PPIA Program

“Diversity & Leadership in Public Service”

PPIA Alum Shama Ams Awarded Marshall Scholarship

Photo_AmsAfter completing a JSI fellowship, many PPIA alumni go on to become successful candidates for prestigious national scholarships. These awards include the Marshall Scholarship, which finances intellectually distinguished young Americans to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Up to forty talented scholars are selected each year to study at the graduate level at an UK institution in any field of study.

PPIA is proud to announce that Shama Ams, a member of the 2013 JSI cohort, has been awarded a two-year Marshall Scholarship. In the following interview, he shares insight into the application process and highlights the key role that PPIA played in helping him achieve success.

Can you discuss why you applied for the Marshall Scholarship?

I applied for the Marshall Scholarship because this opportunity represented the culmination of not only my interest in diplomatic service, but also of my continued research on public health institutions in the developing world. The Marshall Commission was established by British Parliament to commemorate U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s plan for European economic development. Therefore, the culture, mission, and goals of the Marshall Commission seemed to align with my desired career path.

You’ll be studying at The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. What exactly will your studies entail?

Through the MPhil in International Development, I hope to expand my comparative research exploring the relationships between poverty and HIV/AIDS infection risk in urban environments during year one, and to hone my skills by joining Dr. Jennings’s Development Policy, Aid, Institutions, and Poverty Reduction Research Cluster during year two. My research proposes to analyze the relationship between the practices of public health institutions and the prevention and treatment of AIDS and HIV in Sub Saharan Africa. In particular, I hope to expand on prior research that had focused on a comparative of Lagos, Nigeria, Johannesburg, South Africa, and New York City, by incorporating Dakar, Senegal as a fourth case.

You have previously been selected to participate in the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program. Will your decision to study in the UK conflict with Pickering program requirements?

No. I have maintained communication with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which has been tremendously supportive and helpful throughout my Marshall Scholarship application process. As a result, I will remain on track for my Pickering internships and training for entering Foreign Service, even as I complete my research degree.

You completed your PPIA JSI at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. How did this experience prepare you for your Marshall Scholarship application?

The experience at the Woodrow Wilson School was critical to my successful applications for both the Pickering Fellowship and the Marshall Scholarship. JSI’s preparation worked on two levels. First, JSI teaches time management like no other program. To maximize the experience at JSI, one must quickly learn to structure a schedule and plan every hour of everyday. These skills helped a great deal during my fall semester 2013, when I was able to balance the usual schoolwork and extracurricular activities with late nights completing seventh and eighth drafts of personal statements, without ever feeling overwhelmed. Second, JSI teaches attention to detail like nothing else. The International Relations Policy Workshop, in particular, stressed clear and concise written and oral communication. Clear and concise communication unlocks the doors to an outstanding essay, which, in turn, unlocks the doors to an outstanding application.

Any last thoughts?

PPIA JSI is an opportunity that teaches you skills and connects you to a network that will stay with you for the rest of your life. That is why I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to experience JSI with my cohort last summer.

For information on how to apply for a Marshall Scholarship, visit the program’s website: http://www.marshallscholarship.org/.

Alumni Voice: Interview with Mee Moua (PPIA ’91)

 

Mee Moua

 

Name: Mee Moua

JSI Attended: Princeton University, 1991

Current Title: Executive Director

Current Employer: Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your Junior Summer Institute experience?

I first learned about the PPIA Fellowship Program when I was an undergraduate at Brown with a concentration in public policy. I came across the opportunity through a flyer when I was at the Taubman Center for Public Policy & American Institutions for a meeting, and at the time I didn’t know that the fellowship would lead to a graduate school fellowship. I thought it was an opportunity for students of color who are interested in public policy to come together and gain technical experience in the policy making process. I came to the public policy concentration late because I was a premed major. I was torn because I felt like political science was too theoretical in nature, and I was drawn to policy as being tangible and relevant. The JSI was my opportunity to deep dive into the process. I applied and was grateful to be able to spend a summer at Princeton.

