An Alumna Fosters Civic Engagement: Helping a Hutchison Student Gain Real-World Experience

By Conchita Topinka
Dabney Roberts Ring ’90 joined Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s staff in January 2016. She is currently a Senior Policy Officer and the Federal Relations Lead on Mayor Strickland’s intergovernmental team. She helped build an immersive internship for Hutchison senior Katie Frazer ’23.
Can an internship spark a young person’s interests enough to launch a meaningful career? The answer is “yes.” And Dabney Roberts Ring ’90, who has spent more than 25 years in public service, is Exhibit A.

Ring went from writing for the school newspaper and an early interest in politics to shaping the narrative around Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s local, state, and federal policy agendas. Part of the mayor’s intergovernmental team, Ring serves as the Senior Policy Officer and the Federal Relations Lead.

Her first foray into politics was a 1992 legislative internship in Nashville during her junior year at the University of Memphis. That’s where she met then-State Senator Steve Cohen, the U.S. Congressman for whom she would work full time during the next 20 years in campaign finance administration. She eventually became Congressman Cohen’s campaign finance director.

Ring caught the politics bug during that internship and has never looked back. When she took Hutchison senior Katie Frazer ’23 under her wing for an internship this past summer, she saw an opportunity to help inspire another young woman’s interest in how government serves the greater good.

“Once you get involved in politics, it’s easier to see the benefit of politics and the benefit of government. I think exposing someone early on to politics and the way that government can work helps combat some of the misconceptions that exist about government,” said Ring. “Katie will be able to say, ‘I was in city hall, and they talked about addressing issues such as trash pickup all the time!’ ” laughed Ring.

“I like the many ways you can solve problems by making different policies that benefit a lot of people at once,” said Frazer, who is contemplating studying international business and public policy.

In her current role as senior policy officer, Ring advances Mayor Strickland’s agendas at the state and federal levels. “I go to Nashville from January until the last day of the legislative session, and I work with our legislators, ensuring that the mayor’s agenda is being worked on and that we are receiving the necessary funding,” said Ring. “As the federal lead for intergovernmental, I work with our federal lobbyists on new opportunities for funding, legislation, and relationships with our congressional delegation. I am also monitoring grant releases from the federal government, sending notifications to our city divisions, and following up to make sure we are applying for all available grants.”

Although she is entrenched in policy on a daily basis, when Ring learned Frazer had covered policy issues earlier in the summer as a participant in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi, she decided to build the internship around civic engagement. 

“It’s amazing to watch at a fundamental level how everyday citizens come together to make government better. That was one of the things I really wanted Katie to see. Talk about getting involved in the process!” said Ring. Frazer worked with staff reviewing membership for the 45 citizen boards and commissions that the mayor appoints, subject to Council approval, to review citywide issues related to everything from stormwater to historical landmarks.

“Periodically, new members are named to these boards, and current members either resign or their term expires. We were collaborating, trying to figure out which boards needed a change in membership,” said Frazer. “It takes skill to effectively set up a board that will benefit the best interests of the people of the city. It’s not just whoever is the mayor’s best friend.”

“I thought it was important for Katie to see the range of people who are involved in government,” said Ring, explaining that the boards are citizen-based and make recommendations. Some require subject matter experts, such as engineers or architects.

Photo by Jessica Coulson

If I can show how someone can go from the Gov Club or the school newspaper to finding a passion and being involved in politics, I want to do that.— Dabney Ring ’90

Paying It Forward

“I’ve always wanted to give back to Hutchison. The thing I appreciated most about Hutchison was that there was a place for everybody. Sometimes school, especially high school, can be hard because you’re just finding your place and things don’t always fit. I wouldn’t say I was an oddball, but I was never the traditionally popular Hutchison girl,” said Ring. “I still found my place. I had friends, I was involved in theatre, and I was involved in the newspaper.”

That Hutchison foundation has served Ring well, as she navigates the sometimes perilous waters of partisan politics, negotiates, and balances competing interests amid a finite pool of resources. Dabney Ring has found her place in the world of politics, just as she found her place at Hutchison years ago. Now, she’s ready to pay it forward.

“This is a real job. It’s not a volunteer gig. If I can show how someone can go from the Gov Club or the school newspaper to finding a passion and being involved in politics, I want to do that,” said Ring. “Maybe I can give back to the Dabney of the Class of ‘Whenever.’ That’s what I’m trying to do.

Sara Byrnes ’23, left, interned at Shapiro and Company Architects | Photo by Jessica Coulson

If we graduate girls who are curious, if we make curiosity the center of what we do through the Institute, we are hopefully going to deliver young women into this world who are ready and curious about how they can make it a better place.—Nick Simpson, Director of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship

Your Expertise Can Help a Hutchison Girl

Through the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, upper school girls experience the intersection of civic engagement, compassionate leadership, and ethical decision-making in the context of responsible citizenship.

Building on Hutchison’s long tradition of empowering young women to lead, the Institute allows girls to discover how their individual talents and contributions can lead to rewarding careers and a life of purpose

Please consider lending your expertise as a mentor to Hutchison School’s Institute for Responsible Citizenship.

The right mentor can make a big difference to an upper school girl exploring career options and ways to contribute to her community. You can choose the time commitment that fits your schedule. Click here to complete an interest form.

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