RFG is proud to announce the most recent additions to the Robertson Fellows’ network. Ten new fellows have kicked off the 2022-2023 academic year, which marks the 14th class supported by RFG. 

We are excited to introduce our newest fellows and to share more about what motivated them to pursue careers in the Federal Government and international relations. You can read more about each of these amazing Fellows via their bios below. 

Melissa Alvisi, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Areas of Interest: Budgetary Management & U.S. Foreign Policy

Colleen Bowman, University of Maryland, School of Public Policy

Areas of Interest: Global Advocacy, Conflict Resolution, & International Development

Andrew Gasparini, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Areas of Interest: Public Diplomacy, International Development, & Cross-Cultural Exchange 

Indira Gunness, Texas A&M University, Bush School of Government and Public Service

Areas of Interest: Intelligence Analysis & Federal Law Enforcement

McKenzie Hartman, UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy

Areas of Interest: U.S. Foreign Policy, Climate Change, & Environmental Conservation

Abigail Huie, Texas A&M University, Bush School of Government and Public Service

Areas of Interest: Agricultural Policy & International Trade

Olivia Parker, University of Maryland, School of Public Policy

Areas of Interest: Consular Affairs, Foreign Language Acquisition, & U.S. Engagement in Asia

Grace Pettey, University of Maryland, School of Public Policy

Areas of Interest: U.S. Engagement in Africa, International Trade and Investment, & Climate Change

Marja Ritchie, Texas A&M University, Bush School of Government and Public Service

Areas of Interest: Cross-Cultural Exchanges & Community Development 

Jackson Rice, UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy

Areas of Interest: U.S.-China Relations & International Commerce

This past July, RFG Fellows and Alumni gathered together on the patio of the DACOR Bacon House as part of the Foundation’s annual summer BBQ event, a tradition that had been postponed for the past two years in response to COVID-19. The Fellows and Alumni were joined by spouses and significant others, and by Rosenthal Fellows interning in the Washington, DC area this summer. 

With over 40 individuals in attendance at the event, RFG Alumni smiled and laughed as they reunited with other alumni from their RFG partner schools and their graduation class years. RFG Fellows interning in the Washington, DC area this summer remarked on how incredible it was to be back in-person and to have the opportunity to engage with each other and RFG Alumni face-to-face. 

Along with the summer BBQ event, RFG invited Fellows and Alumni to connect in person in July at a Cocktails on the Patio event hosted by the DACOR Bacon House. This event gave Fellows and Alumni the opportunity to network with DACOR Bacon House members, including many retired Foreign Service Officers. A small contingent of RFG Alumni from the Texas A&M Bush School also met in person in July as part of the Dean of the Bush School’s summer intern and alumni reception. 

While RFG will continue to host virtual events during the academic school year, the Foundation is excited to return to in-person events both for the summer and the upcoming RFG Fall Gathering in October.

In today’s quickly changing strategic landscape, RFG looks to expand its partnership with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and the associated Center for Excellence – Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) to meet real-world challenges impacting the region. As the Indo-Pacific has risen in strategic importance and climate shocks continue to fuel humanitarian crises worldwide, partnering with USINDOPACOM and CFE-DM places RFG at the cutting edge of national security issues currently impacting the US.

RFG established its partnership with USINDOPACOM and CFE-DM in 2014 through the Student Volunteer Fellowship Program. The program is designed to engage graduate students from across the nation for a ten-week internship during which they work alongside staff within the Command on current national security issues in the Indo-Pacific. Over the past eight years, USINDOPACOM has hosted more than 15 Robertson Fellows for summer internships.

This past summer, Emily Ashbridge (Texas A&M ‘23), interned with the Command Synchronization Team at USINDOPACOM. Expanding on her background in the Asia-Pacific region, Emily said, “Interning at the Indo-Pacific Command this summer gave me an up close look at careers in public service and allowed me to contextualize my academic interests within a professional experience.” As Emily looks towards a career in government focused on the Indo-Pacific, this internship directly exposed her to government work at the center of the region she cares most about.

Given the heightened importance of the Indo-Pacific region, RFG President Geoff Robertson visited both USINDOPACOM and CFE-DM this summer to expand RFG’s partnerships with both entities. From the visit, two potential opportunities with CFE-DM were identified, one through the Applied Research and Information Sharing (ARIS) Fellowship and the other through capstone projects with RFG partner schools during the academic year. Such programs could provide research opportunities for Robertson Fellows year-round on innovative, relevant, and current issues concerning civil-military coordination to prepare for disaster management and humanitarian assistance missions.

