Student Stories

Changing the world one snap at a time: an alumna’s path to career success

The career journey of Sofia Gross, AB’15

For UChicago alumna Sofia Gross, AB’15, success has come through knocking on doors.

Canvassing for local elections. Visiting professors during office hours. Pitching her supervisors on a brand new role. At every stage of her journey, Gross has been knocking on literal and metaphorical doors to unlock new opportunities.

What started as an intense curiosity about U.S. foreign policy led to Gross helping launch the Public Policy Team at Snap, the company behind Snapchat and Bitmoji. Recently, Forbes came knocking to name Gross to their 2020 “30 under 30 - Law & Policy” list in recognition for her get out the vote efforts at Snap during the U.S.midterm elections in 2018.

How does someone go from contemplating the ideal society in Sosc class to overseeing civic engagement for one of the world’s most popular social media platforms? For Gross, it began when she knocked on the door of the College Admissions office at UChicago.

“I came to UChicago for all the corny cliché reasons,” Gross said. “I knew this was the right place for me, a place where people passionately pursue their curiosity.”

And pursue her curiosity she did. When she enrolled in the College, Gross took full advantage of everything UChicago offers.

With a deep interest in U.S. foreign policy, Gross majored in international studies and near eastern languages and civilizations. She was a regular at her professors’ office hours, and the more Gross learned, the more she realized that domestic U.S. politics heavily influence foreign policy.

To delve deeper into this topic, she got involved with the University’s Institute of Politics (IOP). At the IOP, Gross found mentorship and opportunities to connect with leading political thinkers and practitioners.

“I had been looking at everything from this very global perspective,” Gross explained. “But when I heard from the Barack Obamas and John McCains of the world, they all gave the same advice: ‘if you want to do this work, start by getting involved in your local community.’”

Taking this advice to heart, Gross volunteered with two campaigns doing canvassing work on the south side of Chicago.  

“The potential voters I spoke to were worrying about how they’re going to afford groceries, pay their rent, keep their job when they have a sick child who needs round-the-clock care,” Gross said. “It showed me that civic engagement needs to be responsive to people’s needs and meet them on their own terms.”

Gross brought this insight with her to her post-graduation job at Snap. She was initially hired as a producer for Snap’s newly formed political news team. That’s when Gross saw an opportunity.

“With a user base of 230 million daily active Snapchatters — and growing, including 90 percent of the U.S. population between 13 and 24, we have a real opportunity to make a difference,” Gross said. “We could give our users the tools to become active participants in public life.”

Gross pitched her supervisors on making civic engagement part of Snap’s business strategy. She also volunteered to take the lead on this initiative.

Her supervisors approved, and Gross quickly got to work. In this role, Gross helps lead Snap’s efforts to promote social good, assists with designing civic engagement products and functions in the app, and serves as a liaison to government and political organizations.

Gross’s ideas have already had a major impact. Over the past four years, Gross has spearheaded campaigns to prevent bullying, support mental health, and encourage users to register to vote. During the 2018 midterm elections, for example, Snap successfully drove 400,000+ Snapchat users to register to vote.

“We’re incredibly proud of Sofia and everything she’s accomplished,” said Meredith Daw, executive director of Career Advancement at the University of Chicago. “She’s an excellent example of how UChicago prepares students for leadership roles, and we’re so grateful that she’s willing to share her experience and expertise with our current students."

Gross describes her time at UChicago as an excellent training ground for the work she does today.

“I got a holistic theoretical grounding from classes with some of the best minds in the world, practical wisdom from mentors at the Institute of Politics and hands-on experience from working internships and campaigns,” she said.

Gross encourages current UChicago students interested in social impact careers to use their resources and follow their passion.

“Take advantage of the unique opportunities you have access to,” she said. “Find a cause that you really believe in and fight for it. It will make you feel empowered and make your work meaningful. People in these fields want to inspire young people to get involved, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them!”

“After all, if you want to get into the room where it happens, the first thing you need to do is open the door,” she added.

Come learn more about Sofia’s journey and how you can launch a successful career in policy at Career Advancement’s online “Industry Immersion: Careers in Think Tanks and Policy” event on August 25! Visit the program webpage to learn more.