Tuesday Talks: The White House Fellows Program

Tuesday Talks: The White House Fellows Program

Ms. Schulman:
Good afternoon, and welcome to Tuesday Talks at the White House, a weekly invitation for
people around the country to engage with policy experts,
administration officials, and more. The White House Fellows
Program is one of America’s most prestigious fellowships for Leadership in Public Service. And with the deadline approaching for the 2011/2012 class, we’re so pleased to have with us some of the experts on the White House Fellows that will be fielding your questions on the program. We have with us Cindy Moelis,
the Director of the President’s Commission on the White
House Fellowships; Jaime Areizaga-Soto, White
House Fellows’ Class of 2008 and Senior Attorney Adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and
Esther Benjamin, White House Fellow Class of
2000 and Director of the Global Operations for the
United States Peace Corps. Thank you guys so
much for being here. We’re excited. We’re going to get to
your questions very soon. To introduce myself, I’m Kori
Schulman in the Department of New Media. And for the past couple of days,
you’ve been sending us lots of your questions on the
Fellowships Program, about their experiences on
whitehouse.gov and on Facebook. And we’re going to answer as many of your questions as we can. You can also join the live
chat right now where we’ll be answering even more
of your questions. Go to whitehouse.gov/live. There’s a link to join the
chat in Facebook and I’ll be scanning those throughout the
duration of the chat and we’ll be answering those for the
next half hour or 45 minutes. So with that, I’m going
to turn it over to Cindy, Esther, and Jaime for
a brief introduction. And then we’ll get
right to your questions. Ms. Moelis:
Thank you, Kori. This is a wonderful opportunity
to explain the Fellowship and answer your questions. On behalf of the President’s
Commission on White House Fellows, I’d like to encourage everyone who is interested in public service and leadership development to go to our website and really read about the program and review the application. You can register, you can
look at the application. I want to mention that it does need to be completed by January 14th and it is time consuming and I think Esther and Jaime will explain a little bit
about how they approached the application process. I also wanted to mention that
the White House Fellows Program was established 45 years
ago by President Johnson. It’s nonpartisan. The Fellows come from all sectors — medicine, science, business, law, non for profits. Couple of famous alumni
that you may know, just — General Colin Powell, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Elaine Chow and Senator —
or, Governor Sam Brownback. The goal of the program is to
encourage active citizenship and to ensure that future leaders
have exposure and knowledge of the public sector. We believe that future leaders
are better leaders if they have exposure to the public sector. The application
process is competitive. It’s highly competitive. But if chosen, you’re given the opportunity to come to D.C., and work with the current leaders of this administration. Besides your work placement,
Fellows are also given an opportunity to hear from leaders
from all different sectors, in small groups, and at lunch,
and as well as travel to see how federal policy
effects localities. So I just want to thank Jaime and Esther for coming and sharing their
expertise, and, again, I encourage you to take a look,
see if you’re eligible and this will be a time that we can
answer some of the questions that you have. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
Good afternoon. I basically had a legal career
for more than 10 years before applying for the
Fellowship Program. I was born in Puerto Rico and
came here to Georgetown as an undergrad and then did law
school at Stanford and then I had a legal career while at the
same time doing National Guard duty. So for me, the reason I
applied for the Fellowship was, I love service. I have always been
attracted to public service. But I haven’t done it. So I wanted to see, how
is it on the inside? And it is a very
competitive program, but it’s worth a try; even
the application process, as you will hear — it’s
a very learning experience. For me, it was a life
changing experience. An awesome year, so I would —
I definitely invite you all to consider it and
hopefully to apply. And I am currently a legal
appointee of the Job Counsel’s Office at the United States
Agency for International Development. Ms. Benjamin:
Hi, I’m Esther
Benjamin, as Kori said. And I currently work in
the Obama Administration. I am Associate Director of the
Peace Corps responsible for global operations and in that
capacity I oversee all of our Peace Corps programs in 80
countries around the world. This has been a wonderful
experience working in this administration and it has built
on my White House Fellowship experience in many, many ways. Peace Corps is truly a life
defining leadership experience and I’m honored to have the
opportunity to provide more Americans
opportunities to serve. I did the White House
Fellowship in 1999-2000. As Jaime said, for me also, it
was a transformative experience, a wonderful year. I encourage all of you
to consider applying. Prior to becoming a
White House Fellow, I worked in the private sector
doing Big Five Management Consulting. I also worked with
the United Nations, coordinating humanitarian
relief in Africa. And I worked in the private
sector and also worked for the World Bank and the Brookings
Institution on the World Bank history project. So I came into Fellowship with
international organization private sector experience and
looked for an opportunity to understand how government truly
works at the highest levels. Ms. Schulman:
Excellent. Well, thank you. With that, we will jump
right into your questions. There’s a very active chat