Through the ARIS Fellowship program, graduate students are linked directly with developing operational initiatives and stakeholders to bridge the gap between academia and practice. Participation in the program would allow Robertson Fellows an opportunity to work on real-world challenges where their research will be used by planners and decision-makers. Through the capstone projects, selected students would work with practitioners, planners, and policy-makers to address current issues such as climate change, cybersecurity, and mis/disinformation.

As relationships expand with both USINDOPACOM and CEF-DM, RFG will continue to support graduate academic fellowships, government internships, and professional development on issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region. It is by bolstering these collaborative partnerships that RFG advances its mission to cultivate globally engaged public service leaders. 

Read more about Geoff Robertson’s visit in the CFE-DM monthly newsletter.

On July 16, 2022, the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) hosted a Diversity Forum Workshop for Students and Young Professionals as part of its sixth annual Diversity Forum Series. APSIA created the Diversity Forum Series in 2017 to inspire students and young professionals – and those who counsel them – to pursue careers in international affairs. The series particularly focuses on students who are traditionally underrepresented in the field. This year’s student workshop was attended by 50 undergraduates and young professionals from 34 institutions across the US.

RFG was proud to sponsor the event and have three Robertson Alumni participate in one of the sessions, Alum Chats: Moving Forward Professionally “Post” Pandemic. These alumni included Victoria Adofoli (UMD 2022) Cybersecurity Fellow & Technology Policy Advisor, TechCongress; Ana Monzón (Syracuse 2017) Foreign Service Officer at the US Agency for International Development; and Eric Inumerable (UCSD 2020) Research Analyst for the US Trade Development Agency at Ascendant Program Services, LLC. 


On Friday, July 15, 2022, the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Program hosted its 20th annual Public Service Expo and Career Fair. The virtual expo brought together more than 250 student attendees and over 60 exhibitors, including representatives from some of the nation’s top graduate programs in public policy and international affairs, as well as public sector employers seeking highly qualified individuals who are committed to public service. Students were able to engage exhibitors directly through virtual booths and have all of their questions answered. 

RFG is proud to have sponsored and participated in PPIA’s Public Service Expo for the past three years, and will continue to support the organization’s goal of diversifying the public service sector. For over 40 years, PPIA has provided access to a wide range of resources and opportunities in the public policy and international affairs sector. Their work brings together key stakeholders and partners from the top public policy schools in the nation, the federal government, and think tanks to cultivate a diverse talent pool of public servants committed to addressing pressing social challenges. 

RFG Chief Program Officer and Alumna, Sharon Swabb (UCSD 12), journeyed up to Cleveland, Ohio to speak with high school and undergraduate students as part of the Blacks in Government (BIG) 43rd annual symposium. This event was designed as an in-person training forum for both current civil service employees and students considering careers in the public sector. Sharon spoke on two panels at the event, including one on Careers in International Relations, where she was joined by representatives from the State Department, intelligence community, and federal law enforcement. She also spoke on a panel oriented towards women and girls to share her experience serving as a woman in government and leadership roles. Sharon’s remarks at the BIG Symposium are reflective of the Foundation’s broader efforts to educate and motivate young people, especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups in government, to pursue careers in public service.

RFG joined forces this summer with the Partnership for Public Service and its Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations to host a series of professional development programming for both RFG and Rosenthal Fellows who were interning this summer at a variety of government offices. This partnership, which has been ongoing for more than 10 years, gives RFG Fellows the opportunity to network with Rosenthal Fellows, who come from a variety of graduate degree programs across the U.S. These Rosenthal Fellows share the same passion as RFG Fellows for pursuing careers in the public sector and for addressing the most pressing public policy challenges in the both the domestic and international arenas. 

In an effort to promote greater collaboration and connection between RFG and Rosenthal Fellows, and to provide opportunities for professional growth, the Foundation organized biweekly events in July and August with the Partnership for Public Service. These events included a workshop on how to leverage networking when job hunting in the public sector; a session on careers in transnational security and refugee assistance; a workshop on how to effectively write for both senior government officials and the media; and a speed networking event with alumni. Each event featured experienced RFG and Rosenthal alumni, along with guest speakers who were experts in their field, affording Fellows the opportunity to expand their professional networks, learn more about potential career paths, and gain wisdom from the experience of others. 

