Lead for America looks to recruit recent graduates to program

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In response to growing popularity in government careers, the Cohen Career Center’s Tribe Careers website includes a fellowship page with 99 fellowship entries. COURTESY PHOTO/WM.EDU

As graduating undergraduate and graduate students alike begin their search for careers and internships in the technology, medical and engineering fields, one new upstart is hoping to get students interested in the world of local government.

Lead for America, a nonpartisan two-year paid fellowship program, plans to place 50 fellows in local governments nationwide. Forty of those fellows will be based in North Carolina, where the nonprofit is located, in the North Carolina Fellowship program. An additional 10 will be placed throughout the United States in the Hometown Fellows program.

LFA’s fellowship program targets graduating college seniors or graduates less than three years out of school who do not currently have a master’s degree. The nonprofit is particularly interested in attracting students from the College of William and Mary.

“William & Mary is one of the colleges that we are most interested in attracting applicants from, particularly given its reputation and its large community of students from all academic and cultural backgrounds who are engaged with public and community service,” Lead for America Chief Executive Officer Joe Nail said.

Nail, who co-founded LFA with Stanford graduate and Chief Community Officer Kinsey Morrison and Harvard Graduate and COO and Director of Selection Reed Shafer-Ray, graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in political science and entrepreneurship.

“My interest in public service started my sophomore year of high school when my father was deployed to Afghanistan, and I had to step up for my family,” Nail said. “I have an older sister with cerebral palsy, so I was able to view government both from her interaction locally and my father’s interaction nationwide through the military.”

Nail created LFA when he realized many students interested in public service jobs were not entering those jobs post-graduation. During college, Nail realized that many young people lacked faith in government, and he wondered how he could incentivize students to enter the public sector rather than the private sector.

Professor of government and public policy at the College John McGlennon believes that a large majority of government majors do enter jobs related to government and public service, working these jobs at the local, state and federal levels. The lack of participation among young adults, according to McGlennon, stems from student’s lack of awareness in the wide variety of jobs available in local government.

“In local government, there is a lot of talk about the Silver Tsunami — the impending retirements of many local government officials who have been working for decades,” McGlennon said.

“In local government, there is a lot of talk about the Silver Tsunami — the impending retirements of many local government officials who have been working for decades,” McGlennon said. “Many students are not aware of the wide range of jobs in planning, economic development, transportation, finance, health and wellness, administration and many other fields in local government, and the very strong need for people to fill coming vacancies.”

McGlennon has seen the lack of youth participation at the local level through the small number of participants in the Local Government Institute, a program offered by the College’s government department. Public Policy Program Director John Gilmour has also seen a decline in youth participation, noticing that there has been a downward trend in the last few years in applications to public policy programs.

Nail and LFA believe they can change these trends by applying the successes of other fellowship programs like Teach for America to government.

The nonprofit plans to use North Carolina as its model of success, expanding the fellowship program to 100 fellows in North Carolina, and then expanding to five states by the fall of 2021. Each fellow will interact with their assigned local government based on the needs of that specific area.

“Areas like Wilson, North Carolina are looking for fellows who can work on attracting small businesses and create a rural innovation hub, while areas like Pearson, North Carolina are looking for fellows who can work on improving mental health promotion and on combatting the opioid epidemic,” Nail said.

According to Cohen Career Center Director of Public Service Careers Tonya Nations  they have seen a rise in participation in fellowship programs among the College’s student body, with 10 percent of students participating in a post-grad internship, fellowship or research experience and several holding the title of fellow .

“A few examples of employers with which the Class of 2017 held post-bacc fellowships are the National Institute of Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Aging, Jill’s House, College of William & [Mary], and the National Audubon Society,” Nations said in an email.

In response to growing popularity, the Center’s Tribe Careers website includes a fellowship page with 99 fellowship entries, and future events regarding fellowship programs are posted on the website as well.

LFA hopes to get in contact with the College’s Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center as well as other groups on campus to introduce students to its fellowship program.

“Lead for America hopes to connect communities who need help and bring together young people dedicated to public service,” Nail said.