One thing that has stuck with me is that I came into the experience lacking confidence in my statistical and mathematical abilities. The strong focus on analytical skills sent me back to finish my last year at Brown with a high level of confidence. I was blown away by the high-level, concrete, policy discussions we had. We had a conversation about health care policy and how to reach all sectors of the community. It was a philosophical debate about access and the difference between the poor and rich, and I remember being so inspired by the discussion. I was empowered by it and thought to myself, “Wow, here is a way I can make a difference.” We were just kids, but our life experiences enabled us to make meaningful contributions these discussions. That signaled to me that there was a need for me in this field and value in my experiences.

You’ve had an impressive career in public service, including being the first Hmong American elected to the Minnesota Legislature, serving three terms as a State Senator. What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?

I had been in private practice for almost four years, and in that time I moved around within the firm to different teams doing different government related work but never really landed anywhere that anchored me into a law career trajectory. That sense of a lack of an anchor led me to think about looking for what else might be out there. I was also starting to be active in the Ethnic Chamber of Commerce. I had clients who came to me to ask for help with strategic thinking but couldn’t pay corporate fees. They offered to create a consulting opportunity for me to help them. The incumbent senator got elected mayor, and for the first time in about twelve years there was a vacancy in my district. I remember not being impressed by other candidates, who weren’t willing to volunteer. Around that time, I had coffee with a state representative who was rumored to be interested in running for office, though he hadn’t announced plans to do so. I asked him about his possible candidacy, and it turned out that he was interested in asking me to be the candidate. He even said he would love to work with me. That was a little shocking to hear. Given those circumstances and my leave of absence from law firm, I began to think seriously about my next career move. I went home to talk it over with my husband and said, “Wouldn’t it be fun and different?” We made the decision to run because we felt like it was such a great opportunity to test our organizing skills and learn how to tap into community. It was total convergence of all the right things happening at the right moment.

I hadn’t thought I would win, so running didn’t seem like a big risk. We knew we were the underdog, and we focused on having fun with a good campaign. We looked to increase base of voters, and felt no fear, no sense of vulnerability.

What was the most rewarding part of being an elected official?

I felt like for the first time all the pieces of my life came together. I had a job that allowed me to dedicate my full self to the tasks at hand. As rewarding and intellectually stimulating as the work was, I was putting in 12-14 hour days and then doing another 6 hours of community organizing. Getting elected was an aha moment for me—the job was personally relevant and I felt that I could make a difference in peoples’ lives in a real way. At that moment in my life it was the perfect fit for me, and ironically enough all the schooling I had done, all the community organizing, my legal career—all those things—were assets that I had been collecting and provided me with skills I could use. I was put on the Tax Committee and Public Finance Subcommittee, and a lot of the work we did was related to things I had worked on as a young associate in the law firm.

All my experiences have built on each other to make me successful. There haven’t been any wasted experiences. My past has given me foundation I needed to be effective legislator.

What made you decide to transition to the non-profit sector?

Getting elected was a family effort and a community wide effort. My husband and I determined that we would be in politics for a limited amount of time and then move on to do other things. My mother-in-law had been living with us, and when she passed away, our need to stay in Minnesota shifted. We thought about where our kids were and what the best timing was for transitioning. We decided that it was better to make a change earlier in my third term rather than later, so I retired at end of my third term. I knew that I was interested in the non-profit sector or philanthropy. Having been a policy maker and a law maker, I knew that the skills I brought from the policy process would be critical for those two sectors in looking at their goal to take care of the most vulnerable. I knew I wanted to continue doing the work I had loved. I had had the chance to serve on the Judiciary Committee, which gave me a chance to expand my portfolio to include social justice. I wanted to be able to continue doing that same kind of work.

You’re currently serving as the Executive Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). What drew you to this role and this organization?