In recognition of the importance of supporting the professional development of students and increasing diversity in the public sector, RFG issued a grant this summer to the Partnership for Public Service that provided stipends to four Rosenthal Fellows. These stipends made it possible for the four Fellows to pursue internships in the public sector without the financial burden of an unpaid internship. The recipients of the stipends were chosen by the Partnership for Public Service for the diversity that they would bring not only to the Rosenthal Fellowship cohort, but to government at-large. The Fellows represented demographic diversity, including gender, race, and ethnicity; non-U.S. and dual citizens; universities that are traditionally underrepresented in the Rosenthal Fellowship; and/or unique backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the Rosenthal Fellowship. RFG is proud of its longstanding partnership with the Rosenthal Fellowship and its efforts to promote diversity in the public sector while cultivating the next generation of federal government leaders.

The Presidential Management Fellows program — one of the prominent pathways into Federal Government service for graduate students — is an opportunity frequently sought after by RFG Fellows and Alumni. Specifically, the PMF Program is a leadership development initiative created by the U.S. Federal Government designed to recruit, train, and cultivate a cadre of future government leaders from a pool of advanced degree holders. The program offers recipients a two-year appointment at a Federal Government agency with a full-time salary and benefits at the GS-9, 11, or 12 level and a promotion potential up to a GS-13. Recipients also gain access to 160 hours of leadership development training, mentorship from a senior government official, and at least one rotational opportunity either within or outside their home agency. Along with these benefits, those selected for the PMF program join a robust network of current PMFs and PMF Alumni.

In an effort to support RFG Fellows along with the eligible recent graduates from the Classes of 2022 and 2021 in their preparations for the PMF’s 2022 application season, the Foundation held a virtual information session on the PMF program in August. The virtual session provided an overview on how to become a PMF and presented attendees with the opportunity to hear from current RFG PMFs, including:

  • Vy Nguyen (UCSD ‘20): International Economist at the Treasury Department’s Office of Trade Policy
  • Brett Northfield (Fletcher ‘20): Budget Analyst at the USAID Office of Budget & Resource Management
  • Michael Schwab-Holler (UCSD ‘19): China Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce

These RFG Alumni shared insights on tackling the PMF online assessment, which is the first stage in the application process. With over 170 questions included in the online assessment, Vy (UCSD ‘20) discussed strategies for handling the extensive battery of questions. 

“The online assessment can be very arbitrary with the same types of questions repeated in different ways,” Vy commented. “So, my best advice is to imagine yourself as a public servant and answer the questions in a way consistent with what you would do on the job.” She added, “That means you won’t necessarily answer a question the same way every time.” 

Brett (Fletcher ‘20) offered another strategy, encouraging attendees to take the 2–3-hour assessment piece by piece. “The online portion of the exam allows you to take each section individually,” he explained. “I recommend taking the exam over the course of two days and plan for breaks in between each section. It was helpful for me to take a break and clear my head while I was taking the exam.” 

A new element of the PMF application process is a structured interview that PMF semi-finalists who pass the online assessment will have to undergo to become PMF finalists. While the RFG Alumni speakers did not undergo this structured interview when applying for the program, they spoke on successful interview strategies they have employed in the past. Michael (UCSD ‘19) encouraged attendees to approach these interviews with the right mindset. He stated that “it is always good to be confident and let your personality come through. If it helps, you can always think about how someone who embodies the core competencies of the PMF program might respond to these types of questions and model yourself after that ideal.” 

Vy also encouraged attendees to consider their headspace when interviewing. “Relax and don’t compare yourself to others,” she underscored. 

Like Michael, Vy highlighted the importance of considering the eight core competencies deemed critical to success in a PMF role, stating “memorize the list of PMF competencies by heart! In your interview, answer the question concisely and articulately, and try connecting your experience with at least two or three of those competencies.” 

While core competencies have been an essential part of the PMF application process for years, the list of critical competencies has been updated this application cycle to include: Attention to Detail, Flexibility, Integrity/Honesty, Interpersonal Skills, Oral Communication, Reasoning, Self-Management, and Supporting Diversity. 

When considering potential interview questions, Brett made an important observation. “These interviews will likely focus on your desire to work in public service rather than your compatibility for any particular job,” he noted. “Prepare a strong answer to the question: Why are you interested in public service? Think about how your previous experiences make you a good match for working in public service and prepare accordingly,” Brett concluded. 

The speakers ended the session on a positive note, sharing the aspects that have been the best parts of their PMF experience thus far. Brett highlighted the benefits of the 4–6-month rotational assignment that PMFs get to pursue as part of their professional development in the program. 

He explained, “The rotation component of the program is an incredible opportunity to work in different areas of government. My two rotations were in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning and with Senator Chris Murphy’s Foreign Policy team. Both were the highlights of my PMF Fellowship.” Brett enthusiastically added, “The rotations alone are reason enough to apply for the PMF.” 

Michael shared how the cohort aspect of the program, along with access to the PMF alumni network, has been a positive part of his experience as a PMF. 

