RFG is proud to recognize Emily Ashbridge (Bush, 2023) as the winner of the Dr. Michael Schneider Professional Writing Award for the second quarter of 2023. Check out her award-winning piece below titled, “Making the CHIPS Act Pay Off: How to Boost STEM Talent to Meet Industry Needs.” This piece was originally published by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) when Emily was serving as a NDIA Fellow in 2022. 

In August, President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law. The act, which sets aside $52 billion in government subsidies to bring semiconductor manufacturing to the US and away from current East Asian productive hubs, marks a significant milestone in strengthening US technological competitiveness. However, as significant as these investments are, additional action is needed to ensure semiconductor companies have access to the human talent that keeps them competitive. Here, US allies and partners can help.

While the US pioneered chipmaking, domestic production has waned in recent years. Since 1990, US semiconductor manufacturing capacity has dropped from nearly 40% of the global supply to 12% today. During the same period, these chips have become essential to American life. Semiconductors not only underpin daily electronics from cell phones to cars, but have military uses that pose critical national security threats if America gets left behind.

The CHIPS Act is designed to shore up American vulnerabilities. By increasing domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, the US aims to become more resilient to supply chain disruptions and the significant security implications that come with them, like those that occurred during the pandemic. Further, as China steps up aggression towards Taiwan, where over 90% of the world’s most advance chips are produced, Washington feels pressure to build resiliency in the event of East Asia production grinding to a halt.

While the CHIPS Act is a significant step in strengthening supply chain security, American capacity to manufacture chips faces an unexpected barrier: human capital. For high-tech industry, a small yet critical core of high-skilled workers is essential. However, decades of declining investment in STEM education have produced a critical shortage of qualified American workers. In 2015, economic projections estimated a need for 1 million more STEM professionals in the US for the country to maintain its preeminence in science and technology. While the US missed this mark, demand for STEM professionals has only increased.

The talent bottleneck is particularly visible within semiconductor applications. To meet capacity needs for only the critical semiconductor applications, the US will need to increase its current workforce by 50%. If the U.S. were to not just handle critical needs but become self-sufficient, it would require nearly four times more manufacturing plants and associated jobs. While the Government Accountability Office has recognized the need to implement workforce development policies to increase the STEM talent pool, the effects of these policies will take years to materialize.

At the same time, semiconductor manufacturers are grappling with an insufficient supply of workers now. Last month, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation was forced to delay the opening of a chip manufacturing plant in Arizona by six months due, in part, to labor shortages. As companies decide whether to pursue government subsidies through the CHIPS Act or not, the availability of skilled labor will be a central consideration in their process. Washington’s Investment through the act will not pay off unless it addresses the talent bottleneck.

Boosting the talent pool will require both long-term and short-term action. Long-term efforts must focus on funding STEM education and, in effect, revitalizing the American research and defense industrial base. Throughout history, federal support for research and development has fostered a pipeline of innovators that has changed the tide of war and propelled economic and technological growth. The government’s drive is needed again. By expanding STEM scholarship opportunities and boosting federal training programs that re-skill labor to meet the demands of semiconductor companies, the US can make and sustain strides to closing the labor supply gap.

At the same time, more immediate solutions are necessary. While there are not enough native-born Americans equipped with the skills to meet labor demand, the US continues to educate and graduate foreign nationals that do. Allowing these students to stay in the country could help alleviate the labor shortages semiconductor firms face. In Ohio, where Intel has pledged $20 billion to build two new plants, foreign-born workers in chip-making occupations constitute 10 percent of the labor force, which is double the state’s average immigrant share. As more companies shift manufacturing back to the US, thousands of new jobs will remain vacant unless the industry is empowered to retain foreign talent.