After deciding to retire from being an elected official, I ended up working in Washington, DC. Within the first year, my friend and predecessor here at AAJC announced retirement. and I was approached about the position I hadn’t been looking for an opportunity like this but I also knew that AAJC is a critical organization for the Asian American community and the position could provide me with an interesting challenge so I decided to move forward with the interview and ended up being offered the role. Ultimately, the broad civil rights platform and the position within the Asian American community and broader cross-racial community convinced me it was the platform I had been looking for to continue the work I had started doing in the legislature.

You’ve held a number of leadership positions throughout your career. In your experience, what do you think makes someone a good leader?

Different leadership opportunities are always revealing. There is a spectrum to leadership that always allows you room to grow. As an attorney in a hierarchical environment there were different demands for what qualities needed to be sharpened and honed. In a legislative setting it gave me a chance to think about leadership in a different way. I amassed a different set of leadership skills and discovered different facets of who I am as an individual. Now as a leader of a nonprofit organization, I face multi-faceted leadership demands. If I were to connect the dots I would say that each of those experiences have contributed to solidifying one pillar that I think is the evolving basis upon which I operate as a leader. I am still developing, but I think I have enough experience at this point to feel comfortable being a leading voice.

For me, I have always valued that it is better to lead from the heart rather than the head. Leading from the heart means that sometimes how you do something is equally as important as what gets done. The process is as important as the outcome. I really believe that it is really important to instill co-ownership among all the players in whatever we arrive at. This process allows me to feel comfortable making hard decisions. This is critical because at the end of the day I have to be able to make tough choices. Being comfortable with the process I use to reach those decisions makes it easier to know that they come from the right place.

You obtained a master’s degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School. What motivated you to pursue degrees in both public affairs and law?

I’ve always said that if I had a thoughtful mentor who had sat me down and pushed me to think about what I wanted to do, I don’t think I would have gone to law school. I decided to do both because I thought that I would do my first year at LBJ and then apply to UTA for a joint degree. I ended up wanting to go home and decided I would just go back home to do law school. I remember reading through local community newspapers during my first week of law school and seeing a number of position descriptions. I could have applied and been a good candidate for those jobs. I didn’t have anyone with who to talk those doubts through, and my immigrant background came out and said, “No you started this you should finish it.”

Afterwards I went to work for a law school, but the entire time I was in school I was operating as a community organizer working with the Asian American community to try and get people involved in the political process. Through a nonprofit organization I got an internship to run a precinct caucus outreach program to immigrant communities. I went to churches, community groups and distributed multi-lingual information. I thought that if I could get more turnout at elections they could have their voices heard in the process. I trace the inception of my political experience back to that internship. Even when I went on to work in corporate law, I still had that passion for social justice. At every turn, there were things helping me return to this path of public policy and policy making.

I remember having a conversation about career paths and I always saw myself as a wonk and not an elected official.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

At the end of the day, I am proud of the types of relationships I have created along the way. I’ve learned during my ten years in public life that sometimes without those meaningful relationships you can get lulled into an environment where all relationships become transactional. I’ve always felt like one of the reasons I can always feel proud that I was a successful legislator is that I always tended to relationships with an eye to making sure they would survive the transactional environment. That’s different than being opportunistic in relationships. Take care to build trust and create common set of purpose and identify a common set of values. Even two very different people can be operating in a same space towards a common end.

When I chaired the Judiciary Committee, I feel like I ran an inclusive committee that was really shaped by how I wanted to put an agenda together but didn’t sacrifice how we did the work to petty politics. I could have just pushed things through but I felt it was important to ensure that everyone, regardless of political identity, felt that they owned the outcome and that it was a senate product rather than a democratic or republican product. In the year I retired, the senate turned over and a representative I had worked with became chair of the committee and he asked me to spend a week helping him with the transition. He came to me and said, “It’s been great working with you, you never made me feel like I was a minority. You always consulted me and made sure I knew where something was coming from so I could cover myself. I wanted your advice on how to be that kind of leader for this committee.” I’ve had opportunities to reflect on that, and maybe I’m a little old fashioned in the way I approached the work but in this post 9/11 world facing budget deficits I don’t think I would have been as successful if that wasn’t my style.