happening right now on Facebook. Go to whitehouse.gov/live. A lot of people are excited to
apply for the program and have a lot of good questions. When you go to
whitehouse.gov/live, there’s a link to join the chat
on Facebook and I’m scanning all of your questions and we
will be asking them — we’ll be answering as
many of them as we can. So with that, I’m going to
jump into a question that was submitted through
whitehouse.gov earlier. This comes from Syneka Botnageur [phonetic] from Pennsylvania, who asks, “What was your main
motivation for applying for the White House Fellowship Program?” Ms. Benjamin:
Well, I have always been deeply committed to public service. And I had known about
the Fellowship Program. I knew it was a very
competitive program. I had wanted to apply. But I was not a U.S. citizen
for many years of my life. In the fall of 1998, I was
naturalized as an American citizen. And just three months
after becoming a citizen, I decided to apply
for the Fellowship, worked very diligently
on the application, prepared very thoroughly,
and was pleased to proceed to semifinals and to finals, and then to ultimately be selected a White House Fellow. I often tell this story because
it’s only in America where this kind of experience and
opportunity is possible; where one can become an American
citizen and just months later, decide to apply for something
incredibly competitive in the federal government and to be
sworn in just months later by a member of the
President’s Cabinet. So I owe a lot to the program
and benefited greatly and always tell the story as a testament
to what opportunities in America can be possible
through hard work. Ms. Moelis:
Let me just mention, Kori,
that we did get questions about citizenship, and you do
have to be a citizen. And you cannot — you actually cannot hold dual citizenship. If you do want to
become a Fellow, and you get through the process,
that’s something that you may have to give up. So people should
understand that. Ms. Schulman:
Well, I was going to jump
into the next question. This comes from Tiffany
Ellis, this is — she just asked us in a
live chat on Facebook. She says, “Thank you for
hosting this great program. Do you know how many people
typically apply and how many people are accepted each year?” Ms. Moelis:
Well, the Executive Order which was enacted by President Johnson 45 years ago actually sets
limits on the number of people who can be accepted. It’s between 11
and 19 every year. And the President’s Commission,
which is appointed by the sitting president, makes the
choices of how many people are actually chosen and get
appointed as Fellows. This year it’s 13. Last year it was 15
that were selected. It ranges from year to year. You know, it has gone as high as
3,000 over the history of the program. In the current history,
it’s around 7,000 — I’m sorry, around 1,000 qualified applicants have applied, which means that
we don’t count people whose applications don’t make it through being completed. Ms. Schulman:
Okay. This next question comes from Greg McCohen [phonetic] from California. Greg asks, “What
have you done” — I think this is directed
towards Jaime and Esther — “What have you done since the
White House Fellows that you could not have done
without the experience?” Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
Well, in my case, I’m a recent White House Fellow because I did it from ’07 to ’08. No, I mean in that class. I would say that in my
case, having been — you know, I was doing
infrastructure finance. I was living overseas. My law firm transferred
me to Brazil. I was working in Brazil. I would fly back for
my military duty. So I knew people
in the military. But the ability to come in and
be a Fellow from ’07-’08 put me in the middle of a lot of the
policy makers here in Washington and I think that’s
what allowed me — as a result of the Fellow later on when the Obama Administration came into office — to be
able to be appointed to the Administration’s
legal appointee. I think that is what the Fellow
in this short-term has provided for me, is to be able to
serve in this administration. I think it would have been very
difficult for me to be appointed had I not done the Fellowship. And I think in my case,
as I am a recent Fellow, what I can tell you is, I’m
sure it will open a lot of opportunities in the future just
because of the relations I’ve made with my fellow Fellows and
the ability that I had during that year to see the top
levels of government at work. And getting to meet a lot of
people that I think now know me and I know them and have seen my
work as a Fellow when I was in the Department of the Treasury. And I think that will allow for
future opportunities to serve. Ms. Benjamin:
It’s been 10 years since I was
a White House Fellow and the program definitely has had an
impact on my career and opened doors and opportunities that
otherwise may not have been opened to me. I spent eight years after
the Fellowship working with international NGOs. I worked in nearly 100
countries around the world with the International Youth Foundation and then subsequently with the International Partnership for Microbicides. I held Chief Financial
Officer, Vice President, and Executive
Director positions. And I believe that it would have
been more difficult for me to step into these very, very
senior leadership roles, had I not been a
White House Fellow. So I think the program opened
up doors and allowed me to enter organizations at a much more
senior level because of the experience as a Fellow. I also joined the Obama
Administration as a Senior Political Appointee and I
am pretty confident that my previous role as an aid to a
Cabinet Member played a critical role in that appointment
in addition to the other experiences. And on a personal level, I
have to say that through the Fellowship, I really formed
life-long friendships and gained access to an incredible, strong,
