The Robertson Foundation for Government is proud to announce the newest additions to the Robertson Fellows’ network. Ten new fellows have kicked off the 2023-2024 academic year, which marks the 15th class supported by RFG. To learn more about their diverse and engaging backgrounds, please check out their individual bios below.

Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs

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

University of California, San Diego, School of Global Policy & Strategy

University of Maryland, School of Public Policy


RFG Fellows from the Class of 2024 completed a diverse set of robust summer internship and research projects this summer. These included RFG Fellow, Andrew Gasparini‘s (Maxwell 2024) time at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, where he engaged in interagency projects between the MCC and the Department of State. Melissa Alvisi, another RFG Fellow from the Maxwell School, traveled to Singapore to intern with the U.S. Department of Commerce, undertaking research, outreach, and operational activities in support of U.S. export promotion efforts and the expansion of Singaporean businesses in the United States. Olivia Parker (UMD 2024) and Jackson Rice (UCSD 2024) also traveled for their internships this summer to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s offices in Hawaii. There, they conducted policy research, supported global military exercises, and examined the resilience of the region’s critical infrastructure.

Pursuing her dream internship, Abigail Huie (Bush 2024) worked for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, conducting research in support of the World Trade Organization’s dispute process. Another Bush Fellow, Marja Ritchie, joined Grace Pettey (UMD 2024) in intensive research projects this summer. Marja investigated economic and internet infrastructure development efforts in China and Mongolia, along with commodity trade practices in North Korea. Meanwhile, Grace evaluated disinformation campaigns in Africa for the DoD’s National Defense University, leveraging her foreign language skills in English and French as part of her research.

Other notable internships were those of McKenzie Hartman (UCSD 2024), who served in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and both Indira Gunness (Bush 2024) and Colleen Bowman (UMD 2024), who interned at the U.S. Department of State. RFG is extremely proud of the internships and research these Fellows accomplished this summer and how they advanced Federal Government efforts in a myriad of ways.

This summer, two Robertson Fellows traveled to Hawaii as interns in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Center. This program, which has partnered with RFG for several years, hosts students from across the United States to work for ten weeks under a combatant command dedicated to preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific. Olivia Parker (UMD 2024) worked in the Northeast Asia Policy Division (J51), providing support on several policy issues, military exercises, and large events hosted by the Command. One of her most rewarding experiences was helping prepare the Chiefs of Defense Conference for Korean, Japanese, and American military officials. 

Jackson Rice (UCSD 2025) was a research fellow at the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM). The Center is designed to bridge understanding between humanitarian, civilian, and military responders. Jackson was linked with an operational initiative examining the resilience of critical infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. He compiled a report that assessed energy systems and food security, and made recommendations to enhance resilience.

The program also provided several field trips to experience parts of the military based on the island.  Fellows got to board the USS Illinois at Pearl Harbor as well as watch an F-22 Raptor take off and land at Hickam Air Force Base. The first week of the program, the cohort drove up to Schofield Army Base to attempt the Lightning Academy Jungle Obstacle course! After scaling walls and crawling through mud they experienced what jungle mobility training is like for Army students. 

After the ten weeks, Jackson had the special opportunity to cap off his internship by participating in the 2023 International Training Workshop for Youth Leadership on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief in Taiwan. This workshop invites young leaders to take part in shaping the future of Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response (HADR) by combining information intelligence and real operations. Following the workshop, Jackson will remain in Taipei to complete a Boren Fellowship studying Mandarin at the National Taiwan University. Olivia will finish her second year of graduate study in International Security and Economic Policy at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, while also completing her capstone project with CFE-DM.

RFG Alum, Adriel Taslim (UCSD 2018) has worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for close to three years, serving in different capacities as a Data Analyst, International Relations Specialist, and now Action Officer. This quarter, we connected with Adriel to learn more about his current work as an Action Officer within the Federal Insurance Directorate in FEMA’s Resilience Office. Adriel spoke on the nature of his role, growth opportunities within FEMA, and why he would encourage any current and future RFG Fellows to consider a career with FEMA. 

As an Action Officer in FEMA’s Federal Insurance Directorate, Adriel joins with his colleagues to manage business processes and the flow of internal and external tasks from the agency’s relevant stakeholders. Adriel’s portfolio focuses on longer-term project management initiatives, including building productivity tools and serving as the designated federal project manager for the Directorate’s start-up incubator R&D efforts across three contractors. His work includes projects in the predictive analytics, machine learning, remote sensing, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), and emergency management fields. 

Adriel’s current position aligns well with his background as a project manager in the private sector and his data analysis training from his time at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy. Despite his ideal training for work with FEMA, Adriel acknowledges that not many hard skills are prerequisites for joining FEMA. He reflects that “even though I joined as a data analyst, eventually working heavily with Python, R, and SQL; FEMA is an agency that is very willing  to invest in its workforce and help train you to fulfill the needs of your role.” Given this, Adriel underscores that being open and willing to learn is what is truly crucial for success within FEMA and that skills such as adaptability, communication, and project management are even more essential than a background heavy in quantitative training. 

