At Penn, 2003 College graduate Dan Schmerin set his sights on a career in public policy — and on his future wife.
He met 2003 College graduate Cathy Chavkin in the Quad during their freshman year. “I liked her, not clear that she liked me,” he said.
They began dating their junior year, which was when he started receiving straight A’s — 12 in a row, he said.
Schmerin has “never looked back.” They married in 2007.
Meeting his future wife in the school was “a big positive for Penn,” he said.
According to friend and former Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity brother Jeremy Shure, a 2000 College graduate, Schmerin found many things positive about Penn.
He “focused on debating how to make things better rather than focus on pointing out what’s wrong with the system,” he said.
Shure added Schmerin is “an example of someone who used their experience at Penn as a launching pad.”
Though Schmerin worked in at least five different government positions since he graduated, his interests have remained the same as they were at Penn, where he received the Norman D. Palmer Prize for the best senior thesis in international relations. He currently works at Fairholme Capital Management, where he conducts investment research.
Schmerin was interested early on in both economics and international relations. “I always wanted to play in the place where these two intersect,” he said. “That would be my battlefield.”
He began working for the government in 2004 as a research fellow in the office of the vice president in the White House.
He followed Condoleezza Rice to the State Department, where he worked from 2005 to 2007. There, he “quickly became one of our key people in the office,” said one of his former advisors at the State Department.
Schmerin was one of those who actively pursued terrorist groups by “follow[ing] the money.”
Regarding national security concerns about the civil airline Iran Air, Schmerin worked in implementing sanction policies, as some of those aircrafts were “illicitly obtained.”
Schmerin was “a bit of a detective,” his advisor said. He “was able to put 2 and 2 together on a lot of these issues.”
As a result, Schmerin helped craft official foreign policies. “Some of his ideas on implementing sanctions were adopted even though they were controversial,” the advisor said.
The Penn grad also left his footprints at the State Department in another way. According to the advisor, he “often walked around the office in flippers — cool and casual.”
In 2007, he went back to the White House, where he served as the Director for Preparedness Policy on the Homeland Security Council and helped draft the National Strategy for Homeland Security.
“It was a fun project,” he said.
“In some respects that’s the beauty of the government,” he added, referring to his leadership of an inter-agency task force at the age of 27.
Schmerin also had to deal with the 2008 economic crisis first-hand. That year, he entered the Treasury Department where he eventually served as Chief Operating Officer for the Legacy Securities Public-Private Investment Program — a $40 billion plan within the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
It was a plan to involve private investors in the government’s effort to unfreeze the real-estate credit market, explained David Miller, former chief investment officer of TARP. “We were charged with building a program essentially from scratch,” Miller said.
“You’re drinking from a fire hose,” Schmerin recalled of the crisis, calling it “controlled chaos.” It was difficult to respond quickly enough to the ongoing crisis, he explained, because of the need to gain Congress approval before implementing measures.
But Schmerin helped establish the P-PIP program rapidly. “He played a critical role in helping to roll it out,” Miller said.
But working in the Treasury Department also offered an “incredible bird’s eye perspective,” Schmerin said, because many of the policies under debate passed through that department.
Schmerin, who remained at the Treasury Department after President Obama took office, also witnessed the rollout period between two administrations. The transition period was the “most challenging professional experience in my career,” he said.
“Any transition is difficult,” he added.
When he was going from being a high school senior — where “you’re top of the heap” — to being a freshman at Penn, he was glad his brother Jonathan was still a senior at the school to provide “insight and guidance,” he said.