Even during his undergraduate experience, Jaren Dunning (MPA ’13, JD ’13) knew he wanted his career to revolve around supporting human rights initiatives. Currently he is the Senior Legal Director for Global Human Rights & Employment Law for PepsiCo, and he gets to do just that. Jaren’s Bulldog journey started with his pursuit of dual degrees- a Juris Doctorate (JD) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at UGA’s School of Law and School of Public and International Affairs. 

The MPA/JD degree allows a student to earn both degrees in four years, eliminating approximately one year of academic work.One of the rare individuals able to complete this rigorous program, Jaren concentrated on completing the JD first, specializing in International Law and Public Policy. He worked for the United Nations’ Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) in Torino, Italy researching judicial system reform and focusing on how to improve the rule of law through judicial education. He then worked for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, Austria focusing on how to prevent violence against children in the juvenile justice system.

After completing his JD, Jaren shifted into public policy courses to obtain his MPA. His last semester of graduate school found him working for PepsiCo. Here, he was able to learn about a broad range of issues in the private sector that complimented his public policy coursework, including environmental and social policy. After graduation, he was elated to receive an offer to work for the company full-time in their Global Public Policy and Government Affairs department, which focuses on policy development and stakeholder engagement. This department serves as a “mouthpiece for the company that also helps internalized stakeholder feedback and drive progress on policy-related issues,” says Jaren. Here, Jaren worked on environmental policy and human rights initiatives, so it was a natural progression when Jaren was asked to join PepsiCo’s new, centralized sustainability office when it was created in 2015. 

When PepsiCo launched its elevated sustainability agenda in 2017, Jaren was tapped with a new role- Senior Counsel of Global Human Rights & Employment Law, which created a human rights office within the law department. This allows him the opportunity to provide legal counsel and advise the business on human rights while also developing best practices to drive a practical human rights strategy globally. “It has a bit of the quarterbacking component to it,” says Jaren, adding that is something that he enjoys. He also embraces the opportunity to work with fellow MPA graduates, including that they keep in touch and work well together after bonding on campus as classmates.

Jaren completed his MPA internship requirement, which is 300 hours of service, at the Fanning Institute at UGA with a concentration on community economic development. Jaren remembers that he had a “real passion for the policy side and working with the communities’ economic development teams. It was just fun. A ton of fun!” That experience “is what inspired me to get the MPA.” Although the course load was challenging, Jaren sees the time spent in the dual degree program was beneficial to his career goals, noting that “the staff and professors- that has been a real fruitful piece of the MPA.”

Jaren joined the SPIA Alumni Board in July 2021 and sees it “as an honor to serve alongside  peers and past colleagues and contribute back to the school and the students.” He hopes to focus on mentorship and career development for SPIA students. “Now having a few years under my belt, I see the importance of me having access to alumni and mentors to ask those important questions like, ‘How did you get there?’ It has been pivotal.” We are a “close-knit circle,” and he hopes to see more opportunities for students to connect with alumni.

“Mentorship has been a game-changer throughout my career. I can go back to mentors that I have had since high school, all through college. The board provides a unique opportunity for mentorship in the program. That’s what interested me.”

The best advice Jaren has to offer is this: “Learn from people you respect.” He also points out the value of putting yourself in professional situations to “find the answers to the questions that compel you. That is a career driver. There are a lot of questions that I still want to answer.” 

“Put yourself into a position to explore opportunities you are most interested in. As you find people that inspire you, go work with them.” 

If you’re a current student looking for an alumni mentor like Jaren, join the UGA Mentor Program today. Are you an alum interested in giving back by sharing your experiences with current students? Sign up to be a mentor or give an informational interview through the UGA Mentor Program.