robust network that is very helpful through every step
of our professional journey. Ms. Schulman:
Great. If you’re just joining us,
go to whitehouse.gov/live. There is a live chat that’s
happening right now on Facebook. We’re getting a lot
of great questions. On whitehouse.gov/live, you’ll
find a link to join the chat on Facebook and we are answering
as many of those as we can. So, I’m going to turn
it over to Cindy. I think this might
be a rapid fire. You can answer sort of a lot of
straightforward questions about the application process and
additional questions about the program, but feel
free to chime in. Marna Meyers asks, “Is there
an age limit to applying for the Fellowship?” Ms. Moelis:
So when the Fellowship first
was enacted 45 years ago, they actually did have an age
range and it was suggested that people between 25 and 35 apply. Since that time there has been
a question about what young or merging leaders look like and
if an age range is appropriate. The age range is no longer
applied to the program. I can tell you that over
the last five years, the average age has
been in the early 30s. That’s just been the
average age of Fellows. But you should look
at the application, you should review
the eligibility, and you should decide if this
is the point in your career that you would be a
competitive candidate. Ms. Schulman:
Follow-up to that, Hannah Banks says, “Do people over 50 stand a chance of getting
accepted into the program?” Ms. Moelis:
Once again, there
is no specific age. It is a program
for young leaders. It’s a program to build on
the potential of candidates. So really the goal is,
is for you to get — for you to tell the judges or
the people who are looking at your application why you’re the
person that should be invested in by the federal government. These are tax payer
dollars and these — the way that this
program works is, is that we are bringing emerging leaders in and giving them another very important tool in their tool box in order to be future leaders in many sectors. So that’s the goal
of the program. I’m not going to tell
anyone that at a certain age, you can not apply, because
that would — that’s not true. But you do have to make a case
as to why you should be — get one of these
very select spots. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
And I’ll say this
to that point — this is a very
challenging program. The moment you get in, one of
the biggest challenges of this Fellowship is time management. This program will consume you. To the point that you will be
from seven in the morning to who knows how late
going and working, because this program — you have a job that you have to perform and then you have all
these other opportunities. So time management and the time
commitment of this program, it’s very high. So I think you need to
look at the program. If you’re at the right time
in your career, you know, pretty much, it will be
said later, but, you know, in my case, I had
— in most cases, you’ve completed your education, and you’ve already succeeded early on in your career. So if you’re at that point
in your career with — once you’re ready to, you know, go over to the higher levels. But at that point, you want to
have a one year great experience in government, this
is the program. But be aware, it’s — you will have to commit to a lot of hours, and it’s not an easy experience in the sense that you’ll be challenged day in and day out throughout the whole year. Ms. Schulman:
We just got a question from Pam Hoffman in the live chat that’s happening on Facebook. Pam asks, “What surprised you
the most about the program?” Ms. Benjamin:
What surprised me the most? I don’t think too many things
surprised me about the program. I think building
on what Jaime said, the intensity of the program
couldn’t be underestimated. It is a huge commitment. In terms of other
aspects of the program, the work placement and
the education program, and policy trips, I think we had
been pretty well informed about those parts of the program. So I wasn’t necessarily
surprised by that. But the number of hours worked
and the deep commitment that it takes to succeed and
complete a successful year, it is quite intense. Ms. Schulman:
Okay. The next question or a couple
people have been asking this, Eileen Curris [phonetic]
in Takita Mason asks, “Does it have a salary?” Ms. Moelis:
Yes. It’s actually a
GS14, step three. I won’t say a number
because, you know, every year there is
usually step increases. So I don’t want to commit
to a specific number. But it is over $100,000. So it’s a wage that is
significant in the federal government. It puts you at a high level
within the department you’re working in and it allows you to
be able to afford to live in a city like D.C. Ms. Schulman:
Okay, the next question —
this is one that was submitted on whitehouse.gov. it comes from Kirma Jones [phonetic] in New York. “My question pertains to the
placement process within departments. How much does prior experience
factor into our placement in a department or with
a Cabinet Secretary? Are we given the opportunity
to interview for specific positions?” Ms. Moelis:
So the way the placement
works is, first of all, we encourage you to come in with
the understanding that this is a public sector
leadership Fellowship. It is not topic-based and there
is no guarantee that you will get to a department that you
specifically have an expertise or have a desire to be in. Having said that, we encourage
all departments to participate. As we mentioned, there
is a salary and a slot — a job slot included, so
departments actually have to really desire and embrace the
Fellowship because there is a cost to the departments. After talking to
all the departments, if you do make it
to be a Fellow, you end up coming in July and
doing an interview week with all of the departments that are
interested in the Fellowship, having a White House Fellow and
participating in the program for that year. There are more departments
