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Career Head Start

June 28, 2015

The Presidential Management Fellowship and Excelsior Service Fellowship provide promising top grads (including more than a few from Maxwell) entrée into government careers.

When Misha Lawrence ’13 MPA, the new director of organizational transformation at the New York Department of State, examines how policies are being implemented in state government, she refers back to the statutes that initially created those policies. She makes sure that, in implementation, the spirit of each law is being met. It’s an approach she learned at Maxwell — one that “not everyone understands or is exposed to,” she says, “but has been very instrumental for me.”

Lawrence was hired in February after completing one year of an Excelsior Service Fellowship, a program designed to attract the best and the brightest candidates for public service careers to New York State government. During her year as a fellow, she implemented the performance management strategy for the agency and worked to align the agency’s activities with their overarching goals.

Misha Lawrence

“It was a good balance of being able to understand policy on a wide scale,” she says, “and seeing some of the benefits of our work.” And most important, she was well qualified to accept the permanent position she was offered.

Tom Kaczmarek ’14 MPA is hoping for similar results. A current Excelsior Fellow, Kaczmarek is an appointee to the Department of Public Service, primarily responsible for overseeing its performance management portfolio. “It’s a great way for Maxwell students to get a foot in the door in state service,” he says.

The Excelsior Fellowships were launched in 2013 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to train leaders in state government, to eventually fill gaps from anticipated retirements. His office contacted Kelli Young, director of Maxwell’s Center for Career Development, for advice on how best to recruit students into the program. The answer: Like her counterparts at other schools statewide, Young is offered a Maxwell allotment of slots available for Excelsior Fellows (thus far, ranging between 5 and 10 per year). Then, using an intensive application process, Young recruits students whose interests and capabilities fit the current state needs.

The program is similar to the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) Program, the federal government’s flagship leadership-development program, which recruits top advanced-degree candidates interested in federal service.

The Maxwell School is also well represented among PMF finalists each year.  This year, six current or former Maxwell students received the designation after a laborious selection process that culled 7,800 applicants down to 600 finalists nationwide. “It’s a prestigious appointment that puts graduate students interested in a government career on a fast track,” says Young.

Many government agencies earmark positions for PMFs because they know the selection process yields top-quality candidates committed to public service. In addition to receiving extensive mentoring and professional development opportunities, PMFs are assured significantly faster increases in their salary grade.  “A grad student would typically be hired at a GS9. When PMFs finish, they are at a GS12 and their next position will be eligible for GS13, which is a management-level salary,” explains Young.  “It could take 20 years to go from a 9 to a 13 if you enter federal government in the conventional way.”

Sean Comber is a current MPA/IR student and PMF finalist (the term for those who have been selected for the program and who are now interviewing for a specific post). “The PMF is an excellent way to access a specific pool of federal jobs and accelerate your professional development,” he says. “Government employers hold the program in high regard and assign exciting, substantive work to their fellows, making it an ideal way to launch a federal career.”

“I am interested in administration/management as it applies to global programs,” says Comber, who is attending Maxwell as a Robertson Fellow (which commits him to future federal service). “Ultimately, I would love to be working in the international relations field, especially focusing on a thematic area like humanitarian affairs or conflict studies.”

Although the state and federal fellowship programs are an excellent launch pad to a government career, Young stresses that all Maxwell MPA graduates have an excellent employment rate, due in large part to a strong alumni network that likes to recruit its own. A report on students graduating between December 2013 and August 2014 showed 97 percent employed or pursuing further education.

“The fellowship programs carry an element of honor.  They are great programs with prestige attached to them, but our population of students have a strong track record getting jobs regardless,” says Young. “We are highly connected in the fields our students are most interested in and our alumni are very faithful to us, which aids in making their job search a lot easier.”

By Renée Gearhart Levy

Communications and Media Relations Office
500 Eggers Hall