To boost chip-manufacturing, Washington must reform its immigration policy. One avenue is to extend visas for foreign-born students educated in STEM fields at American universities to stay in the country. Following graduation and successful corporate sponsorship, these foreign students could convert student visas into work visas for a duration of five years. In addition to filling the current labor gap, smart immigration reforms can also advance US geopolitical goals. Prioritizing citizens from like-minded countries, such as India and Japan, could further demonstrate Washington’s commitment to allies and partners while boosting the labor supply.

Now that President Biden has signed the CHIPS Act, semiconductor companies will decide how and whether to leverage the subsidies set aside to boost domestic chip manufacturing. Their decision to do so rests, in part, on the availability of qualified workers. Expanding the talent pool to include highly skilled foreign talent will not only meet the demands of the industry, but also help to advance US geopolitical goals with key partner nations. While the CHIPS Act is a first step in bolstering American competitiveness, more work is needed.

The Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) held their Virtual Intern of the Year Awards on May 31, 2023. In support of this event, the Robertson Foundation for Government partnered with the VSFS Program to highlight the important contributions of virtual student interns to Federal Government initiatives. As part of that support, RFG gave cash awards to the VSFS Interns of the Year. The recipients of these awards included seven students who were recognized for their work with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In addition, RFG gave cash awards to two students who received the Virtual Intern Project of the Year Award for their contributions on the Afghanistan Lessons Learned project with the U.S. Department of State.

In April 2023, RFG Fellow, JaKyah Beatty (UMD, 2024), returned from her travels abroad as a Boren Fellow studying Swahili in Tanzania. While abroad, JaKyah had the opportunity to learn a critical language, progressing from having no prior knowledge of Swahili to reaching an advanced intermediate fluency in the language after nine months of intensive study and immersion. She also had the chance to deepen her knowledge of international development efforts taking place in Eastern Africa, which is an aspect of her experience that ties not only into her professional background, but also her long-term ambitions of working in the global development field. In the following piece, JaKyah highlights different aspects of her experience as a Boren Fellow, including lessons learned, the rigorousness of her foreign language study, and how this experience has influenced her career goals. 

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. JaKyah is among 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. In fact, two new RFG Fellows, Cody Arigo and Jackson Rice are currently preparing to embark on their studies abroad in India and Taiwan respectively. For JaKyah, she chose to study Swahili in Tanzania because of her professional background working with a social enterprise in Uganda in 2018. She expressed that “I learned so much from that experience after undergrad and wanted to go back [to the region] with my increased knowledge of development.”  She added that she was also excited to have the opportunity to learn a critically essential language that she might not otherwise have had the chance to learn without spending significant time in East Africa. 

When applying for the Boren Fellowship in 2022, JaKyah felt that her previous experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji made her more competitive. She leveraged the fact that she already had experience learning another foreign language in preparation for her service with the Peace Corps. She also underscored her background working in East Africa and her adaptability and hard-working nature. Thinking back to her application, JaKyah shared how she emphasized the skills that the Boren Fellowship values, including her “passion for the country and language and how the experience would make her a better public service employee.”

Her experience of learning a foreign language for the Peace Corps definitely was helpful as JaKyah adjusted to four-hour long, daily language classes while living in Tanzania. These classes were intensive and intimate with there being only four students per teacher. In addition to these classes, JaKyah participated in two-hour long sessions twice a week with conversation partners, who were representatives from the local community and college. She shares that these “conversation partner sessions were fun because we could watch movies in Swahili together, listen to music, and learn words and phrases used in non-academic contexts.” JaKyah discusses how her Boren experience also included field trips, culture, and history classes once a week to further her understanding of Tanzania. Outside of the classroom, JaKyah lived with a host family, who was not allowed to speak English to her, helping her to learn how to express her basic needs quickly upon arrival in the country. 