that want Fellows than that there are Fellows, so it’s
a wonderful opportunity. But you really have to be
willing to be placed in a department that wants you and
feels that it’s a good match for them. Ms. Benjamin:
I wanted to jump in and say
that the Fellows who are most successful really are those who
come into the program with an open mind; open to serve at
any department or White House office. I think it’s often challenging
for those who come in with a set idea in mind. And should that not work out,
it becomes a challenging year. So I always recommend that a
candidate comes in with an open mind. My experience, for instance,
is that I came in with a lot of international experience and the
Secretary of Labor wanted me to work at the Department of Labor. I was surprised by that. I had no labor experience. However, the secretary was
launching some major new international initiatives. And I went there with an open
mind and the secretary and other senior staff and colleagues
I worked with made it such a worthwhile experience. But I had no idea that I was
going to be in a department that I knew very little about. So I always recommend that
people come in with an open mind to serve where they
are asked to serve. Ms. Moelis:
Kori, I should also mention — because I think this is an important aspect — is the
Fellowship is really a learning experience. The actual slot that you get
wherever you’re placed cannot be translated into
a long-term job. It is a one year position. So people should understand that
even if they get the placement that they want, that
it’s over in a year. The year is for your
learning, for observation, and it is actually not a program
that was created to encourage you to stay in government. It’s actually a program that
President Johnson created to encourage you to go back to your
communities and contribute in whatever sector, in whatever
communities that you had been in before the Fellowship. And that’s a very big distinction between some other fellowships. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
And if I might take that as a
lead in into the community service side. The community, I can not under
emphasize the importance of community involvement
and community service. I know a lot of great candidates
that have not been able to make it to the program because they
were not involved in their community. So when you do your application,
make sure you emphasize your activities, whether it’s
in — with churches, whether it’s with
the boy scouts, whether it’s with
schools; you know. The community aspect, it’s a — it’s a critical part of the application process. We’re looking for people that
are committed to serve in their communities and that will take
whatever they learned during that year back to their
local communities. Ms. Schulman:
One thing just to note — there are a number of people on the chat that are asking,
how do they apply, or how do they access
the application. If you go to
whitehouse.gov/fellows, you will find a link
to the application — for Jimmy Thompson and the
others that were asking about this. So I — Matthew Brodracki [phonetic] and Tony Crabtree that are in the Facebook
chat, are asking, “What’s a typical day
like for a Fellow?” Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
Wow. Well, I can say mine. I would be — I was assigned to Department of the Treasury and this was from ’07 to ’08
so you all know what a — how our economic situation was starting to face some daunting challenges. I would start with a staff
meeting at eight in the morning everyday. So I would be at the Department
of the Treasury sometime around 7:30, 7:45, and get ready
for that 8:00 staff meeting. Well, the front office of the
Department of the Treasury, We would analyze what was
going to happen that day. And sometimes there were already
issues as a result of the media that you have to
deal with that early. And I would — everyday was different to tell you the truth, but that would be a standard. Many days during the year we
had a guest speaker at the White House Fellows Office at noon, so
that meant that I had to do as much as I could at Treasury and then head out at 11:45 and run across the White House to the White House Fellows Office for a noon meeting with
a great speaker. It could be Colin Powell,
Cokie Roberts, Sanjay Gupta. It could be, you know, David Petraeus — General Petraeus. It was a wide variety of leaders
from the nation to speak to us. University Presidents, other
members of the Cabinet. It was outstanding. And then I would go back to
Treasury for my work in the afternoon. And then many times in the
evenings there were a variety of events. And that was a typical day
that would go until late and in between during the year, you
have some specific programs that you might have. Whether it’s a trip
to analyze how policy — how federal policy
effects local communities. In Louisiana, we visited New
Orleans and we met with the mayor of New Orleans
and saw that, too. So, every day is different. It’s extremely challenging, ’cause you’ll have a lot of events and not
only requirements, but opportunities to do things and you cannot do them all. But you’ve got to manage your
time as best you can to get the most out of it. Ms. Schulman:
Great. If you’re just joining us, go
to whitehouse.gov/live and click the link to join
the Facebook chat. We’ve got tons of great
questions rolling in. This next one comes from
Michael Futrel Simmelton [phonetic]. Very interesting question; “What was the one thing that you learned — you learned about
the process that everyone should know?” Ms. Benjamin:
I would say that the process
is one that really involves self reflection. The application questions,
the essay questions, really forced me — and I think
this is consistent with other applicants’ experience — the
questions force us to think about where we’ve about and what our passion is and what our commitment is to and what
