I enrolled at SIPA because I believed it was truly the most global public policy school. I, like any other millennial wanting to change the world, was sold on this slogan and quickly enrolled shortly after being admitted. After being at SIPA for a year now, I am not convinced that is the case, both among the U.S. student population and the School’s leadership, given the School’s lack of emphasis on domestic public service.
SIPA was founded in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II. At that time, there were complex needs of the postwar world. It was also then that Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State under President Truman later wrote, “The enormity of the task...was to create a world out of chaos.” The ‘world’ that Acheson was referring to entailed a system that was defined by relationships, treaties, and institutions that span the world and touch every aspect of daily life, from the protection of human rights to the conduct of global trade. This requires leaders to selflessly serve their communities and countries to make the world a better place.
SIPA’s mission is “to support the global public interest by educating students to serve and to lead.” However, I have found that a gap exists between this mission and outcomes. The current discourse among students I’ve encountered seems to heavily focus on the private sector, quickly overlooking the benefits that come with public service. In fact, I have yet to encounter more than a handful of students who are interested in working for the U.S. government after graduation, not including the Pickering and Rangel Fellows who have signed contracts to work for the U.S. State Department.
However, this lack of interest in the public sector does not seem to be a new discovery. Of SIPA MIA graduates in 2014, 2015, and 2016, a mere 26%, 26%, and 28% of the class reported that they found employment in public sector. Even though public service values are at the heart of the MPA curriculum, only 35%, 40%, and 39% of MPA graduates in 2014, 2015, and 2016, respectively, entered the public sector. All of this goes to show that interest in the public sector at SIPA is not as strong as it should be. Of course, one cannot overlook the economic benefits that come with joining the private sector, as that accounts for a $20,000-30,000 gap between the public and private sector. But if our main goal was to make money and become rich, the Law and Business Schools next door would have been better options.
Maybe it’s time for SIPA to return to its roots, to teach students and future policymakers to focus on implementing policy and making the government we have work better for us. This would entail having more courses on ethical decision making, judgment, and leadership skills, and inviting more U.S. diplomats and public servants to speak on campus to make SIPA feel like more of a policy school that educates students who want to serve the public.
But maybe it’s also time for current students to reflect on their priorities. If students are truly interested in fighting the good fight and have the patience needed to see their passions and efforts come to fruition, then public service is a great avenue. Public service requires putting people ahead of profits and others ahead of oneself. The profits derived from public service are not always monetary, but are rewarding nonetheless. Public servants seek to “support the global public interest” and make the world a better place for everyone. If this interests you, then you’re in luck.
The Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) is the U.S. government’s premier initiative for recruiting and developing top talent from graduate schools across the country, and is currently accepting applications. Those selected as finalists for this program will have the opportunity to apply for jobs at dozens of federal agencies offering the two-year fellowship. Finalists who are hired will receive competitive pay and benefits, a developmental assignment with optional rotations, a senior-level mentor, and opportunities to network with other future federal leaders. But don’t despair if you’re a first-year. The Rosenthal Fellowship offers first-year students the opportunity to spend a summer in Washington, pursuing professional fellowship positions with a member of Congress or in the U.S. government. Although many may be dissuaded from joining the public sector given the messy situation in Washington, this is the perfect opportunity for Seeples to put their PoP memos to use and serve their country.
And for those who are not yet convinced about the benefits of serving your country, whether it be the U.S. or elsewhere, I encourage you to attend the DC Career Conference in January hosted by the Office of Career Services. The Conference is intended to introduce students to Washington and inform them of employment opportunities in the area through the participation of SIPA alumni based in DC through career panels, employer site visits, an alumni/student networking reception, and a day for informational interviews.
I spent five summers working at the White House and the U.S. State Department. These experiences have led me to believe that the most important part of public service is the strength of the notion that our democracy is an ongoing experiment in which we have a responsibility to strive for something greater. I have taken responsibility for strengthening and shaping my government, which has renewed my faith in our republic while reinforcing my commitment to public service. I encourage my fellow American classmates to consider applying to or registering for the above opportunities, and I urge SIPA’s administration to look into strengthening the pipeline of Seeples serving in U.S. government positions.