Carnegie Mellon University
April 09, 2020

CMU Students Stand Out in Presidential Management Fellows Program

By Scott Barsotti

Caitlin Kizielewicz
  • Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy

The United States federal government is a massive employer, yet even the brightest and most tenacious job hunters may find the process of identifying and landing a federal job to be daunting. For students who want to make their mark and work toward a leadership role in a federal agency, finding that first foot in the door in hugely important. The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program is one way to break in.

Run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, PMF is a highly competitive program that matches outstanding graduate students with agencies hungry for talent by making select positions available exclusively to PMF Finalists each year.

Two current students and one alumna from Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy were selected as finalists for the 2020 PMF class. Lauren Grubbs, Rachel Hanes, and Katie LeFevre — all from the master of science in public policy and management program — were chosen from a pool of over 4,900 applicants. Grubbs and Hanes will graduate this year and LeFevre graduated in 2019. Fewer than 10 percent of 2020 applicants were selected as PMF Finalists.

Hanes said the program has substantial name recognition in the federal government and can help to open doors for finalists.

"If I'm speaking to someone at a job fair booth, even if their agency doesn't have PMF positions currently, they know what the program is. It carries weight in federal agencies," she said.

Grubbs and Hanes characterized the program as a different pathway to a federal job, one that de-emphasizes the trappings of a traditional job search, like cover letters and reference checks. Applicants for the fellowship take an assessment test that measures, among other attributes, situational judgment and leadership.

"It's not necessarily the kind of test you can study for. However, there was a statistics portion, and having a base knowledge of stats, econometrics, and program evaluation from Heinz College definitely helped there," said Grubbs. Before coming to CMU, she had hands-on experience in Peace Corps Ukraine, which provided a helpful perspective for the workplace situational judgment section.

Hanes and Grubbs are both part of Heinz College's Public Policy in Washington, D.C. program, a dual city master's degree in which students learn quantitative management and technical skills at CMU's Pittsburgh campus in the first year, then take classes with government and policy practitioners in D.C. in the second year.

Students also work nearly full-time hours for a D.C. organization in the second year as part of the Heinz Policy Fellowship program. Grubbs has been completing her fellowship at Mercy Corps, an international development and humanitarian aid organization, and through PMF has an accepted an offer to be a Digital Technology Program Specialist with USAID's Global Development Lab, working on digital inclusion projects. Hanes is focused on environmental policy and is doing climate and clean energy related work for the Natural Resources Defense Council for her Heinz Policy Fellowship; she accepted a PMF position as a program analyst with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"It's been hectic but this year has gone by really fast. Working full-time while we're finishing our MSPPM degree has been very challenging but it will prepare all of us quite well to enter the workforce," Hanes said. "Working a full-time job only will probably seem easy by comparison."

LeFevre, who graduated from Heinz College in 2019, is completing a post-graduate ORISE fellowship at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

PMF Finalists have until November to find placement within a federal agency.