FEMA’s willingness to train and support employees for success in their individual roles is a quintessential aspect of the agency’s workplace culture according to Adriel. “I appreciate how my supervisors are very supportive of my volitions in terms of work portfolio,” he shares. “If there are things I prefer to handle such as strategic project management over daily task management, they will do their best to make that happen.” Adriel also describes how FEMA employees have the opportunity to deploy to emergency response situations or to take a detail assignment within another part of the agency in support of their professional growth.  

Reflecting on his experience with FEMA, Adriel shared that his deployment to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) volunteer force in 2021 and 2022 is one of the moments in his career that he is particularly proud of to this day. The volunteer force was assembled to support efforts to resettle Afghan refugees after their evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021. Adriel initially worked the helpdesk to provide Afghan refugees status updates on their resettlement cases, but was quickly assigned the vocational programs portfolio after the previous USAID lead demobilized. This position required intensive project management skills to organize donations, manage events, coordinate with the interagency, and communicate with all external stakeholders.

Specifically, the vocational programs that Adriel managed as a part of Taskforce Liberty connected Afghan professionals, in all fields, with resources to continue their previous vocations or reskill into new professions through relations with private companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. In addition, these programs provided an avenue for the Departments of Justice and Labor to present on the labor rights and specific work privileges afforded to Afghan refugees. Adriel, in particular, organized donation efforts through local community charities and coordinated volunteer Afghan and non-profit staff to stand-up a vocational resource center and computer lab. He also connected with industry partners such as Amazon, Google, Tyson,  FedEx, and others to staff job fairs and present in focus sessions to provide Afghan refugees with information on credentialing pathways and job opportunities in the United States. Summarizing his work, Adriel states, “I collaborated on interagency efforts to improve vocational opportunities, base access protocols, strategic communication, childcare, English as a Second Language (ESL) education, mortuary services, and cultural orientations at Taskforce Liberty.” To succeed in these efforts, Adriel also trained and oversaw a total of seven DHS team members to manage logistics, external affairs, project management, and event planning for these vocational programs. 

Through the efforts of the DHS vocational programs team and the interagency, Adriel and the other members of the Taskforce provided services to a population of approximately 10,000 people over the course of 6-7 months. For his individual efforts, Adriel received positive reviews from his peers and leadership at all levels, including a letter of commendation from the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO), Robert Guadian. 

When asked why he would encourage others to consider FEMA as a potential employer, Adriel emphasized that the agency not only offers, but also values, on-the-job learning, whether that is through deployments, detail assignments, or training opportunities. “The type of learning that FEMA promotes is not the mandatory sort of training, but the sort that supports you in your self-actualization goals,” Adriel states. Separately, Adriel says that another benefit of pursuing a career with FEMA is that the agency has different means of funding itself, such as out of emergency response funding rather than traditional DHS appropriations. This means that the agency has diverse and less restrictive ways of hiring and retaining employees that other agencies may not be able to leverage. 

Looking ahead, Adriel aspires to engage more with the international side of his skill set through professional development fellowships. He also would like to enrich his experience at FEMA by engaging with stakeholders and consumers of the agency’s R&D work in the fields of flood mapping, machine learning, and predictive analytics. He remains deeply appreciative to both the Robertson Foundation for Government and his experience at UC San Diego for directly shaping his career path by connecting him to friends and networks that have led him to his work with FEMA and that have supported both his personal and professional development. Moving forward, Adriel seeks to continue growing in his current role, investing in the next generation of public servants, and exposing himself to new experiences in the Federal Government so that he can better understand how we all can come together to achieve our strategic goals.

As part of RFG’s growing partnership with Blacks in Government (BIG), RFG leadership attended the 44th annual BIG Symposium, marking the second year in a row that a RFG staff member has participated in the event. The BIG Symposium is designed as an in-person training forum for both current civil service employees and students considering careers in the public sector. This year, RFG Vice President, Alex Ghara, and RFG Alumna, Shydaea Townes (Bush 2017) addressed high school and undergraduate students on a panel titled “Careers in International Relations.” They were joined on the panel by representatives from the State Department, intelligence community, and federal law enforcement. Their 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.

On July 15, 2023, the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) hosted a Diversity Forum Workshop for Students and Young Professionals as part of its seventh 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 more than 50 undergraduates and young professionals.

RFG was proud to sponsor the event and have Robertson Alumna, Lalitha Adury (Fletcher 2020) participate in one of the sessions. Lalitha, who currently serves as the Chief of Staff and Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State, joined with other representatives from the State Department and USAID to discuss how students and young professionals can gain international experience through jobs, internships, and fellowships.