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Faculty and Alumni Share Their Experience Working in Public Service

Downtown Washington, DC

After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology, Karlee Naylon, SPA/MPP ’20, decided that rather than taking a clinical career path, she wanted to be part of a bigger effort to help people. She is interested in a range of issues from mental health to disability rights to violence against women and international development. Naylon is considering work in the federal government after graduation.

“It’s all very new to me,” said Naylon, a first-generation college student. “Hearing other people talk about their experiences made it seem a little more approachable.”

Naylon attended a recent AU School of Public Affairs event featuring nine former federal employees, now SPA faculty members and alumni, who represented several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Each explained their own career trajectories and encouraged students to build networks and be open to various entry-level jobs.

“The federal government is not a monolith,” said Reginald Wells, SPA distinguished professor in residence who has worked for the Social Security Administration and other agencies throughout his federal career. “There is a lot of variety and full range of professional opportunities,” said Wells.

Many panelists, such as SPA alumna Nicole Dyson, a director at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who applied her journalism skills to writing and analyzing policy, talked about the draw of government work.  

“For me, the satisfaction of being able to work toward a mission that helps people is a lot of the reason that I went into public service,” said Dyson, who has been deployed across the country in the aftermath of natural disasters.

SPA alumna Cindy Tworek worked in consulting and academia before coming to the federal government where she serves as a social science branch chief at the Federal Drug Administration.

“What I like is that the work is very applied,” said Tworek. “When you see what you’ve contributed to on the news, it’s rewarding. You are having a very real impact on public health.”

The panelists said young people interested in public service should consider internships and ways to gain exposure to agencies — even ones that aren’t their first choice.

“All experience is good experience,” said Rebecca Yurman, professorial lecturer in the SPA Department of Public Administration and Policy who worked for the Department of Health and Human Services prior to SPA. “Go to what calls you and is interesting to you."

Tracie DiMartini, chief human capital officer for the Peace Corps, told the audience that she could not have predicted her career path, and the key is to seize opportunities as they are presented. “Don’t be scared about the hiring process. It’s a process, but so is the private sector,” said DiMartini. “Start early and don’t give up.”

Added Patrick Malone, director of the Key Executive Leadership Programs: “It’s about relationships,” he said of getting a federal job. “It is daunting, but it is possible to make it happen.”