The Robertson Foundation for Government (RFG) is thrilled to announce the Dr. Schneider Professional Writing Award. This award recognizes the incredible contributions of Dr. Michael Schneider, who has served as a career advisor to RFG Fellows and Alumni for several years and whose talent and passion for writing has enriched Robertson Fellows’ understanding of global and domestic public policies. This award is designed to showcase the writing abilities and talent of RFG Fellows and Alumni on topics pertaining to Federal Government service, public policy, and international affairs.

Both RFG Fellows and Alumni are eligible to apply for this award on a quarterly basis and a winning piece will be selected each quarter and recognized by RFG on its various communication platforms. At the end of the year, the author of the top submission will receive a financial award in recognition of his/her achievement.



The Robertson Foundation for Government (RFG) is proud to recognize three Robertson Fellows who have been selected as Presidential Management Fellows (PMF)  Class of 2023 Finalists! Congratulations to  Emily Ashbridge (Bush, 2023), Jacob Emont (Maxwell, 2023), and Cate Pollock (UCSD, 2022) for this outstanding achievement!

The PMF Program is the Federal Government’s premier leadership development program for advanced degree holders. As Finalists, Emily, Jacob, and Cate will have the opportunity to be appointed to a two-year, full-time Federal position with salary and benefits, where they will apply their skills while engaging in leadership development training that includes experiential learning, cohort-based interactive training, and optional rotational experiences.

Each of these Fellows had to undergo a rigorous application process, including an online, multi-part assessment and a panel interview. Of the 10,000 individuals who applied for the PMF Program this year, Emily, Jacob, and Cate are among the 850 selected  Finalists. They join a network of more than 35 Robertson Fellows, who have also been selected as PMF Finalists since 2011. RFG toasts these Fellows on their accomplishment and looks forward to following their public service careers in the U.S. Government.

This quarter we reconnected with RFG Fellow, Kelli Sunabe (Maxwell, 2023), who recently completed a Boren Fellowship experience in Taipei, Taiwan. Kelli lived in Taiwan for approximately nine months as a Boren Fellow, studying Mandarin Chinese and deepening her knowledge of Taiwanese culture and the island’s relations with Mainland China. In the following piece, Kelli chronicles the victorious and challenging aspects of her Boren Fellowship. 

The Boren Fellowship is a long-established initiative that provides funding for research and language study proposals by U.S. graduate students in world regions critical to U.S. interests. Kelli joins a growing legacy of RFG Fellows, who have been selected as Boren Fellows. To date, more than 15 RFG Fellows have been selected for this prestigious award and have studied a diverse array of foreign languages, including but not limited to Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, and Swahili. Kelli chose to study Mandarin Chinese because of her academic background in U.S.-Asian relations and because of her previous experience studying the language in China as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She shared how her studies of the language in China had been cut short by the onset of COVID-19 and how appreciative she was to restart these studies as a Boren Fellow in Taiwan.

As a Boren Fellow, Kelli chose to study at an intensive immersion language school, where students were only allowed to speak Mandarin on school grounds and attended class every weekday for four hours, followed by 4-5 hours of homework designed to accelerate their understanding and proficiency in the language. She describes how she had to give five minute long speeches 2-3 times per week in addition to her other homework assignments in an effort to strengthen her oral communication skills. One element of her school that Kelli really appreciated was that all of the classes had a small class size of four students maximum, which enriched her connections with her classmates and ensured the teachers were aware of each student’s progress. 

In addition to her language courses, Kelli shared that one of the elements of her Boren experience that she really enjoyed was advancing her language abilities enough to be able to carry out conversations with local people and learn about their stories through their language. She remembers riding on a long-distance bus from the top of a mountain down to a coastal city and meeting an elderly woman who was from the indigenous group of that mountain area. She shares that the two of them were able to pick up a conversation naturally by speaking Mandarin Chinese, and as a result, she was able to learn about the woman’s childhood, career, family, and even her political views. She resolutely states that “this experience could not have happened if I did not speak Mandarin Chinese.”

Kelli also recounts some of the more difficult aspects of her Boren experience. She shares that “although it was challenging as political tensions between the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) intensified with the islands being surrounded by the People’s Liberation Army, I learned a lot from the Taiwanese people about democracy and grit.” She continues, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to have lived there while I did and to have met kind people who shared openly with me.”