“There is a huge sense of community amongst PMF Fellows and Alumni,” he explained. “And it is a professional network that you can fall back on at any stage of your career.” Like Brett, Michael spoke on the professional development aspects of the PMF program, stating “the opportunities you get as a Fellow, especially the training and development assignment, are rare in the government and provide you with a great opportunity to experience a lot very early in your career.” Michael added, “I can’t speak more highly of the program.” 

Vy spoke on the connections she has made as a PMF, sharing “My favorite part [of the program] is the chance to meet incredibly smart, talented, and most importantly passionate people in the government.” She continued, stating “you never know who you’ll meet that will be instrumental to your career, but I’m certain that without the PMF I wouldn’t be where I am.”

RFG is extremely proud of its more than 30 PMF Alumni and the RFG Fellows and recent graduates who just completed the PMF online assessment in early October 2022. Thank you for your continued dedication to a career in the public sector and for your service as leaders in the U.S. government.

A defining characteristic of RFG Fellows is their commitment to public service and their dedication to cultivating the necessary skills and experiences needed to serve effectively as leaders in the Federal Government. Such commitment is demonstrated by the recently graduated Class of 2022, who have secured their post-graduation employment and launched their careers in public service. They are employed in a diverse array of agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Voice of America (VoA), and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense to name a few. In recognition of their achievements, we connected with two of the recent graduates to learn more about their experiences in their new offices and the lessons they have learned thus far.  

Elizabeth Marin (Syracuse ‘22) now works as a Homeland Security and Justice Analyst at the GAO. Marin was selected to join the GAO through its prestigious Professional Development Program, which is a two-year initiative designed to train and mentor entry-level professionals through various rotational opportunities among GAO’s mission offices. As a result of her academic and professional background, Marin is well-poised to embark upon her role at the GAO in support of its mission to ensure accountability within the Federal Government through fact-based, nonpartisan analysis. Specifically, she previously interned with the GAO, evaluating topics related to international affairs and trade. She also served as a virtual intern for USAID working on metrics and evaluation projects. This analytical background, paired with her dual Master’s degrees from Syracuse University in Public Administration and International Relations, now enable Marin to conduct the evaluations critical to GAO’s work with a constant eye to their global connections. As Marin explains, “I see GAO’s mission and core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability as pillars of functioning democracies and governments around the globe.”

For Ryan Damron (UMD ’22), who recently graduated from UMD’s School of Public Policy and secured an appointment as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Voice of America, he is working to share some of these same values as he supports journalists around the world. 

“I help manage a portfolio of about 600 journalists that broadcast to approximately 140 countries in 48 languages,” Damron shares. “I support VoA’s mission to broadcast unbiased news to populations living under repressive censorship by providing the resources, management support, and analytics that allow VoA to effectively get the truth out.”

Damron, whose academic background was originally in Economics, Finance, and Accounting, first became interested in working in international affairs as a former consultant for federal homeland security agencies in 2017. “The conversations I had with clients got me interested in the security/international affairs field (it was much more interesting than finance!). Those conversations led me to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania, where I had a few great opportunities to work on the cutting edge of international development and disaster response.” 

It is this Peace Corps experience that ultimately motivated Damron to pursue a career in public service and international relations. The experience was so impactful that Damron now recommends the Peace Corps to others, stating that “it is a great no-holds-barred introduction to the challenges and opportunities you’ll find in the international development domain.” Beyond preparing him for his field of interest, Damron explains how the returned Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) network in Washington, DC has supported him throughout his career. “Fellow PCVs have assisted me in getting internships, interviews, and my current job at the VoA,” Damron shares. “The network has similarly helped dozens of non-PCV public service professionals.”

Like Damron, Marin found her experiences abroad equally impactful for her interest in public service and her current work at the GAO. “My experiences in Princeton in Latin America, Fulbright, and study abroad in Latin America have provided me with key insight into international affairs and relations outside of a US-centric perspective,” Marin says. “My time in these programs strengthened my Spanish and Portuguese language skills and allowed me to work in other countries’ public sectors, which has been very informative and interesting.” Marin elaborates, explaining how these programs also helped her to step outside her comfort zone and not be afraid to continuously learn and explore; a trait that she will employ regularly as she moves through the different rotational assignments and offices of the GAO’s Professional Development Program.

Reflecting on the past two years of his graduate degree program and his now first days on the job at the VoA, Damron encourages current RFG Fellows to “try interning all over the government during grad school. It lets you get a taste for what you like, what you don’t, and will expand your network widely.”