our goals for the future are. So it was a deeply
reflective process. I think we all worked very
hard on the initial application package itself, which is key. And going through the subsequent
steps in the selection process, again, forces us to think pretty
deeply about who we are and our goals. So that’s what I would
say about the process. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
In my case, I would say it takes a lot of time and a lot of work. I — by the way, I applied
one year and I didn’t make it. I got — I was selected
on my second year, which is not uncommon. Why? ‘Cause although it’s
a few number of essays, you have to really think through
those essays and those answers, because they will be thoroughly
reviewed for their content, for your perspective,
and for their quality. So you definitely — it is a time-consuming application. It’s very worthwhile because
you have to think of yourself and at the end of the day, this
is an offer you’re making to the government to serve and you’re showing who you are and what you have to offer. Ms. Schulman:
Thanks. This next question comes from Sean M. Oliver in the Facebook chat. Sean asks, “How did the
Fellowship program allow you to help your local community?” Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
Well, in my case, basically
it’s to be able to go back to Virginia. I’m a Virginian, and to be able
to take back with experiences of how the federal
government works, what can it do and
what it cannot do, how can it help and
how it cannot help. So I went back and I became
an adviser to the Senate of Virginia and at the
State level in Richmond, and I was able to advise the
local legislators about ways by which we could take advantage
over offers and opportunities and programs the federal government has and things where you know that it will
take longer than you think to be able to get a federal
answer, a federal response. Ms. Benjamin:
In my case, I live in the Washington, D.C. area and did so at the time of the Fellowship. I work in the
International Affairs arena. So my community is defined
probably more broadly in terms of a global community. And understanding how government
works in terms of foreign policy and international programming
was very critical for what I’ve done since then. The things that I learned
through the Fellowship have been incredibly helpful in making
linkages through identifying additional resources and
connections to improve global development programs. Ms. Schulman:
This next question comes
from Phillip C. Ballard. “Can you please discuss the
policy memo portion of the application?” Ms. Benjamin:
Sure, I can take that. That question is specifically
about a memorandum, a policy memorandum
to the President. And most importantly, I would
say that it’s important to follow instructions. I think for that essay,
it’s a 500 word limit. So, important to follow
instructions and keep to the 500 words or less. I think it’s important to be
very precise, very concise, important to find,
provide background, identify the different
sides of the issue, and to make a very
thoughtful, intelligent, and practical policy recommendation to the President. And to really convince the
President to support your recommendation or to
implement your recommendation. It’s important to remember that
this is a memorandum to the President. It is not a memorandum to
the governor or to a senator. It’s to the President. So it should be an issue of
interest to the President and to the Executive Branch
of government. I also think that in the wide
range of issues that you could select, it’s important to select
a topic that you know pretty well. There are so many topics from
which you can choose and it’s really best to pick one that you
know quite well and can speak to intelligently. As you go through
the competition, you’ll have to defend your
view to many, many people. And to the extent that you can
present as an expert on the topic, the better. Ms. Schulman:
The next question comes from Michael Futrel Simmelton, who actually just — who
had asked another question, but this is a good one. And it’s come up a
few times before. Greg McCohen from California had submitted a similar question in advance. And this is about the
interview process. Michael asks, “How can you
provide some insight into the interview process?” And Greg wanted to know how
you personally prepared. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
Well, basically the application package is reviewed and around 100 to 120 are selected
to go to regionals. And the regional panels which
happen in different cities throughout the country, what
you will do is you’ll go to four panels of three regional
panels that will interview you. And it is like a job interview. Here you are putting
your packets, and that’s why it’s so important to know your memo and to know your application in and out because you’ll come in and you’ll be receiving questions and having a dialogue by a three person panel, for
around 20 minutes. And you’ll have four of those
in one day at the regionals. And how do you prepare? You need to be at
the top of the game. This is just like a job
interview or a school interview when you’re trying to impress
that you are the best person for this program. How did I get ready? I have to tell you. I read the Economist,
the New York Times, The Washington Post and many other topnotch publications in and out for a few months. As soon as I knew — and I went even back to make sure that you’re up to speed
at the level this is. You are coming to the highest
levels of federal policy and you need to know — at that point you don’t know what department you’re going to. So you need to know all the top issues that are happening in policy and politics and
International Affairs at the time you come to the interview,
because they might ask you about a current event issue. It might not be in your area. I’m an attorney, it could
