From the moment he stepped onto UNE’s campus, Zachary Rioux,’14 Political Science and Psychology, recalls, “I immediately thought about my life after school and what I wanted that to look like.”
Right now it’s looking pretty good. Rioux set himself on a focused path that has landed him an enviable full-time consulting position with BerryDunn’s Government Consulting Group in Portland, ME, when he graduates in May.
A Fort Kent native (population 4,097), Rioux took the unusual initiative of securing an internship during his freshman year under the mentorship of Political Science Professor Ali Ahmida. Since an internship requires students to apply what they have learned in the classroom, freshmen typically aren’t ready to take them on. But Ahmida says, “Zach was an exception. With his energy and maturity, he convinced me.”
Rioux worked in the Caribou, Maine, office of U.S. Senator Susan Collins, reading newspapers for relevant articles, and compiling clips, comments and requests for assistance from Collins' constituents. He found the work challenging and rewarding, and particularly enjoyed the interactions with the many constituents. He made such a positive impact that Collins invited him back for the summer of 2012.
It was during his internship that Rioux met a fellow staffer who went on to secure a position at BerryDunn and encouraged him to attend an Open House. “It was my junior year, when I was truly facing the question of ‘what do I want to do with the rest of my life?’” says Rioux. He did attend, and found the people interesting and enthusiastic about their work. The firm, in return, was impressed by Rioux’s critical thinking, research skills, and professionalism. Before he left the event, he took the bold step of asking about an internship. He smiles and says matter-of-factly, “You need to capitalize on opportunities.”
After a series of intense interviews, Rioux was offered a paid internship at BerryDunn’s impressive downtown Portland headquarters in the summer of 2013, where he worked on many projects, including one pertaining to the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
One of the highlights of his summer was presenting along with his team a 160-page report at the Office of the State Auditor in Massachusetts. Rioux says it was exciting being an integral member, sharing ideas, working into the wee hours to meet a deadline, and delving into the important issues of the day: “I’ve always had a passion for solving problems.”
Rioux has some other hands-on experience in that realm. As an intramural sports supervisor/referee at UNE, he oversees more than 20 refs and has had to call the shots himself at more than a few games. And he’s also learned a thing or two about problem-solving from Sen. Susan Collins – a lead mediator in the resolution of the 2013 government shutdown who received high praise for her ability to shore up a bipartisan solution.
“My entire college experience has expanded my ideas of the world we live in. I came from a small town, where I knew every person, every building. At UNE, I’ve learned to step back, listen, and respect other people’s opinions. I am so much more open-minded now.”
His advice to other students? “You have just four years. Make the most of them and set goals for your future now. They don’t start the day you graduate.”