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.”

A 2014 graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Stéphane Laroche is now serving as a Financial Management Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in India. In this capacity, he provides guidance to the U.S. mission and host country government on issues related to financial, budgetary, and resource management. Having recently been posted to New Delhi, India with USAID, Laroche speaks not only on the first few weeks of his new assignment, but also on his journey to becoming a USAID Foreign Service Officer. 

While the first few weeks on the job in a new country always require a period of adjustment, Laroche underscores his love of a professional life abroad and how much he enjoys supporting America’s foreign policy overseas and making a positive impact on individuals who benefit from American generosity. Laroche comments, “Despite some negative aspects that the world believes about the U.S., it’s a greatly generous country that cares about helping the less fortunate.”

In his work with USAID, Laroche has had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. “The agency is run by people who care deeply about their work, who make mistakes, but are willing to adapt,” Laroche explains. “Their local staff are the backbone of USAID overseas and without their commitment and hard work, the organization would not thrive.” 

With a background in international relations, Laroche also comments on how much he is enjoying being involved in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy. Given India’s key role in the larger U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, Laroche appreciates the opportunity to be in the country while this strategy is being operationalized and to have the chance to explore the different facets of India’s society and culture. 

Prior to working for USAID, Laroche served as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of State and as an International Trade Analyst with the Foreign Commercial Service. He also currently works as a Civil Affairs Officer with the U.S. Army in addition to his work with USAID. Laroche credits an extensive network of ambitious professionals, passionate about international relations and public service, for encouraging and supporting him in pursuit of these roles. He also credits the Robertson Foundation for Government for enabling him to pursue a career in federal service following his graduation from Tufts University. “RFG, through its Fellowship, afforded me a significantly lower debt burden which allowed me to strongly consider a career in public service post graduate school,” Laroche says.

Laroche’s commitment to public service is rooted in his post-college job in Brooklyn, New York, where he worked for a community development credit union that offered basic banking, micro lending, and financial literacy services to low-income families who were stuck in institutional poverty. That opportunity, coupled with his immigrant roots and an exchange program to Tokyo, Japan during college instilled in him a desire to give back to others. That desire is still alive and well today and is being exercised in his current and past work in government. As Laroche explains, “Every assignment humbles me and makes me appreciate the cultural, ethnic, and culinary diversity of our world, while allowing me the chance to find different ways to connect with others in order to share ideas, talk about our own cultures, or influence people from a professional standpoint.”

When thinking of the future and those interested in pursuing a career as a Foreign Service Officer, Laroche shares that it “helps to be more comfortable leading teams made entirely of non-Americans.” Such opportunities have helped him “to communicate well with locals when representing the U.S. at official events.”

And for those looking to enter into public service, Laroche encourages flexibility. “Don’t be fixated on just one organization; there are a lot of challenging yet rewarding international relations jobs across the U.S. Government both in the U.S. and overseas.” With this plethora of opportunities comes a million hiring mechanisms, so it is vital to “network, network, network,” Laroche concludes.