Thinking back on her own experience, Marin urges current RFG Fellows to get involved in different, local communities, stating that community involvement is vital to a career in public service. She shares that “sometimes jobs or academics create bubbles that hinder our abilities to interact, learn, and work with people outside those environments. Throughout my academic and professional endeavors, I’ve tried to volunteer and participate in various communities to pop those bubbles and remember the reasons why I initially chose public service.” 

RFG is honored to have incredible Fellows, now Alumni, like Ryan Damron and Elizabeth Marin, who are committed to careers in public service and willing to share the lessons they have learned with others. The Foundation congratulates all of our recent graduates as they embark on the next chapter in their public service careers.

With the onset of the new school year, RFG Fellows have concluded their summer internships, which served as training grounds for their upcoming careers in the public sector. Fellows traveled far and wide this summer to complete internships with a variety of government agencies. Notably, Jacob Emont (Syracuse ‘23) journeyed to Tunisia to work with the Department of State and U.S. Embassy personnel in the city of Tunis. Emily Ashbridge (Texas A&M ‘23) also traveled far, spending her summer in Hawaii serving alongside Department of Defense (DoD) personnel at the United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). Along with Emont and Ashbridge, RFG Fellows completed internships both virtually and in the Washington, D.C. region with federal agencies such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), DoD, and State Department. We connected with two of these Fellows to learn more about their summer experience and how they will be applying the lessons they learned to the next steps in their careers. 

Naomi Atughonu (UMD ‘23) spent her summer interning at the GAO, where she not only gained a deeper understanding of the agency’s funding and work, but also exercised her interpersonal skills while working alongside interns from diverse academic backgrounds. “I was able to meet many people who started their careers in public service from many different areas, including film studies and oceanography,” Atughonu shares. “I learned about how much the findings of the GAO really impact federal agencies and departments, and eventually the general public/taxpayers.”

In addition to the above, Atughonu had the opportunity to attend discussions throughout the summer with directors from across the agency who spoke about their work at the GAO, and the chance to lead two agency meetings with the Navy. 

One of Atughonu’s peers at the University of Maryland, Cody Arigo (UMD ‘23) joined UMD’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). As an intern with UMD START, Arigo worked on a variety of research projects on behalf of the Department of Defense and other national security agencies. For example, he had the opportunity to work on a predictive analytical modeling project with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) that will be used to predict future crises, political instability, and mass nationwide protests across countries in an effort to improve disaster preparedness. 

Through this experience, Arigo gained a deeper appreciation for how critical it is for policy makers, civil servants, and intelligence professionals to communicate effectively. As Arigo observed, it is vital that these groups “listen to each other, rather than talking past one another in order to make complex government processes like interagency coordination as efficient as possible.”

For many RFG Fellows, like Atughonu and Arigo, internships are an opportunity to determine how they would like to pursue public service in the future. “I was not sure that I was interested in defense as a career,” Atughonu says, “but this internship gave me great insight into that career path and the various ways in which a person can pursue it along with the variety of issues within the defense subject area.”

For Arigo, his internship helped him to realize how his skills can be used in fields that weren’t originally his area of focus. Specifically, conversations with recruiters and personnel from the national security space, prompted Arigo to consider how his skill set could be applied to work for intelligence agencies. Arigo notes. “My internship experience affirmed a career interest in the intelligence community which I did not always have prior to this internship.” Delving deeper into this thought process, Arigo shares that upon starting graduate school last year, he was certain he would be working at the State Department or USAID, especially given his background as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Arigo explains, “I am still interested in that type of work, but this internship shifted my career interests more to becoming an analyst that develops area and functional expertise to support the wider intelligence community or the Pentagon and our national security apparatus.”

Both Arigo and Atughonu are grateful for the opportunity to have completed hands-on work and to have experienced federal service. They aim to build on these experiences as they continue their education. Arigo encapsulates this best when he states: “Regardless of where I ultimately end up, or where I go throughout my future federal civil service career, I will be happy just to be given an opportunity to serve my country, its Constitution, and American taxpayers.” Arigo continues, stating, “like working on sports teams made up of many individuals trying to achieve a common goal despite coming from many different backgrounds, I look forward to going to work every day and collaborating with teammates and coworkers who are different from me in order to achieve the agency’s overall mission.”

RFG is exceedingly pleased with the variety and quality of internships that its Fellows completed this summer and is eager to support their transition into the job hunt as they complete their second year of graduate study. Bearing the future in mind, Atughonu shares her appreciation for the RFG Fellowship and alumni network, observing that “there are RFG Fellows who are working in various subject areas [in government], and I feel that I am able to talk to anyone about a career path or subject I am interested in.”