Volunteer spotlight: Federal attorney shares insights with students
By Miranda Langrehr '14
"Sometimes opportunities present themselves to you on the way to where you're going, but other times you have to make those opportunities for yourselves," Howard Wiener '77 said.
A group of nearly 15 students eagerly watched Wiener speak to them on a video monitor as he described how he became an Assistant U.S. Attorney, prosecuting criminal cases for the federal Department of Justice.
The event, held Sept. 17 in the College-in-the-Woods Commons, was part of the Alumni Association's monthly Cool Connections, Hot Alumni speaker series. The objective is to bring busy and accomplished alumni to campus – to share their expertise and advice with current students – using the power of video technology.
Wiener encouraged the students to create their own opportunities and to be aware that there is no single door to their future. While at Binghamton University, Wiener struggled to select which of his passions to focus on.
"Half of me wanted to be a scientist, and the other half wanted to be a lawyer," he said.
After getting involved in student politics as Hinman College's representative to the Student Association, and excelling in Professor Clifford Kern's macroeconomics class, Wiener decided the life of a scientist wasn't for him.
"When I was in the laboratory of the chem building, I had trouble envisioning myself there for the rest of my life," he said.
Wiener graduated with degrees in political science and economics. He applied to law schools during a gap year after college, spent a year at Northwestern University, then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
During his years at Penn Law, Wiener used off-campus experiences to help him discern what type of law he wanted to pursue. He spent his summers interning at firms of varying sizes, doing research for professors and working for legal services in Chicago.
By chance, Wiener saw an article in a law magazine about an prestigious internship at the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan. The experience changed his life; Wiener felt the field was a perfect fit.
"From then on, I worked to maximize my chances of getting that job, consistent with other values and choices," he said.
Wiener stressed the importance of internships, explaining they demonstrate a strong interest in something and send a message that the applicant understands the workings of his or her desired profession.
"It's worth every penny of getting paid nothing... sometimes you have to give up some money to get the experience you want," he said.
Wiener worked at a small firm in Philadelphia after graduating, a well-known establishment he thought would position himself to get a job at the U.S. Attorney's office someday.
That day came sooner than he thought; after about 18 months, he applied to the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia.
"The rest is history," he said. "It's where I've been ever since."
Wiener has been with the U.S. Attorney's office since 1984. His office handles cases involving interstate components, such as counterfeiting, kidnapping, environmental crimes and organized crime.
"Right now I'm working on this wild case," Wiener said. "It involves the mafia's take over of a financial services company in Texas... and the looting of that company to the tune of $12 million."
"I tell people I have boring days but I never have boring weeks, and it's true. It's an interesting job, that's why I've stayed here," he said.
Wiener stressed that working hard at Harpur can get students a long way. "It's a great place," he said. "I have a tremendous amount of loyalty. It taught me what I needed to know, and I got a phenomenal education," he said.