An integral aspect of her foreign language learning was the local community. She shares how willing people in the community were to speak Swahili with her, despite her initially limited understanding of the language. “I felt like people I met in markets or around town generally encouraged me to continue learning the language,” JaKyah remembers. “This made me feel like I had a hundred teachers.” Despite this encouragement, JaKyah admits that she struggled with finding the confidence to be okay with making mistakes in Swahili. “Learning a new language is difficult,” JaKyah comments. “Pushing past the embarrassment of feeling like I knew nothing all the time was very challenging in the beginning.” She describes Swahili as a hard language to learn given it has nine or ten noun classes and agreements, making remembering which words go with each other difficult and a process she is still mastering. Despite these difficulties, JaKyah rose to the challenge reaching an advanced intermediate fluency in the language before departing Tanzania earlier this spring. 

JaKyah shares that her experience as a Boren Fellow has been an extremely positive one and that she would wholeheartedly recommend it to other RFG Fellows. For those interested in this incredible opportunity, she encourages them to “think deeply about why you want to participate in the program and have clear professional and personal goals associated with your language and country of choice.” Given being involved in the local community is an integral aspect of the Boren experience, JaKyah recommends that those seeking to be a Boren Fellow look into NGOs that interest them and community spaces and activities relevant to the area where they are applying. “The more effort you put in before the program, the more you will gain from it in the end,” JaKyah states. 

With her Boren Fellowship complete, JaKyah is now turning her attention back to school and her long-term career goals. She will be returning this Fall semester to complete her graduate studies at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and is expected to graduate from the program in the Spring of 2024. Career-wise, JaKyah is considering two potential paths. The first is applying to Federal Government agencies in the international trade policy arena so that she can be actively involved in the implementation of socially inclusive trade laws that guard against any potentially negative social or environmental impacts for the populations they affect. The second is applying to serve as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, either in the field of Public Diplomacy or Economics. “The Public Diplomacy Officer position interests me because it entails building bridges of understanding between Americans and the rest of the world,” JaKyah states. This mission connects directly to her previous service with the Peace Corps, where a large portion of her role was to share American culture with local communities in Fiji, while also learning about Fijian culture and bringing it home to share with her fellow Americans. JaKyah comments, “I believe that developing mutual cultural understanding is imperative to continuing strong foreign policy and foreign relations.” Her interest in the Economic Officer position with the U.S. Foreign Service is rooted in her desire to work with other countries on environmental and economic development issues in underdeveloped or newly emerging countries. 

JaKyah remains extremely grateful for the opportunity to be a Boren Fellow. She shares how ultimately, she was able to broaden her knowledge of Swahili, East Africa, and international development through this experience, while also cultivating skills that will be instrumental to her future career in public service. Of great importance to her as well is the fact that she contributed to paving the way for other students of color to pursue similar experiences in the international affairs field, “a domain where these students are typically underrepresented,” JaKyah describes. The daughter of a U.S. military family, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and now a RFG and Boren Fellow, JaKyah exemplifies a passion for public service, foreign language learning, and international affairs, and she is steadfast in her dedication to pursuing these areas not only for herself, but for future generations to come.

The Class of 2024 Robertson Fellows have finished their first year of graduate school and are embarking upon their summer internships, focused on furthering their careers in public service. This year, Fellows are interning at agencies as diverse as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Two RFG Fellows, Olivia Parker (UMD, 2024) and Jackson Rice (UCSD, 2024) are interning in Hawaii with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, while RFG Fellow, Melissa Alvisi (Maxwell, 2024) is spending the summer in Singapore, interning for the Commercial Service.  

In addition to their internship experiences, these Fellows will have the opportunity to attend a series of professional development events hosted by the Partnership for Public Service’s Call to Serve Network. These events are designed to strengthen their skills and broaden their professional networks in the Federal Government. As part of these events, RFG Fellows will network with members of the Partnership for Public Service’s Rosenthal Fellowship and Future Leaders in Public Service program. Along with these professional development opportunities, the RFG Fellows interning in Washington, DC this summer will have the chance to network with RFG Alumni and members of the U.S. Foreign Service community through RFG-hosted, in-person events at the DACOR Bacon House. 

RFG looks forward to sharing more about their summer experiences and highlighting their stories this Fall.