have been in science. And you have to be ready
to engage intelligently, and you need to be — to show that you are up to speed with the issues of the day. Ms. Moelis:
I should just frame the three tier process that happens once your application is — I
think that would be helpful. And we — we’ve mentioned them. Esther and Jaime
have mentioned them. The first round after your
application is completed and the office gets the application, we
make sure that three alumni read that application. It is a paper process. So as Esther was encouraging you
to be very clear and reflective on that piece of paper, that’s
going to be your ticket to the regionals. So out of all of the applicants,
if three alumni feel that you — recommend you to move on,
approximately 100 to 120 of those applicants are going
to move on to the regionals. At the regional level,
as Jaime has mentioned, there are 12 community leaders. So whatever city you’re in, and
we try to be as diverse in terms of placing you closest to
the city that you’re at, because you have to
get yourself there. So we have cities across the
industry with 8 locations and once you’re selected as a
regional you’ll be then informed that you’ll be at
a certain panel. You won’t know who those
community judges are. We don’t share that. But they are judges from all
diverse backgrounds because you’re from a
diverse background. So it’s going to be scientists,
it’s going to be business people, it’s going to
be lawyers and doctors, and people from the
non-for-profit sector. So you really have to be up to
speed on all of these different issues. If you are — if that panel decides to recommend you into the next round which gets
down to 30 national finalists, that’s our opportunity when we
bring you to Washington, D.C. in June and you meet with the
President’s Commission on White House Fellows. These are 28
individuals, leaders, national leaders who are been
appointed by President Obama to help him select
our final Fellows. And at that point you
can go on our website, you can see who our
National Commission is, the President’s Commission
is, but there are people like Senator Daschle and
Senator Sarbanes. There are people like General
Wes Clark and General Newton and General Kennedy. There are people from the
art sector, like Mia Lynn. I could keep going, because
every one of those commissioners in their own right is a
leader in their own field. Ruth Simmons, who’s
the president of Brown, and Peter Henry, who is the
president of NYU Business School. So you’re just getting a sense
of if you get through the first years, the last year is a two
and-a-half day interview process in which you meet the
President’s Commission and you have to explain to them why you
should be a Fellow this year. Ms. Schulman:
To follow-up with that we
got a question from Dixon T. McReynolds [phonetic] in Arkansas through whitehouse.gov that asks, “What are the evaluators looking for when they read applications and
interview possible Fellows?” And then Derrick Leeco [phonetic] asked a similar question, the chat, “What types of references is the Fellowship looking for?” Ms. Moelis:
Well, I’ll take
the first question. You can talk about — a little bit about how you decided who would be your recommenders and how you went about asking them. That was probably helpful. But we actually provide
each of the different — whether it’s a reader or
a regional judge or the President’s Commission. We give them five broad areas to
look at your application and to talk to you about when you come
into the interview process. And I’m actually going to read them so I’m very accurate and I try to give you a
real strong sense. Within each of these five
criteria there’s so many levels underlying them, so I know this
is going to feel very broad. But I do want to give you a
sense of what we ask them to look for. So it’s a record of remarkable
professional achievement early in one’s career. It’s also evidence of leadership
skills in the potential for future growth; a demonstrated commitment to public service, as Jaime has mentioned; the ability to work effectively as part of a team — you’re both
a team at your placement and a team within the Fellowship. And of course, the skills to
succeed at the highest levels of the federal government. So those are the five very
broad areas that we ask — that everyone looking at your
application or meeting you to think about, when they think
about recommending as a Fellow. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
And it was basically those same points that I try to emphasize through my letters
of recommendation. So for example, because I’m in
the National Guard and I was activated for Katrina, I wanted
to show the administration that I was — even though I was
living overseas — I was — to the Commissioners, I mean — I was committed to public service and to
community service. So I had a letter, one of my
recommendations letter came from my two star general
who, you know, summarized my involvement in
during the Katrina situation. I had other — I had my — because I’m an attorney, I had my — the partner of my law firm write a letter to address my professional
achievements as a lawyer. So I think — you should look at those issues and look for people that know you. This, you know, a
big name is okay, but I would say that
the critical thing is, what do they say about you? And what can they say about your
excellence in those issues that Cindy just mentioned? Ms. Benjamin:
I would also add — and you’re
right on target, Jaime — sometimes folks can pick
references from the same part of your life. So I would recommend not having
three recommenders who are academic references. I would recommend not having
three people who have been your supervisors at different jobs. I would make sure that those
are very different kinds of references. I think in my own experience, I
had an academic reference from the dean of my graduate school. I had a reference from my