Looking back to when she first departed for her Boren Fellowship, Kelli feels a sense of achievement as she was able to fulfill her two main goals for this fellowship program. The first of these goals was to achieve a higher proficiency in Mandarin Chinese. Before leaving for Taiwan, her proficiency was at a low elementary level and she was unable to read or write in Chinese characters. Now she has acquired an intermediate proficiency level and can communicate using a strong variety of Chinese characters. Her second goal was to gain a better understanding of the divergences in vocabulary, phrases, and cultural references between the Mandarin used in Taiwan versus Mainland China. She hoped that by becoming educated about these differences she would have a fuller grasp of these nuances and their impact on discussions related to governmental policies, political rhetoric, and citizens’ perspectives on geo-politics. Witnessing firsthand some of the political tensions between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan and being able to use her increased proficiency in the language to understand these political tensions has left Kelli feeling that she has taken concrete steps towards this goal and it has energized her to deepen her fluency in the language moving forward. 

Looking ahead, Kelli is currently working on completing her final semester at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. Upon graduation this summer, she aims to find employment with the Departments of State, Labor, or Energy. Overall, she wants to secure a position working on U.S. engagement efforts in Asia, stating, “I hope to contribute a thoughtful perspective on U.S. relations with Asia, and specifically China, that applies my experiences in Taiwan and China and my ability to speak Mandarin Chinese.” She underscores that a career in public service is very important to her. “My Peace Corps China service ingrained in me that a career in public service is the route for me,” Kelli explains. Moreover, she cites her upbringing, sharing, “My parents were both educators and dedicated to serving our local community. Their hard work and dedication inspired me to want to serve in some capacity as well.” She concludes with gratitude for both the Boren Fellowship and the Robertson Foundation for Government for affording her the opportunity to advance her education and pursue a career in this field.

On February 6, 2023, RFG joined with representatives of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to host a careers information session for Robertson Fellows. The session began with a presentation by DFC Human Resources Specialists, Samantha Miller and Nicole Smith, which provided an overview of the agency’s  mission and work, recent recruitment efforts and hiring priorities, and the various internship and employment opportunities within the agency.

In particular, the DFC aims  to recruit approximately 200 new employees by the end of September 2023, including  interns, full time civil service employees, and personal services contractors. The agency offers both paid and unpaid internships and recruits recent graduates through the Pathways Recent Graduate Program and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program. The presenters highlighted where such positions are advertised and offered recommendations for applying.  

The session also featured  a panel discussion  with three DFC employees,  Shirin Jamshidi, Director of Investment for the Asia and Middle East North Africa Team and International Economists, Alexander MacDonald and Sean Ramos. The panelists spoke about their experiences with the agency, including international travel and professional development opportunities, the skills needed to be a competitive applicant, and the nature of career progression at the DFC. 

A number of  Robertson Fellows and Alumni have interned and worked for the DFC. Most recently, RFG Fellow, Elisabeth Earley (UCSD, 2023) interned with the Office of Development Policy, where she worked closely with the Office’s Impact Management, Monitoring, and Learning division to review, clean, and verify data related to the agency’s efforts to promote women’s entrepreneurship, leadership, and workforce representation. Given the positive and enriching experiences of RFG Fellows and Alumni thus far, the Foundation was pleased to host this event in collaboration with agency representatives to promote DFC career opportunities for future RFG Fellows and Alumni.

On March 7-10, 2023, the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) hosted the 2023 Public & International Service Advisor (PISA) Spring Training Workshops, welcoming 80 new advisors to the PISA Network

APSIA’s PISA Network brings together undergraduate and community college advisors across the United States to advance their understanding of the professions of international affairs, public policy, and public administration on their campuses. The PISA Network provides support for and recognition of advisors as they counsel students to pursue careers in all of these fields. It also serves as a communication channel between campuses and the associations of graduate schools of international affairs, public policy, and public administration

The 2023 Spring Training Workshops began with a look at the vast career opportunities across the field of international affairs. Attendees heard from a diverse panel of international affairs professionals including a Foreign Affairs Officer for the US Department of State, a Manager at the C40 Centre for City Climate Policy & Economy, and a Policy Analyst at Atlas Public Policy.

The following day included a panel discussion on “Comparing Graduate Degrees & Mapping Financial Aid, which examined the distinctions between international affairs, public policy, public administration, and other professional degrees. The discussion also provided ways that advisors can help students understand the different possibilities for financial aid. 

The final panel focused on how students can articulate their experiences and stand out in applications. Panelists shared best practices in writing cover letters, statements of purpose, and personal statements. APSIA concluded the week with a look at what APSIA is and how the PISA Network assists advisors. 