This quarter we connected with RFG Alum, R. Taylor Moore (UMD, 2013), who has worked for the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service (Commercial Service) for nearly a decade. Taylor’s career with the Commercial Service has included overseas postings in China and Mozambique and service stateside in Washington, DC and Houston, Texas. Currently, Taylor is the Senior Commercial Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique, where he leads the Commercial Section. 

The Commercial Service, which is a part of a U.S. Department of Commerce bureau called the International Trade Administration, supports American exporters – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – with entering and expanding in international markets. It also works to address overseas barriers to American exports, help U.S. companies win foreign government tenders, and attract inward investment. As Taylor explains, “Companies operating overseas often lack the same legal protections as they do in the United States and often face headwinds in entering or operating overseas, and the Commercial Service fills that void.” Located in more than 80 markets and over 100 domestic offices, Commercial Officers often serve as the first point of contact for American exporters to access other agencies, from the Patent and Trademark Office and Small Business Administration to funding agencies like the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the U.S. Export-Import Bank. 

When reflecting on what initially interested him in the Commercial Service, Taylor recounts two specific memories. He first learned about the U.S. Commercial Service when working for Maryland’s Economic Development Office in Shanghai. During a trade mission to China in 2010, he had the opportunity to hear from a Commercial Service Officer who accompanied the team from Baltimore. He also had the chance to meet the head of the Commercial Section based at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, who spoke at an event during the delegation’s stay in China. This initial exposure was reinforced when he began his studies at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. There, he served as a graduate assistant for Professor Susan Schwab, who had previously worked as Assistant Secretary for Global Markets and Director General of the Commercial Service. These individuals deepened his interest in the Commercial Service, and also encouraged him to apply. As Taylor recounts, “I liked the idea of working in a pragmatic role to support American exports and jobs back in the United States.” 

When applying for the Commercial Service, Taylor remembers how important it was to have work and management experience under his belt. “An essential part of this job is managing local staff who spend years developing their local industry expertise and knowledge, and without whom we could not function,” Taylor explains. The fact that he had begun his career working in quality control for a U.S. company in China, helping with production and a factory there, and that he had gained trade promotion experience working with the State of Maryland on its relationship with China both proved essential when applying to the Commercial Service. These experiences allowed Taylor to begin developing the ability to multitask, coordinate among competing priorities, navigate challenges creatively, work in a multicultural setting, and manage a team effectively. 

Since joining, each post has been a learning opportunity, according to Taylor. As a junior officer in Beijing, he already had experience with the language and culture, so he was able to really focus on the tradecraft and leverage the large Commercial Service presence at that posting. He learned from his colleagues on everything – from how to conduct specific tasks to how to shape and direct his career. In his next post in Shenyang, China, Taylor led the office as the Principal Commercial Officer, which is the head of a commercial section in a consulate. When posted later to a domestic position in Houston, Texas, Taylor had the chance to connect with and better understand the agency’s domestic operations, at least until COVID-19 locked everything down. An upside of the lockdown, Taylor shares, is that he met and married his wife Brenda, in Houston, finding some work-life balance that had been missing. Now in Mozambique, Taylor is learning how the Commercial Service’s operations look in a very different part of the world. As Taylor describes, “We face a different set of challenges and opportunities here from what I knew in China, and – with the grace and patience of my staff and more Africa-experienced colleagues – I would like to think I have learned a lot.”

As Taylor enters his final year in Mozambique, he has a couple of initiatives that he would like to achieve. First, Taylor’s team is sending a large delegation of over 30 people to trade shows in the United States. As Taylor explains, “We hit upon a huge amount of interest in bringing new business models to Mozambique through franchising last year – especially in hospitality and tourism – and my team has done wonderful work building on that into large delegations going to the National Restaurant Association Show in May and the International Franchise Expo in June.” Second, he would like to execute a reverse trade mission – bringing potential buyers and decisionmakers to the U.S. – in agricultural processing machinery to assist Mozambique’s plans to build value-added, commercial-scale agriculture. Finally, Taylor hopes that his agency’s support for the Mozambique Gas and Energy Summit in September could help launch several initiatives for the coming year in not only natural gas – which the country has in abundance – but also in critical minerals mining. “This is an area where the U.S. has a lot of room to collaborate with Mozambique,” Taylor adds. 

