Alumni Spotlight: Distinguished Alumni Award Winner Margaret Burgess
The School of Public Policy has given Margaret Burgess, PUBP and ECON 2008, its 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. She received the award at the Ivan Allen College Distinguished Alumni Awards on April 7 alongside several other honorees.
Burgess received her J.D. from Berkeley Law School in 2015 and is now an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she works to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. She told us more about her work, her life post-graduation, and what winning the Distinguished Alumni Award means to her.
What led you to your job now?
Before this job, I largely worked on cases that fought housing discrimination and other civil rights abuses. I came to the Federal Trade Commission because I appreciated the work it was doing on behalf of many groups of people I was already serving — this time, in the context of the marketplace. Through my civil rights work, I saw how important it is for a person to be able to access credit, build wealth, and purchase the goods and services they need so they can lead better lives. I was also drawn to the large impact the FTC can have, in everything from shutting down complete scams to stopping large corporations from doing unlawful practices.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
I really enjoy the investigation part of my job. As a staff attorney, I’m able to start looking into certain businesses based on consumer complaints, news articles I’ve read, tips from insiders, etc. I like to be able to respond to the issues I’m hearing about in the moment and dig into them, to see if there’s something we as an agency can do to help.
How do you think your Georgia Tech public policy education prepared you to succeed?
My public policy education helped me appreciate the lack of black-and-white answers to many major policy questions, as well as how to think critically about addressing those questions. This was great training for law school and now for my career as a litigator. I have to be able to anticipate and persuasively respond to questions that come from a judge or to arguments from opposing counsel, which requires examining the many angles to any given issue.
What’s something that surprised you about post-graduation life?
How meandering my career path could be, and how I hope this continues as I get older. I’m glad I seized on the opportunities that came my way—from working on a congressional campaign in rural Missouri, to a civil rights firm in D.C., to legal aid in Atlanta. In college, I often felt like I needed to set myself onto an established career path and stick to it, but the reality has been much more exciting and valuable. I hope I keep taking jobs that stretch me and make me slightly uncomfortable!
What does it mean to you to be honored with this award?
I’m humbled by this award. It’s also a lovely reminder of the tight-knit School of Public Policy community at Georgia Tech and how the school does a great job of making alumni still feel connected after graduation.
What’s one piece of advice that you have for students who are graduating soon?
Seek out jobs where you can work with people you admire and enjoy being around. The substance of your work is important, but it fades in importance if you’re not with people who support you, motivate you, etc.