RFG is a proud sponsor and participant in the PISA Network training workshops. To learn more about APSIA’s 2023 PISA Spring Training Workshops, please click here.

From the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program to the Pathways Recent Graduate and GAO Professional Development Programs, the Federal Government has well established initiatives designed to recruit, train, and integrate recent graduates into the public sector. RFG Alumni have excelled at leveraging these programs to launch their careers in public service, but discovering such opportunities can sometimes be challenging. Robyn Battles (Bush, 2022) is currently in a recent graduate opportunity with the U.S. Air Force Security Assistance Training Squadron (AFSAT). In the following piece, she shares her experience in the program thus far, along with recommendations for future Fellows interested in such pathways into public service. 

AFSAT’s Palace Acquire (PAQ) program offers recent graduates a paid, two-three year internship, along with a mentor and a team of professionals dedicated to helping participants achieve their personal and professional goals. After the successful completion of the training program, participants are offered a permanent civil service position. Robyn first learned of this program in 2021 when she was applying for summer internship opportunities between her first and second year of graduate school. She connected with the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC), who informed her of the program. Given she wasn’t eligible at the time to apply, she made the concrete decision to remain in touch with the office until she graduated. Robyn underscored how important this decision was, stating that finding a point of contact within the organization, either someone in AFPC or another PAQ intern, was crucial to staying up to date on the hiring cycle and potential openings. She shared that she did not see opportunities with the PAQ program advertised on USAJobs or other public forums, so having a contact was essential. 

As a participant in the PAQ program, Robyn has the title of Foreign Affairs Specialist. She directly supports AFSAT’s efforts to engage with international partners through the facilitation of training and other services for partner nations with the aim of strengthening the United States’ alliances around the world. As part of the program, she has the chance to work in various AFSAT departments, gaining insight into the different aspects of the organization’s mission and work. When asked what she is enjoying about her current job, Robyn highlighted that she appreciates all of AFSAT’s moving parts, stating, “It is fascinating to see how directives from top leadership translate into action in various departments that eventually affect individuals worldwide.”  She comments that one challenging aspect of the job is the “language barrier.” She explains that “working for the DOD and in the international affairs realm means processing lots of shorthand and acronyms to the point where I am seemingly ‘translating’ abbreviated sentences into plain English.” She admits that this is one challenge she anticipates will continue as she progresses in her career in public service. However, she appreciates the fact that she works in an environment where questions are welcomed and her colleagues willingly explain unfamiliar concepts.

Looking back, Robyn reflects that her graduate summer internship with INDOPACOM gave her the practical experience necessary for her current role. As an intern with INDOPACOM, she gained experience working on a military base, observing how civilians and military members interact, and understanding the defense industry. She explains that since AFSAT often works with Combatant Commands, she is now able to understand those partnership efforts better. Robyn also credits her academic training at the Texas A&M Bush School for providing her with the historical background to understand international relationships, the critical thinking skills to think a few steps ahead, and the practice of writing in diverse styles and formats. She recognizes the impact that RFG has had on her professional pursuits, stating that the Foundation “provided both professional and personal support to help me excel academically. From helping me secure an extremely rewarding internship to providing professional development seminars, the network of advocates made a huge difference.” Ultimately, Robyn is grateful for her parents, both of whom are retired Air Force members and who instilled in her the importance of giving back and selfless service. She is pleased to live out that legacy daily in her current position as she contributes to a mission larger than herself. 

For those future Fellows interested in the PAQ program, Robyn stresses the importance of making sure your resume highlights your academic record and experiences in the international affairs field and demonstrates how these experiences align with the mission and scope of AFSAT. If invited to interview, Robyn advises candidates to answer each question confidently, authentically, and articulately. She recognizes that the Federal job hunt can be overwhelming and that uncovering pathways into Federal service for recent graduates can be daunting. She encourages Fellows to pursue lots of avenues at once, to consistently keep in contact with potential employers, and to utilize their professional network. Reflecting on her own job hunt, Robyn shares that she would not have her current position with AFSAT if she had not stayed in touch with connections she made over the years. She also would not have this opportunity if she had only applied on one job platform, instead of using multiple platforms to cast a wider net. 

Looking ahead, Robyn is excited for the chance to expand her network both within and outside of AFSAT, taking her own advice of building and maintaining robust professional connections. She is also striving to expand her familiarity with new computer programs, databases, and management systems as a Foreign Affairs Specialist with AFSAT. Finally, on a personal note, Robyn aims to establish a reputation for being teachable, curious, and hardworking as she continues in her public service career.