In a February 13, 2023, press release, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced the finalists in its Class of 2023 Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. Saaima Bholat, a 2021 alumna of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs' Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program and Tabitha Krondorfer, a 2022 alumna, were among those selected as finalists for the prestigious award.
The PMF program was established by executive order in 1977 by then-President Jimmy Carter to attract outstanding citizen scholars from various academic disciplines to federal service. The OPM characterizes the program as the federal government's "premier leadership development program for advanced degree candidates." It is a two-year training and development program in which finalists are eligible for appointments at participating federal agencies. After completing the program, the agencies may convert fellows to permanent federal civilian employees.
The program is highly selective, and according to the OPM, it was especially competitive this year, "Of the more than 10,000 individuals from around the world who applied for the program, 850 finalists were chosen,” which represents the largest group of applicants in the past 10 years.
Krondorfer expressed surprise and excitement at the news. "It’s a really nice surprise to have this great opportunity. I feel very fortunate to be named a finalist," she said.
Bholat also expressed excitement. "The entire process was extensive and I wasn't sure how things would pan out, but I was excited when I received the news because the PMF program has a lot of great opportunities in the federal workforce," she said.
Even before becoming a PMF finalist, Bholat had extensive experience in the federal workforce. "I worked for the Department of Homeland Security prior to joining Watson's MPA program," she said. Bholat said her intention coming into the program was to continue working for the federal government but knew that Watson "would provide the skills and tools I needed to further advance my career."
While she was still attending the MPA program full-time in January 2021, Bholat accepted a position at the U.S. Department of State, Office of Foreign Missions. Now that she is a PMF finalist, she is exploring opportunities at the State Department and other federal agencies where she can remain focused on foreign policy issues.
Krondorfer likewise intends to explore opportunities where she can focus on international issues, especially in relation to disaster response and resilience. "I've done a lot of thinking about how countries can strengthen their resilience," she said, "especially since we are going into an increasingly unstable climate and increasingly unstable politics around the world. There are so many things that are changing and evolving, so this will always be a relevant field." She added, "I really want to make a positive impact over the long term."
Krondorfer said she plans to move through the process and gather as much information as she can. "Over the next two weeks, I want to start having conversations with people who have been through the program," she said. "Jobs at the State Department, FEMA, the CDC, or anywhere I can focus on disaster planning, mitigation or response would be very enticing," she said.
"I've always wanted to be in a position to enact meaningful change," Krondorfer said, "Currently, I'm working in government consulting at Canmore Company, where I’ve been able to learn a lot in a short amount of time." Canmore is a strategic and technical consultancy firm that describes its mission as "support[ing] organizations and governments build security and resilience."
Whether she ends up in the federal workforce or stays in the non-governmental sector, Krondorfer said her primary consideration is to position herself in a career where she can make a positive difference in the world. "I need to be in a place that is aligned with my values. I want to make an impact in a way that leads to lasting change," she said.
Bholat said she found the practical focus of the MPA program particularly useful. "I really liked how we were very specialized in our learning," she said. "We didn't simply cover general topics in our courses. Instead, focused on specific policy questions and dived into obtaining a particular skill set in policy-making, such as drafting briefing memos that could be applicable to our professional careers. At work, for the most part, you aren't drafting a 12-page paper. Instead, you're writing a briefing or a report that needs to be clear, concise, and focused," she said, "I was glad that Watson incorporated practical learning concepts into the curriculum."
Bholat also wants to explore the many opportunities in various agencies available to her in the federal government now that she is a PMF finalist. "My primary interests are in foreign affairs and diplomacy. However, the PMF presents me with an opportunity to explore new and different fields," she said.
Watson Director of Academic Programs Susan Moffitt, herself a former finalist, said, "We are pleased to celebrate Saaima and Tabitha's impressive accomplishments. The PMF is an outstanding pathway for attracting and cultivating a highly talented workforce at the highest levels of the U.S. federal government. The agencies where they work will be fortunate to benefit from their excellent skills."
Other alumni of the program include U.S. Senator from Oregon Jeff Merkley, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert G. Berschinski and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young.
Previous Brown MPA finalists include Class of 2017 alumna Rachel Lowenstein, Class of 2020 alumnus Michael Alter, Class of 2021 alumnae LaTausha Rogers and Fiona Kastel, and Class of 2022 alumna Isabel Gates.
— Pete Bilderback