Often, we hear about people entering public service careers and burning out, how do you stay motivated to continue fighting for social change?

For me I’ve been more motivated by the hope of the long term impact versus the short term gamesmanship. I don’t measure by what leg passes or doesn’t but rather by how the discussion that happened during that process helps to move the debate on that issue. I feel like I’m less susceptible to the high highs and the low lows that way. That’s how I’ve been able to sustain and maintain being intentional about how to do this work thoughtfully and pragmatically. Now that I’m no longer in that policy role, it’s not about the wins or the losses, although those are important. What energizes me now is that I recognize that in my youth I felt like I could slay dragons and I could do it by myself. The wisdom I’ve gained is that we can’t change things by having one charismatic person; we need to work to create champions across the spectrum and the conditions that externally that support actions internally.

What motivates me right now is my desire to use the AAJC platform to build a pipeline to contribute more voices and bodies to continue the work. I want to recruit and train top notch men and women that love this work, subscribe to same belief in our public institutions, and believe that there is good that can come about when the right conditions are in place. I want to pass that passion on to the next generation so the fight continues long after I am gone. I am looking to create a legacy. We need people who aren’t just passionate about the politics but have passion for the institutions and really believe that the public policy making arena makes a difference in people’s lives and that the reward they get is in contributing to the shaping of an environment that deeply cares about ensuring that the most vulnerable have a safety net.

Follow Ms. Moua on Twitter @Mee_Moua.

Alumni Voice: Interview with Ana Cubas (PPIA ’92)

 

 

Name: Ana Cubas

JSI Attended: Carnegie Mellon University, 1992

 

Ana, you have a long history of working in public service. Where did that dedication come from?

There are a couple of events I think that shaped that. The first was personal. I grew up in El Salvador and came to this country when I was 10 years old. My family was escaping the war. Before that, I learned a lot about public service from my grandmother. People were always coming to her door asking for help, and she would always give them whatever help she could. She never turned anyone away. When she died, the entire town of 3,000 people came to her funeral. That made a big impression, and I knew that was the type of person I wanted to be.

Second, a more professional event that led me to public service was when I attended the Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Conference for high school students in California. Students spend a week in Sacramento and learn about how to get to college and the legislative process. You meet with different people and get a sense of what it’s like to work in that environment. It made quite an impression, and I remember as a Junior choosing that life for myself. I told myself that someday I would be back there in that Capitol building.

How has your involvement in PPIA impacted your life?

PPIA was instrumental in my career path. I had been involved in student government as an undergrad and knew others who had participated in the Junior Summer Institutes. I attended the CMU program and had a great experience. It helped me get on the right path to do what I’ve done and be where I am. At the time, you were required to go straight to graduate school, no time off for work experience. I was at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and went to Princeton for graduate school.

Throughout my career I’ve been thankful that because of my involvement with PPIA, I didn’t have any debt. This allowed me to take on the public sector jobs that I have had and not have to worry about paying off loans. Other people I know completed their master’s degree and had to deal with large amounts of debt that impacted their job choices. I could really focus on the things that I wanted to do rather than on the paycheck. To this day, I am thankful for that and that I’m not dealing with debt from that graduate school. It’s a big relief. Without that support, I could still be paying off student loans.

Why did you decide to pursue a dual degree in graduate school?

I grew up in LA and have always been interested in urban planning, how people are impacted by their environment and how to improve people’s lives through their environment. I had wanted to minor in urban planning in undergrad but wasn’t able to, so when Princeton offered an opportunity to get both a Master’s in Public Administration and a Master’s in Urban Planning I was excited to do that.

You’ve worked at the federal, state, and local levels. What were those experiences like?

Working at the Federal level as an Education Program Specialist for the Department of Education in Washington, DC was also an amazing opportunity. I’ve always seen myself in public service, and maybe one day I’ll go back to DC to serve in Congress.

