ADI Spotlight: Odette Overton

Jan. 20, 2023

Odette Overton


Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), Masters in Public Affairs (Domestic Policy)

Program Year: MPA 2

Undergraduate/Other Institutions:

University of Southern California (B.A. in Kinesiology and B.A. in Psychology)

Santa Monica College (Certificate of Achievement in Public Policy)

California State University at Sacramento (Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy and Government)

Hometowns: Los Angeles, CA and San Jose, CA


Tell us about your background.

I am a first-generation college graduate from a blended family with a White mom and a Black/White dad. While I'm originally from Los Angeles, I spent half of my childhood in San Jose, where I didn't ever feel like I quite fit in. If not for my twin, I would have been the only mixed person in any of the schools I attended, and I was one of only five Black students, including my twin. We don't talk about colorism enough in this country, but that's a conversation for another time. Although challenging, I learned to lean into my uniqueness (aside from just my race) and trust my intuition since I didn't have examples of role models who shared a similar background to me. In combination with my impulsiveness and incessant curiosity, I've come to embrace a sense of fearlessness in my pursuit of my goals and am fortunate to say that I've probably had more life experiences than most people my age. There's a lot to see in this world, and I'm committed to experiencing as much of it as possible.


What led you to graduate school?

Career-wise, I've had quite the convoluted journey so far. However, what for many years seemed to be a series of disparate interests has actually culminated in a surprising yet specific way. When I first went to college, I studied Kinesiology and thought I wanted to be a nutritionist/athletic trainer. I started as a student athletic trainer for USC's rowing team, then moved to the tennis team, and finally ended up with the football team where all the action was. It was such a unique and valuable experience, but I quickly realized that I couldn't sustain a career in sports medicine given the life I wanted for myself. I added Psychology as a second major and really enjoyed it, eventually deciding that I wanted to pursue forensic psychology. A year after graduating, I applied to Ph.D. programs and was absolutely devastated that I wasn't accepted anywhere. Naturally, I was quite shaken up about it and didn't have a plan B to fall back on as I knew I wanted to do something more applied, but my research position at the time was in R&D, which takes years to see results. A few months later, I started working for a jury consulting firm as a research associate where my main responsibilities were managing mock trials and analyzing data to create juror profiles for litigation. I loved how dynamic the industry was and that I had the privilege to pick people's brains to understand how their life experiences influenced the way they saw a lawsuit, and effectively the world. 

However, after Trump was elected, I felt an urge to do something actionable to help those with less opportunities, but I didn't know exactly what that might be. I knew I wanted to work somewhere legal-adjacent, but I didn't want to become an attorney. Ultimately, I saved up for about a year and then quit my job to pursue various aspects of public service and see what felt like the right fit. My family refers to this year and a half long period as my sabbatical, which is a nice way of saying that I was unemployed. It was terrifying, but I'm proud of myself now for having the courage to leave a well-paying and fascinating job to start over.

During the sabbatical, I interned for a congressman and in the government affairs department at the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, as well as worked full-time on three different campaigns. Because I didn't have a background in politics, I was simultaneously taking classes and earned a policy certificate from Santa Monica College. I did a lot of informational interviews and ultimately got into the Capital Fellows Program in partnership with CSU Sacramento, where I was a Senate Fellow in 2019. Each fellow is placed in senate offices for 10 months where they work as a legislative aide for a state senator, but they also complete coursework and are awarded with a Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy and Government upon completion of the fellowship.  Later I went to work for the same senator until I started at Princeton. While it seems absolutely wild to have this many interests, it has recently come to make sense why I'm choosing to pursue campaign research post-Princeton, and I don't regret a second of it.


What are your research interests?  What excites you about it?

My research interests center on electoral politics. I had quite a visceral reaction to Donald Trump's presidency, which motivated me to leave a career in jury consulting to pursue politics. Specifically, my goal is to create an inclusive government by working to elect more diverse public officials that actually represent the American people.


What does your family think you do in grad school?

Live in a castle.


How has ADI programming impacted you? 

I've struggled to find community for most of my life and really appreciate that ADI provides an inclusive and safe space where I feel like I can be myself. It's especially important at an institution like Princeton where people with my background aren't the norm.


What's been most helpful to you in acclimating to Princeton?

Taking initiative. Princeton has a plethora of resources and opportunities. I had a very hard time when I first started at Princeton and earnestly considered transferring. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a step back and ask myself what I really wanted out of the program and how I could make that happen. I realized that because I have niche career interests, I need to think creatively about the opportunities that will serve me most, and not all of those opportunities will present as academic. If you're willing to be assertive and honest about your needs, Princeton will be a great experience.


What should the ADI community know about you?

I'm like a kiwi - I may seem intimidating at first but I'm actually very sweet!


What do you know now that you wish you’d known before?

It's not that serious.


What activities do you engage in beyond research?

Eating, traveling, watching Formula 1 and documentaries, fostering animals, hosting gatherings/planning events, going to the beach, volunteering (Co-Social Chair of the Princeton University Policy Student Government [PUPSG], Steering Committee of Students and Alumni of Color [SAOC], Volunteer Advocate at Inclusive America, Volunteer Political Analyst at Truman National Security Project).


What is, or would be, your super power?

Seeing into the future.


What would you be doing if you weren’t in grad school?

Preparing for the midterm elections as a researcher on a campaign.


What’s your side hustle?

In middle school, I really wanted to go on a class trip to Washington, D.C. but my mom couldn't afford it and said if I wanted to go I needed to find a way to pay for half of it. Our school had just stopped selling junk food and I saw an opening. I started flipping candy bars and selling handmade scarves on campus out of my NASA Space Camp duffel bag. I believe I earned about $1,200 in a couple months - twice what I needed for the trip!


What’s your perfect day?

Trying lots of new food as I walk a new city.


What book, show, podcast, game, song, play, or movie best reflects your grad school experience?

Hunger Games.


How would your friends describe you?

Because I asked: ambitious, adventurous, curious, open-minded, loyal, smart, reliable, focused, inspiring, well-rounded, educated, stylish, grounded, fun, composed, driven, organized, a problem solver, ride or die, humorous, easy going, industrious, witty, thoughtful, assertive.