By Amy Crocker
s one might imagine, Stefanie Schaeffer's new job working for Donald Trump takes her around the world. When she reports for work in the Dominican Republic, "There are black rocks and foliage and greenery, turquoise water and pure white sands. You just half-expect a pirate ship to come around the corner. I'm looking for Johnny Depp."

The statuesque, confident 32-year-old often jets to New York, Las Vegas and the Caribbean, where she oversees the Trump development in Cap Cana, which will include hotels, apartments and golf courses. But though her workplace constantly relocates to wherever she has WiFi and Blackberry access, her home in the San Fernando Valley remains a constant. Schaeffer was born in Bur-bank and currently lives in Oak Park. "I still love the Valley," Schaeffer said. "I'm not leaving."

Growing up, much was anticipated of her: "My parents expected a lot; they're very driven. They expected me to go to medical school or law school." She picked law school (at Southwestern University) after an organic-chemistry class at UC Riverside (where she got her undergraduate degrees) ruled outmedical school. She became a trial attorney, defending big-time real estate developers. This parent-instilled drive to succeed was the main quality that propelled her to win The Apprentice. The ambition to win, though, was not actually what made her apply to be on the show; eliminating the competition only became a tangible goal once she was already cast.

In fact getting on the show wasn't originally even her own idea; a friend of hers (now her fiance) pushed her to apply. "He said 'Hey, you're a really big fan of The Apprentice, you know you could beat all those people.' He printed out the application and it was this giant stack of paper. He said, 'Fill this out.'" She did fill it out but then missed the Los Angeles open casting call ("I told him I was going to go and I didn't" she said). Her last chance was the San Diego casting call, and she didn't miss that one. But as soon as she walked in, she felt unprepared. Other potential contestants had been camping out all day with coolers and lawn chairs and suits in dry-cleaning bags. Schaeffer went to the casting call thinking she could make it back to court that afternoon. Although she didn't she said, "It was a really great day because I didn't have any expectations or anything. I got called back and called back and before I knew it, I was on the show."

The Apprentice was filmed over the summer of 2006 and aired earlier this year. The show's assignments tested Schaeffer's abilities: She had to come up with strategies from scratch in short periods of time, to communicate well and to effectively market and sell a product. At first Schaeffer's aim was just to avoid being the first or second one fired. After she made it past the opening rounds, she started wanting to win the whole thing.

The finale was filmed live at the end of the show's broadcast run, so there was a lag of several months between when Schaeffer finished participating and when she found out that she won. "In the interim period," she said, "I knew I had a 25% shot (of winning). Then in May, my life changed 180 degrees."

Her current job, she said, "is pretty much a little bit of all of the tasks that you saw on The Apprentice. All of the skills that those tasks were geared toward are necessary for what I'm doing now," Schaeffer said. And though she loved being an attorney, she enjoys bringing her law background to real estate development. "I love real estate and I really enjoy the construction aspect watching it be built, helping to get it done. It's pretty neat," Schaeffer said. "But I don't think you ever really leave law."

Because of her positive experiences with the Trump Organization, Schaeffer hopes to one day open her own real estate company which, she said, would "absolutely" be based in the Valley. She hopes that by owning her own business, she will be able to give back to her home community, as she believes that owning a business creates stronger ties to where one lives: "It's always helpful to have new blossoming businesses in your community. I think it brings new life. If you're interested in the community, you become a more interesting person," she said.

Schaeffer, also a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society (she's had family members affected by cancer), added, "Business owners tend to have more access to different ways to help the different charities available." But for now, her goal of owning a business is secondary to working for the Trump Organization and making the most of her one-year contract (which pays $250,000) at one of the world's biggest development companies. "It's much more than I had hoped for," Schaeffer said of her job. "Obviously, the goal is to extend that contract but you just never know."

According to Schaeffer, winning The Apprentice was the easy part, as now she strives to exceed the expectations of her famous boss. "I do report directly to Mr. Trump. He's very down-to-earth and very friendly and very helpful." Schaeffer also needs to win over the large team of developers who were working on the Cap project long before she won the chance to be their boss. "You're the new kid on the block. It's not up to them to make you feel welcome," Schaeffer said. "You can't walk in feeling entitled. Be interested in them and then you get the warm reception you want."

Overall, Schaeffer said, "I've had a good experience. It's all about how enthusiastic you are." But more than anything, her inherent drive to succeed will help her make her mark in her high-profile job: "It's a sink-or-swim thing," said Schaeffer, "and I kind of like that situation because I'll always swim."

Amy Cracker, a senior at UCLA, is the Arts & Entertainment editor of the award-winning Daily Bruin.
photos: Maria Rangel. Maria Photography