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Two Graduate Students Selected for Prestigious Federal Program

A Spring Break Well Spent

For two LSU graduate students, spring break was a bit nerve-wracking.

One has been conducting research in the Brazilian Amazon; the other, serving as a social worker in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And while that is enough to give anyone a bit of anxiety, that is not what caused their jitters.

Instead, it was a spring break trip to Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Cramer of Honolulu and Virginia Hill of Chicago had just been named finalists for the 2007 Presidential Management Fellows program, a prestigious and highly competitive program administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Selection into this program qualified the students for two-year internships with federal government agencies and an inside track to some of the top federal jobs in the nation.

Their final step to becoming a Fellow, however, was to obtain an internship – something they had to do on their own. To assist in the process, the Presidential Management Fellows program held a job fair during spring break in the nation’s capital at which the PMF finalists could interview with federal agencies. The process pitted the two LSU students up against the top graduate students from around the nation in a search for one of the coveted internships.

“That first day of the job fair, people were lined up at the door, waiting for it to open. They were practically running to get in and get interviews. It was like the day after Thanksgiving at K-Mart,” Cramer joked. “There was a lot of pressure to perform.”

Hill said the competition at the job fair was intense and the stress level high. She had eight job interviews in two days. “It was emotionally and physically exhausting. You not only had to trudge around carrying all your interview materials, but you also had to be on your game for hours and hours without a break,” she said. “It was stressful, but it was also fun.”

Both LSU students left the fair with job offers.

Dream jobs

Cramer will begin a job with the National Forest Service in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in July, and Hill plans to begin a job with the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., in August. Both are ecstatic to have had such success at the job fair.

The internships are structured so the Fellows can rotate to different departments within the federal agencies at which they work. This enables the students to learn more, to broaden their experience, and to discover which fields and jobs they like best. It also puts them in an advantageous position for future federal employment.

“Going into this program is a good career decision for me because I want to stay in government,” Hill said. “Rotating throughout the different departments of the NIH will provide me with a bigger skill set than I would have had if I’d gone into a specialized position.”

Cramer agreed that the rotations were beneficial because they give the interns a chance to figure out what parts of the job they like best. “It’s like shopping for a job,” she said.

What got them here

Cramer and Hill both graduated from LSU in May.

Cramer received a Ph.D. in plant biology from the LSU Department of Biological Sciences. She decided to attend LSU primarily because of LSU professor Bruce Williamson, who was conducting research in the Brazilian Amazon. Working with him enabled her to go on several research trips to the Brazilian Amazon herself, which required her to learn to speak Portuguese. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. As a trained ecologist, her research at LSU focused on studying the changes in the dynamics of a forest after much of it has been cut and cleared.

Cramer attended Kalani High School in Honolulu and holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology from Earlham College.

Hill received a master’s degree in social work from the LSU School of Social Work. She said she chose to attend LSU for her graduate degree because the program was “well-rounded.” She said it gave her the opportunity to address individual problems, through therapy for individuals and families, as well as global problems like poverty and how public policy affects those issues.

She also said that Hurricane Katrina impacted her life in many ways, even though she is not a Louisiana native. “I moved to Baton Rouge three weeks before Katrina hit and wondered ‘How do I help respond to this disaster?’ Something like that commits you to public service.”

Hill attended Buffalo Grove High School in the Chicago area, and holds a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Illinois. She said being selected for the PMF program is the biggest accomplishment of her life. “This is the culmination of everything I’ve accomplished,” she said.

Both were chosen for the PMF program based on their academic and leadership achievements, their future career goals, and their interest in working in federal public service.

Like Chancellor, Like Students

The students are in good company. As Fellows, they join an elite list of people who have been selected for this program since its inception in the 1970s, including LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe, who was selected during the program’s inaugural year in 1978.

In fact, it was a broadcast e-mail from O’Keefe encouraging graduate students at LSU to apply for the prestigious program that started it all for Cramer and Hill. They sent in applications based on his e-mail, they said.

“It’s a great program, a tough national competition, and a sure path to senior public service opportunities,” O’Keefe said of the PMF program. “I hope these students are two of many from LSU to be appointed to this program.”

O’Keefe said that, for him, the program did exactly what it was intended to do – it called him to public service. He said the program took him to the Department of Defense for a two-year development effort, which led him to the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and the Executive Office of the President. What followed was 25 years of public service and academic posts, ultimately leading him to LSU.

“The program was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” O’Keefe said. “It directed the course of my life and took me places I never dreamed I’d go. I feel confident that it will do the same for Virginia and Jennifer.”

The students said a unique part of their trip to D.C. was having lunch with O’Keefe, who was traveling through the area at the time of the job fair. He was so pleased that Cramer and Hill had been selected to the same program that influenced his career that he made a point to meet up with the students.

Competing with the nation’s best

The Presidential Management Fellows Program, formerly known as the Presidential Management Intern Program, is designed to draw outstanding graduate, law, and doctoral students to federal service.

More than 3,700 students nationwide applied for the program this year. Approximately 2,300 were selected to go through a set of rigorous assessment tests. Of those, only 792 students from around the country were named finalists in the program. The final step to becoming an official Presidential Management Fellow is to obtain an internship with the federal government within one year of becoming a finalist.

More than just a job; it’s an adventure

Cramer and Hill said the job fair in D.C. did even more than help them find internships – it also gave them a chance to meet other Fellows, including each other. Although both students spent years at LSU, they were in different curriculums, and had never met until the job fair. “I’m so glad someone else from LSU got selected,” Cramer said. “It was like having an instant friend.”

In fact, the duo made so many new friends during the job fair that they started a Google group to keep in touch with everyone they met. “It’s a very diverse group,” Cramer said. “It’s so neat to be a part of this network. I feel like I’ve made friends for the rest of my life, as well as great contacts.”

Both students said their experiences at LSU, and as Fellows, have helped to broaden their horizons. And they said other students should consider applying for the program and working in the public service arena.

“Even if you’ve never thought about working for the federal government, think about it,” Hill said. “There is so much opportunity there.”

Kristine Calongne | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Summer 2007

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