supervisor in the position that I held before becoming
a White House Fellow. I had a recommendation from a
peer with whom I had done many community service projects. And I had a recommendation from
a prominent individual whose name I thought, whose name and
recommendation of me would mean a lot. So I think it’s important to
have a range of recommenders and not just pick one set
type of recommendation, academic or professional. Ms. Moelis:
Kori, I just want to clarify. In this application,
we ask for three. And you are limited to three. It used to be a
three to five range. It is now just
three applications. So that was the
reference to the fourth. And also, I should say,
make sure people know you. If it’s really clear when you’re
asking somebody who has a name, has high name recognition, and
they don’t know you whether it’s your senator or congressmen,
they will give you a recommendation. The readers really do look
for that personal reference. So I encourage you to make it
someone who knows you well. Ms. Schulman:
Okay. We just got a question from
Gerilynn Richards through the Facebook chat. She wants to know, “Many Fellows
have mentioned that their preparation began
a year in advance. If you’re interested in applying
but have not yet begun preparing for the application
process before now, would you recommend
applying anyway?” Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
I would. We are a month out. I guess it’s January 14th
and as I indicated before, I applied one year,
did not get selected, but eight months later, I
basically went ahead and got my packets from the previous year, and that was my starting product. I said, let me go
ahead and refine this. So it’s never too late starting
in the sense that you have to see this as a process. It might be if, you know,
I think you can apply. It’s still a month out but
it will be a lot of work. So you need to make sure that
during the next 30 days you’ll be able to dedicate a sufficient
amount of time which is a pretty serious amount of time. If it’s only going to
be the next 30 days. But you can, in my view. Ms. Benjamin:
I would wholeheartedly agree. It’s not too late. But once you make that
commitment to apply, it is a pretty intense effort. So make sure you set aside
plenty of time to prepare your essays and to reach out to
your references to get solid recommendations. So, you should make a commitment
as soon as possible and know that it is a huge time commitment to get the right package together. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
If I can say one thing —
as an Army Officer myself, I know many of my fellow
soldiers are an airman — are down range, this is a program that you cannot apply if you’re a full-time
federal employee, but you can apply if
you’re in the Armed Forces. So for those members
of the Armed Forces, this is a program that is open for you and as was indicated before, General Wesley
Clark, General Colin Powell, did this program in
General Powell’s book, he has a whole chapter on this program of how it changed his life, too. So I would advise members of
the Armed Forces to apply. Ms. Moelis:
I also should mention, Kori, that that’s one of the unique aspects of this program is that
there is military and civilian leaders who are involved and
learning from each other as Fellows, which I know Esther and
Jaime both could talk about at length. But really learning from your
other Fellows who are in other departments and come from
other sectors is part of this experience. And currently out of our class
of 13 we have four military, from all different branches with
all different experiences and it really is — it’s really a truly unique experience to get to understand the military. And for military personnel to
have an exposure to civilian leadership as well. Ms. Schulman:
Thank you. The next question comes from Brian F. O’Connor, Jr. who asks, “What if you had a nonlinear career progression? Example — a few years after
college of military service, or sort of other
types of progressions. What are you looking for as
far as examples of remarkable professional achievement?” Ms. Moelis:
First of all, I would encourage people with a nonlinear experience to apply. But I think when you — each
is going to be an individual question to yourself. When you look at
that application, you need to sort of say to yourself, what’s my story? Why did I make these choices
and what do I hope that I gained from each of your choices and
how does that take me into the future? So I really think that you
should not be discouraged. There is not one model. There’s not one type that, you
know, that becomes a Fellow. And in fact, that also makes
the experience amazing, is that when you come in, you
find people who have had such different experiences. Last year, we had someone who was a journalist for eight years and then went back to law school and ended up becoming a Fellow right out of law school. So, really — and that’s just
an example of a very different model. Ms. Benjamin:
I think what matters is, how you tell that story about why you have a range of experiences. I had classmates and other
colleagues who have been in the Fellowship Program who were
officers in the Navy and then investment bankers
who were attorneys, and then worked with NGOs,
so, many unique backgrounds. People came to the experience
with many unique backgrounds. And I think it’s important to be
able to tell that story of why you’ve had those
varied experiences. Ms. Schulman:
Great; we have a question that’s come up from Jason Griffith, and a few other people are
asking similar questions like Mohammed Omar. “Are incoming Fellows given any
special training after their selection to help
with their assignment?” Mohammad asks about the
educational component about the program. Ms. Moelis:
There’s a four-day orientation in which we actually talk a lot about what federal government
means, what the rules are. You know, and then you are
