Dedicated Washington University volunteer Amy DuVall recently accomplished a major career goal. As an environmental lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council, she spent more than 10 years building a coalition of 200 trade associations to reform and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The process was long and arduous, but DuVall’s broad coalition eventually helped pass the most significant piece of environmental legislation in decades — the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act — in 2016. Afterward, DuVall found herself wondering, “What’s next?”
“I had accomplished exactly what I originally set out to do,” she says, “and I knew it would be decades before a similar opportunity came along.”
DuVall decided to turn her attention to her neglected creative side, and she left the congressional lobbying world in early 2018 to pursue her passion for baking. In addition to documenting her baking adventures in her blog, From Politics to Pastry, and writing a book about her recent success building and leveraging a large coalition, DuVall serves as chair of the Washington, D.C. Alumni Network.
Why did you transition from environmental lobbyist to pastry-chef-in-training?
My lobbying work was all-consuming. I missed having time to be creative, and I was ready to make a change. I have always been an organized person with a clear path forward, so embracing the unknown is new for me. I briefly apprenticed at a large bakery in D.C., and I was grateful for the opportunity, because internships and apprenticeships allow you to discover what you like and what you don’t like. The experience taught me that I don’t want to work in a high-volume bakery in D.C. Further, I can’t rule out a return to politics in the future. But right now, I’m content to build my confidence as a chef, learn new techniques, take classes and bake for family and friends.
How did your WashU experience influence your career?
My parents always told me and my sister that we could accomplish whatever we wanted, so I didn’t feel daunted as a woman pursuing a degree in a technical field. However, after I arrived at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, I quickly realized there were very few women in the program — which was excellent training for my time representing the electrical utility and chemical industries as a lawyer and lobbyist. I worked very hard to succeed, and so did all of my classmates. I had a wonderful mentor, Maxine Lipeles, now director of the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic in the School of Law. As my senior year adviser, she helped me choose a graduate law program, and her viewpoint was invaluable. I’ve turned to her for advice many times throughout my career, and I’m grateful for her continued mentorship.
Why is staying connected to the university important to you?
I was a very involved student. I sang with the a cappella group The Greenleafs for four years and served as the business manager. I served as the president of the Society of Women Engineers and tutored students in calculus. I played in the Pep Band, and I was involved in student government. I received generous scholarships — so I always felt a responsibility to give back to the university that had given me so much. I joined the William Greenleaf Eliot Society immediately after I finished law school, and I began volunteering. I have co-chaired two of my Reunions and have served on the Washington, D.C. Eliot Society membership committee. I currently serve as chair of the Washington, D.C. Alumni Network (formerly Washington, D.C. Alumni Club). We’re very lucky to have many amazing, accomplished and accessible alumni in the D.C. area who are actively involved with the network and happy to give back to the university.
I had many outstanding mentors at Washington University. The people who helped me along the way often said, “All I ask is that one day you pay it forward.” So, when someone calls to let me know they have a WashU engineering student who’s thinking about law school and needs advice, I’m always willing to meet that student. It gives me great satisfaction to continue the long tradition of WashU alumni helping students and each other.