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The Maxwell School & the PMF Program a Longstanding Legacy

Professor Sean O'Keefe, Phanstiel Chair and inaugural PMI Fellow, 1978

The Maxwell School prides itself on a connected network of high-achieving alumni who have carried their Maxwell spirit of citizenship and public welfare into the professional world. Alumni have gone on to impactful and public-oriented professions in local, state, and federal levels and nonprofit organizations.  

Of special attention in today’s article is the Maxwell School’s ongoing and strong connection to the Presidential Management Fellows Program, or PMF Program for short.

(left – Phanstiel Chair, Professor Sean O’Keefe, inaugural PMI Fellow, 1978.)

PMF is the foremost federal professional development program to prepare Fellows for leadership careers in public service. A position in the PMF Program can serve as an accelerated, professional development program for recent graduate students completing degrees in public administration and policy programs.

For over 40 years, students at the Maxwell School have applied for the PMF program and have been granted Fellowships advancing their careers in a wide range of federal agencies. These agencies include the Departments of Labor, State, Energy, Justice, Education, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and many others.

The Maxwell School’s very own current professor and Phanstiel Chair in Strategic Management & Leadership, Sean O’Keefe, was a member of the very first PMF cohort (called PMI at that time) in 1978.   After his Presidential Management Fellowship, Professor O’Keefe would go on to serve the public throughout his esteemed career in various positions, including Secretary of the Navy, Administrator of NASA, Chancellor of Louisiana State University, and Chairman of Airbus Group.

Upon reflecting on the PMF, Professor O’Keefe had this to say:

“While the PMF program has changed a bit over its 42 years, it was at the beginning as it is now, the premier federal professional development program to prepare Fellows for a career in public service.  For me, the two-year internship was an accelerated education, a “crash course” in the federal decision making process that would have otherwise required more than a decade of experience.  My professional aspirations were focused rapidly and my qualifications expanded to compete for progressively more demanding assignments in the career public service, on Capitol Hill and Presidential appointments.  

Along the way, I also learned that I could move around the federal government, and at points, leave public service for a time in pursuit of university based and corporate opportunities that further expanded my expertise and awareness of a wide array of professional applications to public service challenges.  It’s been an incredible ride with more than a few challenges and many rewarding experiences that permitted me the chance to practice all that I learned at the Maxwell School. 

In short, the PMI program significantly changed the course of my career trajectory.  The Maxwell School made that possible by giving me the tools and framework to think about policy development and implementation that I was able to apply immediately, demonstrate my capabilities and rapidly accelerate the trajectory of my professional options. Most importantly, I realized the exceptional influence that I could exert at each public service opportunity to realize the Athenian Oath to leave conditions better than I found them. 

Maxwell gave me the confidence to believe in myself.  As a graduate student at the time, the Career Services director prodded me to apply for the PMI program, a new program with no track record and that I didn’t think I would be qualified to be selected.  Anne Stewart convinced me to take a leap of faith.  That encouragement was the start of a professional journey that I’d have never dreamed imaginable.”

The Maxwell School’s Palmer Career Center’s tradition of providing top-notch advice and resources to students like Sean continues to this day. Having just attended a PMF information session myself, the Palmer Career Center was very helpful in advising me about this program and how to best stand out when applying. Their investment in their students, like me, gives us the edge in being the most competitive applicants we can be.

It’s nice to see that the legacy of Professor O’Keefe’s high-achieving inaugural class of Presidential Management Fellows continues to this day with the Maxwell School. This past year, multiple Maxwell School graduates applied to the PMF Program. Leah Knobel (MA IR/MS PR – Public Diplomacy) currently serves as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Library of Congress. After Leah and Sean, I wonder which one of my very talented colleagues will be in the next PMF Cohort making their career in federal service. [Maxwell Alumni Profiles]

The Maxwell School’s ongoing connection to the PMF Program is an example of its mission-driven dedication to preparing it’s students for public service and the greater good. The Maxwell School looks forward to supporting future graduates going forth to serve in leadership positions in the federal government.

This blog post was written by: Lucas Vallely, current MPA student.

A special thank you to Professor Sean O’Keefe for sharing his thoughts on the PMF and Leah Knobel.

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