According to the Center for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. This accounts for an estimated 480,000 deaths per year in the nation, and 7 million worldwide. While fewer Americans are smoking today than in previous years, the goal for many health organizations and nonprofits is a world with zero deaths from tobacco. In pursuit of this future, UW–Madison alumna Megan (Arendt) Manning ’10 is working as associate communications director for Action on Smoking & Health (ASH)—a D.C. based nonprofit implementing legal and policy measures to end the global tobacco epidemic.
International issues have long been an area of high interest for Manning, who is originally from Kenosha. She participated in Model UN in high school (representing Rwanda) before enrolling at UW–Madison, where she double majored in international studies and political science with a certificate in African Studies. Along with her studies, involvement outside of the classroom allowed her to delve into global topics and issues impacting the nation and world. Continuing work with the Model UN as a host, and involvement with College Democrats and the Catholic Youth Center connected her with people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
“For me, the global world and the global landscape was where I was able to have all my friends working together,” Manning said. “And it didn’t feel like a conflict—it felt like we were all on the same side because we were all Americans and all global friends. I think that’s where I just sort of found my niche, and I really wanted to get involved in the global landscape of different politics.”
During her junior year, Manning participated in the Wisconsin in Washington, D.C. Internship program—a domestic study abroad program that allows undergraduate students to intern for a semester in Washington, D.C. Beyond the required internship, participants complete coursework and attend lectures from experts, explore D.C., and build networks with professionals across various sectors.
“I went into the interviews very adamant that I wanted to work for an African development organization because to me this was my chance to touch on Africa in some way,” Manning said. “I got placed at the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, which hosts summits in Africa and connects the African diaspora and the U.S. diaspora. I had a fantastic time. And the Sullivan Foundation invited me back to intern the following summer.”
Following graduation, Manning was hired full-time by the Sullivan Foundation, continuing her work connecting the U.S. with Africa and helping to organize Sullivan Summit IX in Equatorial Guinea.
Today, as a staff member at ASH, Manning is working to make change across a global issue. In her role, Manning has a wide range of responsibilities—producing ASH’s webinar series, spearheading communications to constituents and donors, managing social media, and more. This is essential as ASH works alongside and through entities such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations to enact policy and measures to end the tobacco epidemic.
“I think that communications is a skill set that can be used for good or evil,” Manning said. “I would rather use that skill set for a purpose that’s going to help people. I would rather encourage people to lead healthy lives.”
Manning has also involved Badgers in the cause by creating internships at ASH for UW–Madison students. The students assist in policy research, content creation, social media management, and other projects. It’s a win for students who are able to have an impact while practicing their skills in a professional context.
“Wisconsin interns are hungry and hardworking. I am proud to bring them on,” Manning said. “They’re giving Wisconsin a fantastic name here because that’s how they’re known in my organization and with partners who they work with as well.”
In advising the next generation of professionals in building their careers in D.C. and beyond, Manning encourages students to take careful notes on their experiences so they can recall them later as needed. She also encourages Badgers to be confident in themselves and their ability to make strong contributions across all fields.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how hard working they are coming from Wisconsin, and I think there’s a level of insecurity there at times,” Manning said. “Know that you’re coming from a reputable institution. If you’ve done well at UW, you’re very likely to do well out in the world.”