I’ve also worked in Sacramento, the state capital of California. It was amazing to walk the halls and be part of that world. My job was to analyze the state budget and advise on different programs. I remember we were always on call because committees would meet at odd hours, and it was exciting and meaningful work that made an impact on communities across the state.

After a while though, I decided to move back to LA to be closer to my family and get involved in the local community. I really like working at the local level because of my urban planning interest. I ran for office because I feel like that’s where you can make the most significant changes to people’s environments. I want to do things that leave a legacy, something tangible that people will remember. That’s also why I’ve created two charter schools. I can always say I built that school where children are still learning and growing. That’s something that will live on, and for me that’s the best part of serving the public.

Why did you decide to run for office and how did you prepare yourself?

Running for office was something I had always wanted to do, but I knew that I had a lot to learn and needed to work my way up. After I moved back to Los Angeles, I worked at City Hall to learn how the local government worked and get a better sense of what it meant to be an elected official there. I also got involved in campaigns to learn about the process and the issues. I built a network that I was later able to tap for support when I decided to run for office myself.

What did you take away from your experience as a candidate?

I definitely have a tremendous amount of respect for what elected officials sacrifice. I resigned my job and gave campaigning my all. If you focus on what you really want, it’s completely doable. I had the experience and the contacts and I was able to raise over half a million dollars for my run. Through this process I learned that I was a viable candidate, but also about the role of money in politics. I was in a tough race against a seasoned and well funded opponent. He certainly had more capital than I did, and that can make or break a candidate. However, even though I faced a better funded candidate, we were only 580 votes apart, so I know I ran a good campaign. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. Be prepared for the realities of campaigning and to work very hard and be totally committed to your goals.

What advice would you give to alumni who are thinking about running for office?

I definitely encourage others to run, especially women. In the LA City Council there is only one woman. I would have been number two out of fifteen. Half of the population is women, so shouldn’t half of the representation be women? I would strongly encourage PPIA Fellows to take that risk and jump in and run for office.

What I would say is that you have got to work your way up. Get involved in campaigns; work for an elected official. That seems to be the main way that people get into running for office. You have to pay your dues and learn the ropes. Be helpful, be good at what you do, and never burn bridges. That will help you build a good network that will end up supporting you later on.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

My proudest professional achievement is actually the work I did in establishing the two charter schools. They are alive and well, and there are children who go and learn and are doing well in school. I was involved in every aspect of getting them up and running, and I’m proud of that because it will live on for generations.

What’s next for you?

That’s a good question. I want to stay focused on public service; I will always be a public servant. I’m working on developing a Latina Leadership Academy. The goal would be to convene high school Latina girls and teach them how to run for public office. It would be two, full-day Saturdays dedicated to training with access to different people who work in the campaign world. Then, students would spend one Tuesday on site visits to meet with elected officials and watch them in action. We need to start helping women see running for office as a viable option early on, and that’s what I hope this program will do for Latina girls. Starting this Academy was actually one of the things I pledged to do when running for office, and I am pleased that I can do this even though I wasn’t elected.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students considering public service?

Be ambitious and be bold in your goals. Don’t settle for less than what you want. You should also be ready for the ups and downs of life. As a woman, I knew what my goals were and to achieve them I have put off getting married and having children. I don’t regret that at all, but it’s something that you should think about. As a minority, you always have to work harder and have the credentials to stand out. We have to be ready. Sometimes, you’ll be in a job that is less than ideal. Sometimes you’ll be in a great job, and you need to figure out how you will handle both situations.

Alumni Voice: Interview with Jean Pierre-Louis (PPIA ’97)

JeanPierreLouis

Name: Jean Pierre-Louis

JSI Attended: University of Washington, 1997

Current Title: Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to France

Current Employer: U.S. State Department

 

You attended the University of Washington’s JSI program in 1997. How did that experience shape your future educational and professional path?

