If you’re seeking an opportunity to gain hands-on work experience in city government, Washington, D.C.’s Mayor’s Office offers a unique fellowship opportunity for recent graduate students. The Capital City Fellows program is mayoral initiative to attract young professionals with Master’s degrees for a competitive, 18 month appointment in city government. Over the 18 month program, Capital City Fellows may complete three 6-month rotations in different city agencies working in government operations, health and human services, public safety and justice, planning and economic development or education. In addition to on-the-job training in their host agencies, the Fellows are provided unique opportunities to meet with city officials and participate in educational and professional development training and seminars. After the fellowship, many Capital City Fellows go on to work in permanent positions in D.C. government.
Recently, we met Capital City Fellow Sareeta Spriggs, a rising star chosen in 2012 as one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the Hampton Roads Business Journal (Virginia). Sareeta shared insights on the fellowship program and her fellowship application tips.
1. What inspired you to apply to the Capital City Fellows Program?
For the past few years, I’ve worked in the non-profit and education sectors in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. I’ve lead several youth development programs, worked to increase voter participation in neighborhoods where there was a low propensity for voting. I also volunteered with both the YWCA and United Way to eliminate community disparities. From my work in the communities, I developed a love for service. I gained a desire to use my life to improve the lives of the people I served. I was looking for a way to enter the public service sector and stumbled across the Capital City Fellows Program (CCFP).
I had an idea of what I wanted to do in the government, but I was not certain. What attracted me to the CCFP was the structure of the fellowship. The fellowship provides an opportunity to work for three agencies for six months on various projects and also offers various trainings throughout the program. This was a win-win for me! I have the awesome opportunity to work in the public service sector, gain great experience and also make changes that will enhance the lives of the constituents of DC.
2. What are the benefits of the fellowship?
Unlike some fellowship programs in which Fellows work in one agency or department throughout their tenure, the Capital City Fellows can work in up to three different agencies over the course of the 18 months. As a result, Fellows have the opportunity to see many facets of city government.
The greatest benefit of the fellowship is the experience. You will have the opportunity to work on major projects throughout the District of Columbia government. Each fellowship placement is unique. Host agencies involve Fellows in a range of projects and processes, from budget development and analysis to strategic planning and constituent services. For example, the Fellow assigned to the Department of Human Resources might work on training city officials on the performance management system, whereas the Fellow assigned to the Office of the City Administrator might work on launching the Neighborhood Services Initiative. Currently, I work for the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS). DFS is a new agency that was created by merging existing and new district units into a consolidated forensic laboratory. I am working with the Deputy Director of the agency on Process Improvement. We are mapping out work processes in each unit, analyzing the processes, and developing new processes that will eliminate waste and increase efficiency within the agency. It’s a challenge, but I am truly enjoying the experience.
Fellows participate in regular required and optional developmental activities. Developmental activities cover areas such as budgeting, procurement, human resources and also expose the Fellows to government initiatives and processes outside of their placements. Additionally, Fellows are required to take a prescribed set of management courses that are specific to the District of Columbia government operations.
As an added bonus, the fellows have “Brown Bag” lunches with high ranking city executives such as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Deputy Mayors and various agency Directors.
Once the program is complete, you will be armed with experience. You can chose to take that experience elsewhere, but most of the fellows choose to continue working within city government. You will also become a part of a powerful network!
3. What tips would you give others applying to the Capital City Fellows program?
As with anything, be sure to display the best version of you. The online application includes, but is not limited to, official graduate transcripts, a resume, completion of Ranking Factors (including essays), and two references (educational and professional). In your essays, be clear about how you would use your skill set, ideas and passion to bring about change to lives of the people of the District of Columbia. Your recommendations should come from people who can really speak about your work and can showcase that in writing. Lastly, be sure to do your homework on the District of Columbia Government.
Candidates must have earned their graduate degree (with a GPA of 3.5 or higher) within two years prior to the start of the October fellowship. There is no subject-specific Master’s degree requirement although the program mainly attracts people in public administration, public policy, urban planning, or engineering. Law school graduates are also eligible. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to public service and an interest in public policy and management.
4. What you think made your application stand out?
The first thing I did was look up Capital City Fellows on my LinkedIn to see if any of my connections were connected to current or former fellows. One of my friends was connected to a fellow and I asked for an introduction. I simply asked the fellow about their experience and what a typical rotation entailed. Next, I began to do my homework on the Mayor’s initiatives, major projects going on in the City and other information. Lastly, I came to my interview with a portfolio of my work. This provided a visual representation of my commitment to enhancing the lives of others through service. If you really want to stand out, be real about your experiences, what you bring to the table and be able to communicate how you will use the fellowship.
Sareeta Spriggs is a first rotation Capital City Fellow currently working on Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement at the DC Department of Forensic Sciences. She holds an MBA from Strayer University and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Information Systems from Norfolk State University. Sareeta loves to give back to her community and is an active member of the National Urban League. She was named the 2013 Eastern Region Young Professional of the Year and is a recent graduate of the Urban League’s Emerging Leaders Program. Sareeta is also a founding member of Young, Bold and Beautiful, an organization that inspires entrepreneurship and excellence in women. Her motto for life is “A Quitter Never Wins and A Winner Never Quits!”
© Victoria Johnson 2014, all rights reserved.