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Nancy Ognanovich
Alumnae Reports From Capitol Hill

Nancy Ognanovich
Nancy Ognanovich ('79) under the dome of the U.S. Capitol building

For many people, the U.S. Capitol building might sound like a vast and intimidating place to work. UMD alumnae Nancy Ognanovich (’79) thinks of the building as two small towns. “There’s the House of Representatives and the Senate. A lot of people don’t cross from one to another. Each is unique, and it’s interesting how they come together,” she said. Ognanovich is a journalist for the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) in Washington, D.C., but she grew up on the Minnesota Iron Range and knows something about small towns.

Ognanovich has worked in Washington for over twenty years. At UMD, she majored in history and political science. She enjoyed writing and took the journalism classes that were offered (UMD didn’t have a journalism major at that time). It was in the UMD library that she found a catalog for Marquette University. They offered a graduate school program in journalism for students with an undergraduate degree in social sciences. It was the perfect fit.

While she pursued her master’s degree, Ognanovich interned for two summers in Congressman Jim Oberstar’s office. UMD American History Professor Roger Fisher encouraged her to use some creative networking to get her foot in the door. “Rather than send a letter to Mr. Oberstar’s office, which would just end up in a pile on an aide’s desk, Dr. Fisher advised me to write a handwritten note and leave it with the congressman’s mother. His parent’s lived next door to my parents,” Ognanovich said. It worked. She got the job. “I worked in his office. The staff really looked out for me. It was a great experience,” she said.

Nancy Ognanovich & Susan Maher
Nancy Ognanovich with CLA Dean Susan Maher

The following summer, Ognanovich interned in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Oberstar who was a member of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee. “I learned a lot about the House of Representatives,” she said. This exposure to Capitol Hill would prove useful down the road.

Following the completion of her thesis, Ognanovich entered the work force during the recession of the early 80’s. She admits her career took “a few detours” as she pursued her goal of becoming a full time journalist working in Washington D.C. She took a job in Minneapolis with a public relations firm. The firm’s parent company published magazines. Aware that she would need a good portfolio to land a job as a journalist, she took on addition assignments writing articles for Corporate Report Minnesota. Over time she developed a comprehensive portfolio.

Ognanovich credits perseverance and hard work with her ultimate success. She applied at the BNA for over three years before landing an entry-level reporter job there. Covering her first Congressional hearing, she was reminded of her experience in a UMD journalism class covering Duluth City Council meetings. Over time, she covered Congressional hearings on energy, insurance, transportation, and appropriations.

When she began working in D.C., she spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the Capitol. “I was learning on the job,” she said. She honed her abilities to write quickly and accurately. She also spent time developing relationships with people on the Hill. She feels a strong loyalty to those who share information with her and is careful to never break a source’s trust. “You don’t want to burn a source for one day’s glory,” she said.

In 2001, Ognanovich was assigned to the White House and was on that assignment for about seven years. She enjoyed the camaraderie of the White House Press Corp and trips overseas covering economic summits in Russia and Japan. But she also missed the freedom she had had on Capitol Hill “to talk to everyone.” She is now back on the Hill covering, among other things, Democratic and Republican leadership. “I love the job,” she admits. “I love running with the pack.”

Ognanovich would like to teach some day and has a great deal of insight and encouragement to offer students. “Persevere. Make the most of what comes your way, understanding that you can build from that,” she instructs. “Show up and treat people well.” Good advice – in a small town or our nation’s capital.

 

 

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, kmcquill@d.umn.edu

 

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