UWLogoPPIA was one of the key moments in life for me. I had not thought about graduate school before really and I didn’t know whether or not I had the aptitude to do it. It was not one of my goals. I went to the University of Washington to see what would happen, in a sense. I met a cohort of people who were enthusiastic, many of them had clear goals to go to graduate school and do other things and those goals became part of my own reality. That probably was, for me, pivotal. In addition to giving me at least the belief that graduate school was a necessity and something that I could tackle, the program also came with a financial incentive to continue. That combination really set me off sailing in a direction that I otherwise would not have gone.

You attended the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. How did you end up choosing that program?

I think in part because I had met the Director of Admissions and the Dean at my PPIA summer institute. They had traveled to meet with us. With those two having come to the institute, it put Georgetown on my radar. After the summer institute I went to Taiwan to do my senior year abroad and the administrators of the PPIA program at the time kept in touch. In Taiwan I met a lot of people who were in graduate school already and they had a clear path to go on to do a PhD or something. I was one of a handful of undergrads and when I talked to them about the places they had looked at for getting an advanced degree, Georgetown kept coming up as one of the APSIA schools that was an option for PPIA alumni. After, when I was exploring my options, I really focused on schools in Washington, DC. Georgetown was a good fit because I had become interested in the Foreign Service. Initially, I was waitlisted. I did not want to remain waitlisted so I wrote a note to the two women I’d met at the PPIA summer institute and I think that, in part, that helped get me off the waitlist.  So a number of factors kicked in to get me to attend Georgetown.  It was definitely the best fit for me.

What were the top 3 most valuable takeaways from your graduate school experience?

The top take-away was the network. When you go to Georgetown you join a network of people who are like-minded, successful, and feel that they owe other alums an ear if not taking action directly on their behalf. That was key. While I was there I had access to the World Bank, the Pentagon, etc. I wanted to focus on North Korea and I met with some of the top people working on North Korea. There was no institution that I wanted to reach out to and connect with that they could not get to through a professor or alum. That’s the number one thing that you get out of it.

Second, I learned how to write for leaders, busy people who are not going to read 15 pages routinely. I learned to put the meat of your argument up front and summarize what they really need to know. In a sense, keeping it short, sweet, and powerful. I think this applied not only to my writing but also in oral presentation. I learned how to give people information in way they will remember.

GULogoThird, Georgetown gave me an opportunity to learn about leadership. Georgetown had a weekend seminar that looked at leadership. This remains one of the other key moments in my life besides PPIA. It was a one-day seminar where we had a presenter who talked about leadership. Why be a leader? What does it mean to be a leader? What are the realities? In other words, do you know that leaders work long hours, sometimes it means giving other people credit or taking blame when there is blame to take. He asked very pointed questions and gave us really powerful nuggets. I have never forgotten those lessons. In my career I still frequently ask myself why am I here? What am I supposed to learn? I also learned that you lead at every level and lead differently in different settings. We talked about different type of leaders and I remember that I preferred the helicopter model. Over ten years later, I still remember my preference.

What advice would you give to alumni who are thinking about graduate school?

Be sure that graduate school is what you need. Don’t hurry into it. Don’t go just because you think you need to punch that ticket. There are so many options that can help prepare you for the three or four careers you are about to experience. The days are gone when you are going to stick with one company for 30 years. Even if you are in the same organization, you don’t necessarily have the same responsibilities. In the Foreign Service, my work changes every couple of years. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into being an expert before you have a chance to understand what the needs are in the fields you are looking at long-term. I think it’s important to ask yourself – Will the skills you plan to acquire in grad school allow you to pivot so people will believe that your degree is an asset? Also, you don’t need to go to a brand name school necessarily; you can pick up the same book knowledge from any campus. You should focus on finding a school that prepares you for what you hope to do in the next 5, 10, 15 years and will help you pivot through your next couple of jobs.

You are currently based in Paris, France as the Special Assistant to the US Ambassador. For those of our alumni who are considering a path in the State Department, how would you describe your work?

