Public Service has been the theme of the career of 2007 Bush School graduate Kathryn Kaufman, who was honored with the Bush School’s 2019 Outstanding Alumni award.
In only twelve years since graduating with a Master of International Affairs, she’s had career highlights ranging from representing the United States at the G7 Summit, to bringing high-speed rail to Texas, to helping empower women around the globe.
“Being named the 2019 Outstanding Alumni is an absolute honor,” Kaufman said. “One of the reasons I chose the Bush School is that the students that graduate from here actually go into public service. Graduates really take seriously the concept that public service is a noble calling. And to be recognized now for some of the work I’ve done is certainly humbling, but also it encourages me to keep going and keep trying to make a meaningful difference in the world.”
From the Bush School to the Halls of the Pentagon
The course of Kaufman’s career has had several transformations since she left College Station. After graduation, Kaufman moved to her hometown of Washington, DC, to work in the policy office of then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
“I wish I could say that Secretary Gates was the one who hired me, but I was just a little below his radar,” Kaufman laughed. “That being said, the job was really hands-on and action-oriented. I wrote talking points and briefing papers and had to deal with some intense situations—most of them, unfortunately, I can’t tell you about.”
In her role at the Pentagon as Desk Officer for China and Taiwan, Kaufman worked on the U.S.- China defense relationship and broader Asia Pacific Security Affairs, including serving as control officer to then President Bush at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
High Speed Rail and the Lone Star State
In 2008, Kaufman was recruited by a former boss to leave the Pentagon and spearhead what will be the first high-speed rail in the United States, the Texas Central Railway.
“I was highly involved from its conception,” Kaufman said, “in raising capital, hiring staff, and convincing our Japanese partners that Texas would be an ideal place to showcase their bullet train technology.”
Bryan-College Station has Kaufman to thank, in part, for the planned station only a thirty-minute drive away.
“I definitely played a role in the decision to get a station near Bryan-College Station,” Kaufman said. “I fought hard for that. It’s a commercial operation, so it does make sense financially to serve College Station, but more importantly, how could we not have a stop in the heart and soul of Texas?”
Kaufman said one of the highlights of her early career—she was in her twenties at the time—was when her firm secured Texas Central Railway’s anchor investor, John Kleinheinz, out of Fort Worth.
“Once we landed John, I traveled with him and another investor on his private plane around the state pitching others to join us. And, you know, I was young, and that was a pretty cool experience,” Kaufman said. “But neither life nor careers go in a straight path. I was involved with Texas Central Railway for seven years, but in 2017, one of the investors that I had pitched was tapped by the Trump Administration to run OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Six months later, he asked me to join him at OPIC, and that’s how I arrived where I am today.”
Empowering Women Around the Globe
Back in the nation’s capital, Kaufman is now Managing Director for Global Women’s Issues with OPIC, a position that has led to several career and personal highlights.
“Working for OPIC allows me to do the most inspiring and amazing work,” Kaufman said. “Just after I started, I was asked to represent the United States government on gender issues at the G7 Summit in Italy.”
Kaufman said that on top of representing women’s interests, having a full motorcade and a seven-guard security team felt surreal.
She would repeat the high-profile experience at the 2019 G7 Summit in Paris but explains that even more meaningful to her, is the day-to-day work in her role at OPIC.
“Literally two weeks after my first G7, I was flying to Hyderabad, India, to visit with women who were benefiting from a well that we financed in the village. As incredible as attending the G7 was, which experience is more meaningful? Meeting the women whose lives were changed in India,” Kaufman said.
George H. W. Bush would likely agree.
From Boston, MA, to Aggieland, TX
Kaufman’s path to the Bush School was an unlikely and unique one. As she was approaching graduation from Boston College, Kaufman had her heart set on attending the Kennedy School at Harvard University. Her father, who had served in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, didn’t insist she attend the relatively new Bush School of Government and Public Service. But he did ask her to go through the application process and consider it.
Through that process, Kaufman came to see the value that the Bush School offered. Choosing Texas A&M, she left Boston, population 4.5 million, for Bryan-College Station, which at the time had a population of less than 150,000.
“There’s no better place than the Bush School.”
To call it a culture shock was an understatement.
“I grew up in Washington, DC, I went to Boston for college, I lived in Asia for a while,” Kaufman said, “but after my first few weeks here, I called my mom and told her the culture shock of Asia is so much less than the culture shock of College Station. I didn’t understand football, I didn’t understand the traditions, I didn’t understand all of the ‘whooping.’ But after a couple of months, something just clicked.”
“I bought into being an Aggie. And that was a really big part of my experience here. All of those things make Aggieland special.”– Kathryn Kaufman
Kaufman said she remembers thinking to herself, “It’s nice that people smile at you. It’s nice that they say hi. People are just being nice—not trying to get something out of you.”
“And I went to the football games, and I bought into being an Aggie. And that was a really big part of my experience here. All of those things make Aggieland special.”
Now, fourteen years after stepping on to the Texas A&M University campus as a student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Kaufman sits in the Presidential Dining Room at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center surrounded by friends, family, alumni, current students, and Bush School staff and faculty. Honored for a career and life that has exemplified public service and still has many milestones ahead, she says proudly to anyone considering the Bush School, “If you really want to go into public service—if that’s really what you want to do with your life—there’s no better place than the Bush School.”