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.