Five Middlebury Institute students were recently selected for the highly competitive Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF), the leadership development program that places highly qualified applicants with advanced degrees in two-year salaried positions with U.S. government agencies.
The five students selected for the PMF this year are Mark Ackermann MPA ’23, Brandon Arcari MANPTS ’23, Delia Leal MAIPD ’22, Karl Riedel MANPTS ’23, and Megan Spitzer MAIEP ’23. This year, about 10,000 people applied and only one out of five were selected.
“My PMF experience is one of the most important reasons I was able to reach very high-level civil servant positions in government,” says Professor Jason Blazakis, director of the Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism. “As a PMF I worked in the U.S. intelligence community, crafted policy, and deployed to Afghanistan to head the embassy’s narcotics affairs section. These roles shaped what would become a nearly two-decade career in government.” Prior to joining the Institute faculty, Blazakis served as director of the Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office in the U.S. Department of State.
The PMF provides a two-year, salaried fellowship that typically includes abundant opportunities for advancement and career development.
Riedel, a student in the Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies program, learned about the fellowship from Professors Philipp Bleek and Masako Toki, who put him in touch with an Institute alumnus who was a PMF and now works at the State Department. Riedel hopes to “leverage the fellowship into jump-starting an early career in government and to use the trainings, resources, and networks provided for further professional development.” He cites the fellowship’s emphasis on professional development and “access to a highly motivated network of individuals” as key assets that convinced him to apply.
Leal, who is studying international policy and development, hopes the PMF experience will help further her policy analysis skills by giving her the opportunity to participate in federal government projects that advance the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “I hope to gain a fellowship appointment with either the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where there is higher potential to work on global sustainable development projects.”
Riedel is also grateful to Elizabeth Bone of the Center for Advising and Career Services for her assistance and support. “Elizabeth not only set me up with a couple of former fellows and finalists whom I was able to reach out to and interview for guidance, but she also took the time to do mock one-on-one interviews, which really allayed the anxieties that we had going in.”
“I see this as an accelerated pathway to apply my new skills to socially impactful federal projects,” said Leal. “Moreover, the added benefit of leadership development training and assignment to a senior-level mentor will help me become a more effective civil servant.”
Blazakis believes serving as a Presidential Management Fellow accelerated his career significantly.
“The skills, in addition to the network of friends I developed as a PMF, would become critical to my ability to operate successfully as a civil servant. I was able to travel the world, meet senior government officials, frequent the White House Situation Room for meetings, and make important national security decisions. It was quite a ride.”
The PMF program was established by executive order in 1977 as the Presidential Management Internship program, later amended and renamed in 2003. Its goal is “to attract to the federal service outstanding citizen-scholars from a variety of academic disciplines and career paths who have a clear interest in, and commitment to, excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs.”