND that was a pretty special moment for me,” said Mochoruk.
Though landing a spot on the team as a tight end was a huge achievement for Mochoruk, landing himself a spot on the team at the White House during the Obama Administration was an even bigger accomplishment.
The White House
Mochoruk has always been interested in the political sphere. While working toward his double major in political science and economics his junior year at UND, he decided to apply to an internship in Senator Kent Conrad’s office in Washington, D.C. To his surprise, they offered him the internship.
“A couple of weeks later they called me back and said, ‘Well, Senator Conrad is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and we see that you’re interested in economics; would you like to be placed in that office rather than his personal office?’ Which was perfect for me because that’s exactly what I’d wanted,” said Mochoruk.
So, Mochoruk spent the spring of 2012 in D.C. and loved it.
“I was using both my political science knowledge I’d learned in my classes, as well as the econ stuff. So when I was approaching graduation, I was considering all sorts of different paths,” said Mochoruk. “I wanted to find something that would allow me to explore all of my interests further because I didn’t want to make the wrong decision and be stuck in a career I didn’t enjoy.”
Mochoruk put out application after application. He applied to all sorts of jobs, especially research assistant positions. He even applied to a position at the White House with a group called the Council of Economic Advisers.
“The application I sent off to the White House was like my Hail Mary,” said Mochoruk. “You never really expect someone to catch the Hail Mary, but you go for it because ‘what if.’”
To his surprise, Mochoruk’s Hail Mary scored him a touchdown.
“Post-graduation, I was offered that job as a full-time White House staffer,” said Mochoruk proudly. “So I spent the first year after graduation in the White House during the Obama Administration from 2013-2014.”
Though he himself was surprised, those back home in the Greater Grand Forks Area weren’t surprised by Mochoruk’s success, including Chair of the Department of Political Science & Public Administration, Paul Sum.
“From a professor’s standpoint, he was a dream student,” said Sum. “He was a great listener and really seemed to absorb the information in class and truly learn something from it. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Sum said Mochoruk always stood out in PSPA classes because he asked great questions and just overall did great work. In 2011, Mochoruk wrote a paper for a class he was taking with Sum that was so well done, Sum asked him to deliver the paper at the Red River Corridor Undergraduate Political Science Conference hosted by the University of Manitoba.
The following year, Mochoruk was selected by PSPA faculty as the 2012 Becraft Scholar, which granted Mochoruk the opportunity to attend a student conference on U.S. Affairs at West Point.
“He’s incredibly bright,” said Sum, “his success doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.”
Mochoruk said his time in the White House was an experience unlike any other.
“It was the coolest experience I’ll probably ever have,” said Mochoruk. “The bar was high, and we were working tons and tons of hours, but it was an incredible feeling to know that you’re a part of this team, something that you really believe in, and it was something I hadn’t really experienced before. With some other jobs, you just kind of feel like you are there to do your work, but this was something where everyone really cared and wanted to come in and make a difference, so it was a really wonderful experience,” he added.
Wonderful, yet challenging. Working in the White House meant tackling some complex issues in an incredibly short amount of time.
"The nature of the political cycle is such that you’re going to have these quick turnarounds. For example, the other side just came out with this proposal, we’re going to need a response by tomorrow morning. So all of the sudden it’s all hands on deck, everyone working on it, just trying to come to an agreement on what our response is going to be,” said Mochoruk. “It’s really fascinating work.”
Mochoruk attributes a great deal of his successful Hail Mary to the UND Nistler CoBPA Political Science & Public Administration faculty.
“There are so many times I’ve thought to myself, I’m so glad that I ended up at UND because, for example, a couple of faculty members are the ones who helped get me the internship that eventually lead me to the job at the White House. They had my back in writing recommendations for me for both of those jobs,” said Mochoruk.
Mochoruk is incredibly thankful for those relationships, and is still close with those faculty members to this day. He said they correspond via email, meet for coffee, and even meet up in D.C. during the annual PSPA spring semester trip.
“I’m so glad that I ended up at UND just because, to me, it’s the people who made it such an incredible experience. Academically I learned so much but in some ways you can get that at a variety of schools. I’m not sure I could have gotten the kind of mentoring, the kind of gentle pushes and motivation that I got from our incredible faculty at other places. So that’s what I’ve been really impressed with and incredibly thankful for,” said Mochoruk.
In 2014, while still working at the White House, Mochoruk was presented with an opportunity at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The Economic Studies division at The Brookings Institution had just announced the founding of a new group called the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. Mochoruk was offered a position with the Center, and decided to take it.
By the end of his third year at Brookings, Mochoruk made the decision to attend law school at Northwestern University in Chicago. He is now in his third year and has accepted a job post-graduation as an associate at a law firm called Sidley Austin LLP doing business law.
“It just really aligns with my interests. It allows me to use that economic background I build over the course of my prior work experience, so I think it will be a really great fit for me,” said Mochoruk.
Six years later, Mochoruk reflects on his decision to apply to the job with the Council of Economic Advisors at the White House.
I knew that the chances of me landing that type of position from UND were small because the applicant pool is generally compromised of ivy league graduates, and it’s hard to get your name recognized,” said Mochoruk. “But my piece of advice to other students is to not be deterred by what you think is a small chance of something going your way. You just have to go for it, but be smart about having a backup plan.”
Though Mochoruk said he never thought he would end up with the jobs he’s had or where he is today, he feels incredibly fortunate and is glad he threw that Hail Mary.
“I think those opportunities really changed my trajectory and opened up a lot of doors for me,” said Mochoruk. “If I didn’t go for it, it never would have happened.”
Mochoruk’s ‘what if,’ turned into his what is.