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Initiative encourages pursuit of careers in public service

September 15, 2017

The Bowdoin Public Service Initiative (BPS), a new program housed in the McKeen Center for the Common Good, aims to encourage students to pursue careers in public policy through education, networking and funded internships.

Inspired by conversations between President Clayton Rose and Thomas Pickering ’53, H’84, the initiative comes at a time of widespread distrust of the goals and values of governmental institutions.

“I think there’s been appropriate criticism and distrust of lots of parts of government for a long time, and it ebbs and flows and so forth. But I see one of our responsibilities as educating great students, sending them off to make a difference in the world—that’s the notion of the common good—and this is one place where a difference can be quite profound,” said Rose.

The College hopes to encourage students to think critically about the meaning of a career in public service and give them the opportunity to engage with experienced individuals in political offices, government agencies and non-governmental organizations involved with public policy issues.

“There will be networking opportunities, there will be exposure to internships and jobs and things, but that’s not the thrust of this. This is to help foster discussion and foster a conversation around how to serve, what it means to serve the common good through public service,” said Sarah Chingos, newly appointed associate director for public service at the McKeen Center, whose position was established to specifically oversee this program.

While the initiative equates careers in public policy with serving the common good, both Rose and Chingos said that the goal of the initiative is to allow students to explore for themselves the challenges and rewards of a career in this field.

“Its providing the opportunity and the exposure to our students and then letting them use their great intellect and great judgment and great sense to figure out for themselves where they’re going,” said Rose.

The initiative will consist of three elements. It will accept applications beginning in early October, and selected participants are expected to be notified by December 1.

The inaugural “BPS in Washington” component will be open to 10 current sophomores and will commence with a seven-week seminar held at Bowdoin before students embark on an intensive week-long trip to Washington over spring break. There, students will meet with Bowdoin alumni and the Maine congressional delegation as well as engage in other networking opportunities.

Open to rising seniors, the BPS Fellows component will fund five full-time ten-week internships in Washington, D.C. up to $5,000 per student. Students will receive assistance securing a position and guidance throughout the course of their experience.

“When they return, there will be reflection activities. They will be keeping a journal over the course of the summer, and then they will write an essay and they will participate in the president’s summer symposium when they return,” said Chingos.

The program is not affiliated with the government department and the curriculum for the pre-departure seminars, which is being developed by Chingos, will take a more action-oriented, less academic approach than most government courses do.

“I think it’s just a good way to help facilitate the connections we make as faculty with people in that community. And that’s not something that we explicitly as a department really do,” said Michael Franz,  professor of government and chair of the government and legal studies department. “We don’t have somebody on the faculty or staff who facilitates internship programs or career opportunities for our majors.”

Over the past five years, government and legal studies has been the top major of Bowdoin graduates. In 2016, 18.9 percent of the graduating class were government and legal studies majors and 3.5 percent were minors.

Franz said that the initiative was not motivated by a lack of Bowdoin students entering public policy.

“I think it’s a way to channel an interest that’s already there. I don’t think it’s a way to energize a lack of engagement from Bowdoin students. I think it’s a way to give students who have particular interest in this area more explicit opportunities through Bowdoin,” said Franz.

“But we do a lot of informal discussions with students about these things, and this is a nice opportunity with the McKeen Center to formalize some of those opportunities for students, so that’s how I see it fitting into our curriculum and profile.”

Pickering is among some of the most prominent Bowdoin graduates who have pursued careers in government and public policy, including former U.S. Senator George Mitchell ’54, former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen ’62 and current Mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee ’74. Across his expansive career, Pickering has served as undersecretary for state for political affairs under President Bill Clinton, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the first Bush administration.

“He specifically mentioned the need for the importance of science in governance right now and these will be topics that we will really try to focus in on as possible seminar topics,” said Chingos.

Rose added, “He was really quite passionate about the idea that we need good people, Bowdoin grads and grads of lots of other great institutions, in government service in lots of different places and what it is we might do to encourage that.”

A final element of the initiative is on-campus programing that will engage the greater College community with speakers from public service backgrounds.

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