brought to your placement and given some — a short
orientation there. Primarily, the orientation is
really around the Fellowship and bonding experience
among the Fellows. I do have to say, you do not
get a lot of training training walking into that department. There is a lot of self
motivation that happens. We ask you to have patience
when you walk into a department. You’re walking into a new
environment where things are already moving forward and
you’re a new person in that environment. So I think — I think our goal is to encourage you to use all your skill set and all your talents and all your people skills to walk into a
new environment and learn. Again, the expectation is that
you’re coming in to learn about public service and
leadership development. You will also contribute. I know that both Jaime and
Esther contributed a lot. But the expectation is, is that
you’re walking in there in order to get a truly wonderful and
enriching learning experience. Ms. Benjamin:
I think it’s very possible that from one month to three months could be spent getting
oriented to the department. You have to walk in with an open
mind, as I mentioned before. And really build trust and show
that you can add value to the work at the agency or in the
office or in an office in the White House. So, the initial weeks and
potentially a month or more are really about building trust
and building relationships and showing how you can contribute to the work in the agency. So personally, I was less
focused on the training that was being provided, and much more
focused on showing that I could contribute. Ms. Schulman:
We have a question that’s just come in from Adrian Jones about the online application process. “You submit your application
and need to go back and edit it; since it’s online can
you go back to edit?” Ms. Moelis:
You can edit it until you
hit the “Submit” button. Once you have submitted
it, it is complete. You can’t then pull it back. So I encourage you
to be very careful, to reread your application,
do not submit it until you absolutely know it’s
your last version. And once submitted, you can’t call the office and pull it back, even if the deadline
isn’t until January 14th. Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
I give one advice on
your application — make sure someone else reads it. You know, you’re
doing your story. This is your work product. This is what the reviewers
are going to be reading at. Make sure you have someone else
to read it and say, am I coming across? This is a story I’m
trying to put forward. Is it clearly defined and
sustained in this package? Feel free to do that. Make sure someone else
looks at your application, because we will be
reviewing it, you know, alumni will be reading it, and they’ll be reading it with a lot of detail. So you want to make sure that
that application has been thoroughly reviewed by you, and
in my opinion, someone else, too. Ms. Schulman:
Great. And this is going to
be our last question. We’ve gotten so many
good questions — thanks for everyone that’s
participating in the chat. This comes from Prespero Uberetta [phonetic] in California. “What’s the most difficult
aspect of the Fellowship year?” Mr. Areizaga-Soto:
The most difficult aspect is basically at the time management and the challenges. Once again, this is not —
this is not a side chair. You will be at the table. The people at your
office, you know, the taxpayer is
paying your salary. You have indicated you have
succeeded in your career and you’re ready to come in
and learn but contribute. So I think the challenge
for me was one, to do everything I wanted
to do for my department, the Department of the Treasury,
and at the same time try to take advantage of all the marvelous opportunities that we had as Fellows. So that balance, and making sure
that you meet the expectations that you’ve impose to
yourself and that, you know, you have as a federal
employee during that year. I would say that was the biggest
challenge because, you know, you just have to manage your time and everything you have to do. Ms. Benjamin:
There’s just so much
to take advantage of. There’s the work placement and all the demands of the place where you’re working. There’s the education program. There are the policy trips. You also want to get to
know your classmates. And there’s the broader White House Fellows network as well. There’s so many
components to the program. And I definitely found that
the challenge was to truly take advantage of all of these
wonderful components of the program. Ms. Moelis:
I should also mention that a lot of alumni have talked about this here, and both Esther
and Jaime confirmed this — that’s it’s transformational. One of the reasons it’s transformational is because it’s really a lot of work. You put in a lot of effort. And working for the federal
government can be very challenging and can be
very frustrating at times. But the wonderful thing is,
is when you get things done, you really feel a sense
of accomplishment. But I’m going to just mention
that being a transformed (indiscernible) means that you actually are putting a lot of your own personal energy
into making this here work. So we hope you’ll consider
looking at the application. We hope you’ll apply. And we look forward to
seeing you next year. Ms. Schulman:
Thank you so much, Cindy, Jaime, and Esther for joining us today. Thanks for everyone that was
participating in the chat online. We will follow-up and answer
some of your additional questions on whitehouse.gov,
so stay tuned. We got tons of
great questions. To learn more about the program
and to access the application, go to whitehouse.gov/fellows. Again, the application deadline
is coming up on January 14th. whitehouse.gov/fellows is the
site that you want to check out. And if you joined us late, the
video of this whole chat will be posted online in
the next day or so. So thanks for joining us.

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