Manchester native Derek Dufresne ’08 graduated from Saint Anselm College as a History major with certificates in Medieval Studies and Public Policy (before we had minors, we had “certificates”). In addition, Dufresne took pre-med coursework during his last year at the college. After a somewhat winding road, Dufresne became co-founder of RightOn Strategies, a political consulting firm, where he is now a partner. One Thing after Another recently contacted Dufresne and asked him to describe the path that led him from Saint Anselm College and a History major to political consulting.
Q: You grew up here, and Saint Anselm College was practically in your backyard. What made you decide to go to school locally?
A: Growing up in Manchester, I attended small, Catholic schools from the very beginning. After graduating from Trinity High School in 2003, I thought it might be the right time to try something new and live somewhere outside of New Hampshire. After much consideration, I went to the University of Connecticut for my freshmen year of college. While my grades were strong and I enjoyed living away from home, at a school the size of UConn, it might sound like a cliché, but you quickly realize that you are just one among tens of thousands of other students. Coming from a high school with a graduating class of 112, I was more accustomed to challenging courses taught by professors who knew you by your name, not by your student identification number. Through conversations with friends who were already on the Hilltop, I knew I would receive the kind of education I was accustomed to and find the community I was looking for at Saint Anselm College. I made the decision to become a Hawk, and I couldn’t be happier about my choice.
Q: How did you become a history major?
A: Indecision is a curse of our youth, but it can also be a blessing in disguise as long as you are willing to take risks. Like many of my fellow classmates, I remember hours of stressful conversations with my high school guidance counselors and countless online quizzes with the headline, “what should my future job be?” While I wish I had begun my college career as a history major, it took me some time to make my way into Professor Silvia Shannon’s office with my final decision. I dabbled in different majors, from those within the Economics and Business Department to those in Political Science. Like many of my peers, I was trying to mold my college major to fit my future career—something that was incredibly difficult considering I was still unsure of what I wanted to do after college.
Due to my willingness to explore different classes, I finally came to the realization that my major should reflect my interests and the courses I enjoyed the most; my career would shape itself around that premise, which led me to become a history major. I kept that same mindset throughout my college career with the minors and additional classes I decided to pursue, and it served me well.
Q: In your fifth year at the college, you completed pre-med coursework. What directed you down that path?
A: Towards the end of my time at Saint Anselm College, I started to gain interest in possibly pursuing a future in medicine. While you can go to medical school with any major, it is standard for most programs to require students to have multiple semesters of top-level courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and others. I’ll admit that it certainly wasn’t easy squeezing all of the additional classes in, especially considering that I was also finishing up a couple of minors (which were then called “certificates”) in Public Policy and Medieval Studies. However, I stayed focused, completed all of the courses, and performed well on the MCATs. I ended up deciding against going to medical school, but I am still thankful I heightened and broadened my knowledge in those subject areas.
Q: Shortly after graduation, you ended up on the staff of Frank Guinta who was then the mayor of Manchester. How did that happen?
A: It all began with an internship. If there is only one piece of advice I could give an incoming or current student, it is to do as many job shadows or internships as possible. The opportunities they open and the insights they give you about the direction of your future career is priceless.
My interest in politics led me to an internship in former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta’s office, which then grew into a job on his campaign staff, and fortunately, into a spot on his congressional staff. While House of Cards makes a career in politics look glamorous, it is rarely that easy, and the competition is grueling. In Washington, I started as a lower-level legislative aid surviving on Ramen Noodles for dinner and Red Box rentals for entertainment, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I worked my way up the ranks and, when the two-year congressional term concluded, I had earned the title of Communications Director. While many at Saint Anselm College who love politics immediately gravitate towards the NHIOP, a major in History prepared me just as well, if not better, in certain areas, for the career direction I ultimately decided to pursue.
A profession in politics, in many ways, gives one the ability to make history. I had the opportunity to see legislation that I helped write get voted on in Congress. I stood in Statuary Hall with scores of reporters waiting for the President of the United States to finish his State of the Union address just feet away from me. Those are just a couple of examples of extraordinary moments during my time on Capitol Hill that I will never forget. In my opinion, a love of history in the classroom is the prefect fit for a future career of contributing to history through politics or government work.
Q: One Thing after Another remembers running into you some years ago outside of the NHIOP. At the time, you thought that your career could go in several different directions. Why did you eventually choose political consultancy?
A: Opening up your own business is certainly risky, especially in politics, but I was fortunate to have the opportunity about two years ago to start RightOn Strategies with two of my closest friends in the business.
Being a staffer on campaigns in New Hampshire and in government positions on Capitol Hill were extremely rewarding, but co-founding a national political consulting firm has built even further upon those experiences. We have clients from many different backgrounds and have run races in all corners of the country. With each new candidate or project we take on, I have more opportunities to learn something new about a different state or develop a new strategy to help win a future campaign. Thus, by being a political consultant on the national level, I have had the chance to broaden my skills and improve my abilities more than I would ever have been able to if I had only worked in New Hampshire or as a Capitol Hill staffer.
Q: For some reason, many of our students never get to know Manchester particularly well. Is there some place in town that our students have not heard about but must visit?
A: While my first inclination is to say the Puritan Backroom for some of the best chicken tenders you will ever eat, there is nothing like walking through Manchester’s Millyard along the Merrimack River. Especially for students who are not from New Hampshire, it is worth taking a trip to the Millyard Museum first to learn more about the area and the immigrants who used to work there. Most New England cities have razed a lot of their mills. To see so many of them refurbished in one place and just as beautiful as they were over a hundred years ago is worth taking in.