When asked what he enjoys most about his job, Taylor shared that “satisfaction in this job comes from our metrics and the testimonials from our clients.” He continues, stating that he “can point to specific projects or companies’ successes that we have here and tie them to export amounts and jobs supported in the United States.” On the flipside, Taylor admits that the job’s challenges often come from competing priorities, whether those be from the Department of Commerce, the embassy, the local government, or companies and organizations he is working with, which he subsequently must navigate with tact.

When thinking about the challenges of his work, Taylor shared an example of the tradecraft and perseverance that he and his team have had to implement in the past. In 2018, despite extensive outreach and groundwork laid for a winter sports-themed event in Jilin and Harbin – the epicenters of skiing and ice hockey in China, respectively – recruitment for the event failed. Outreach through various global industry teams initially received strong positive responses, but the event ultimately failed to attract U.S. company commitments. This was a big blow to the office, Taylor remembers, but in the end, he was able to both draw positive lessons and find trade opportunities amid this situation. Local partners, including the First Hospital of Harbin, all pointed to acute needs for sports therapy in China, and he and his team made introductions to American sports medicine institutions. Furthermore, by maintaining the relationship with the hospital and by facilitating a visit by then-U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad during his visit to the region, Taylor and his team were able to connect local Chinese partners to a U.S. medical equipment company that ultimately resulted in the export of $200 million in U.S. proton cancer-therapy equipment. Overcoming this challenging situation was a point of pride for Taylor and his team members. 

Taylor attributes a good portion of his success as a Commercial Service Officer to his graduate studies at the University of Maryland. His courses on economic, political, and policy contexts enable him today to counsel clients more holistically and to better coordinate his work with other parts of the U.S. Government. Thinking back on his graduate education, Taylor explains how being selected as an RFG Fellow made it much easier for him to go back to school and complete his career transition to the public sector. The Foundation’s support for his summer internship also enabled him to take a position with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, which stretched into an eight-month stay and broadened his perspective on U.S. trade policy processes. 

Given his incredible career with the Commercial Service and his experience as an RFG Fellow, Taylor strongly encourages other RFG Fellows to consider applying to serve as Commercial Service Officers. “The Commercial Service presents an opportunity to work at a very practical level with companies on how to enter and expand in markets outside of their legal and cultural framework,” Taylor states. He emphasizes that “it can be very motivating to be able to point to concrete examples where your work has supported success for U.S. companies and jobs at home that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.” Taylor also highlights the many benefits of the Commercial Service, including exposure to foreign cultures, interesting work, and great benefits for families. Overall, Taylor has led a fulfilling career with the Commercial Service that is far from over and he is excited for other RFG Fellows and Alumni to join him in this important and engaging work.

The Robertson Foundation for Government is proud to recognize the graduating Class of 2023! This class includes Jacob Emont, Paul-Donavon Murray, and Kelli Sunabe, RFG Fellows from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; Emily Ashbridge, Christina Baker, and Chase Burciaga, RFG Fellows from Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service; Elisabeth Earley and Peter Wilborn, RFG Fellows from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy; and Naomi Atughonu and Meg Whinna, RFG Fellows from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. These highly qualified, committed, globally-aware individuals are beginning careers dedicated to serving the public in agencies such as the U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. State Department. These Fellows also include a PhD Candidate at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, two Presidential Management Fellows (PMFs), and a Fellow who recently passed the U.S. Foreign Service examination process. RFG is excited to welcome these Fellows as Alumni and to follow their exciting careers in public service!