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AU Grads Find Fulfillment in Public Service

The Smithsonian Institution was ranked one of 2013's Best Places to Work in Government. Photo by Ryan Somma.

The Smithsonian Institution was ranked one of 2013's Best Places to Work in Government. Photo by Ryan Somma.

During her five years at the Smithsonian Institution, Sarah Block, CAS/BA '09/MA '13, worked with all 19 Smithsonian museums and their accompanying research centers. What started out as an internship her junior year, turned into a full-time job contracted through the Smithsonian’s Office of Policy and Analysis. It was an invaluable experience for Block.

“It was an opportunity to learn a wide range of research methods,” she says. “I got to go behind the scenes, spoke with countless visitors, and gained some amazing mentors.”

Block is far from the only one to speak positively about the experience of working for the Smithsonian. On the 2013 list of Best Places to Work in Government, the Smithsonian was ranked 2nd in job satisfaction among midsize agencies. The list, compiled annually by the Partnership for Public Service, is based on data collected from over 376,000 civil servants, and ranks agencies by employee satisfaction and commitment.

Jonathan Ludwig, SIS/MA '13, works at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), one of the two large agencies (along with NASA) that showed an increase in job satisfaction in 2013.

“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to serve our country and America’s veterans during my service at VA,” he says. “It has been an honor.”

Ludwig began his career in public service with an internship at the State Department. Following graduation, he completed a two-year internship at VA, after which he was hired as a career employee.

He says working in government can be challenging but rewarding.

“Once you accept some of the realities of working in government, you learn to work within that context to be nimble and creative in a way that is realistic and possible,” he says. “That is often the nature of public service, which is overseen and accountable to American citizens.”

Ludwig has plans for the future that build on his time at AU and his government experience. His degree in Global Environmental Policy combines politics, science, and economics at a time when key issues in both public and private sectors require knowledge of multiple disciplines.

“My experience at AU helped shape my goal of working in sustainability and green building in a professional context,” he says. “My hope is to combine my experience at VA, my volunteer work, and my education at AU to become a leader in the sustainability and green building industry.”

Block too speaks to the public service nature of her work in government as a distinct positive.

“Being part of the government in the way the Smithsonian is, it’s great to know that tax money is going to these museums and these exhibits that so many people get so much out of,” she says. “Living in D.C. you don’t necessarily take advantage of the museums and all they have to offer. Working at the Smithsonian was a good way to force me to see the museums and find out what was going on so I could recommend things to others.”

Block is looking for a way to leverage her experience with one kind of public service into an ongoing career in another. She hopes to work hands-on in programming for local government, where the impact of projects can be quickly seen.

“A value I gained from spending time at AU is that of being engaged with your community: going out, exploring it, seeing what their needs are,” says Block. “I feel that’s something that professors at AU really do value and try to pass on to students. Often professors and students are working on issues specific to D.C., and that’s something that’s inspired me to be more active in my community.”

For those who work in the federal government, that community can feel as large as the entire nation—a challenge, perhaps, but that hasn’t stopped AU grads like Block and Ludwig from working to make it the best community they can and learning from their time in public service.