 The first thing I’d say is don’t let the hype fool you. This is a job. It’s glamorous sure, it’s exciting yes, but you do have a desk and a computer and you are expected to work. The work that you are expected to do most of the time looks like any of the work that anyone else with a desk and a computer is doing. You’re feeding information to Washington, to your colleagues, and to others. The work isn’t anything you can’t do if you have the aptitude. The job itself calls for someone with the skill set we’ve described before. Being willing to be a leader at any level regardless of what your job calls for. Being willing to take a leadership role when called for and take a back seat when needed.

If working in an embassy is something you think you are interested in, work on your writing skills. 40% of your time is spent pushing information to others over email.  The goal of what you write is to quickly present the ideas that you need to get across in order to have them get acted on quickly. It’s also important to be analytical. I’m a political officer by cone and part of our job is to see that things are going in a particular direction and why. In those cases, you can’t let yourself get lost in the details and miss the big picture.

As a Foreign Service Officer in this job you have to learn how to quickly make friends and get people to believe that you have something valuable to share and that you are a person of integrity. Share the credit. I tell people that I don’t have a meaty portfolio, my job is to empower the Ambassador to do his job well. He needs to be able to show up and be prepared. In the past, I’ve been the one that had to show up and be prepared. Be flexible. Show people that you care about their well-being and communicate clearly and succinctly.

Before joining the Foreign Service you held a number of very different positions. How did you navigate your career path? 

Jean and Bush

Jean with Former US President George W. Bush at the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund office in Washington, DC.

It was mostly about opportunities presenting themselves but it wasn’t haphazard. You can prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities. PPIA was one of those steps. I didn’t know it at the time but I was preparing myself for what was ahead. I studied abroad, I had summer jobs, and all of that helped prepare me. For example, I went on vacation to Haiti and while I was there, found an opportunity to be a translator for a U.S. Special Forces in Haiti. I was a flight attendant when I got out of college because I wanted to travel. In that job I learned about service and dealing with difficult people with a smile. It has been extremely useful throughout my career. I started a small business and closed a small business and that failure helped me focus on what else I wanted to do in life. It actually reminded me that I had the opportunity through PPIA to go to graduate school. Without that failure I might not have gone on to get an advanced degree. I haven’t had a bad job. Every job was a learning opportunity that taught me something I was able to use later.

Why did you choose to enter the Foreign Service?

I first learned about the Foreign Service when I was in China as a sophomore in college. While I was there, a gentleman in the program mentioned that his Chinese girlfriend was going back to the US with him that summer. People told him that it was very hard to get a VISA and he said his dad was an Foreign Service Officer and would help her. That was the first time I heard about it. Later, when I went to Taiwan in my senior year, I started visiting a bunch of diplomats who had really nice homes. They had homes with pools and I was sharing a two-bedroom place with three other people. I wanted to know what they did and I decided that it was a career I’d like to try at some point. I knew that I had what it took to live abroad and could deal with the daily impact of living far away from family. I also liked language. I didn’t want to take the Foreign Service exam right away though. I went on to do other things first. Once I went to Georgetown, the Foreign Service was in my face all the time. In my second year there I took and passed the exam. It was always in the back of my mind and I kept moving towards it slowly. The opportunities were there and I jumped on them but there were steps that prepared me to show up and succeed in getting in.

 To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of? 

Jean in Haiti1

Jean Pierre-Louis conducting a monitoring and evaluations visit at a project site in Jacmel, Haiti.

I’m quite proud of the fact that all of the places I’ve worked I can pick up the phone, call those colleagues, and have them take that call. I think that’s important. I’m quite proud of the professional relationships I’ve built. I make an intentional effort to do that. There is not one staffer in an office who deserves all the credit. It takes hard work on the part of every person who works in an office, from the people who empty the trash up to the top person, to achieve success. I respect what my colleagues do and have accomplished.

The other thing I’m proud of doing is encouraging people to leave a position when they are more skilled than the job they are doing calls for. Even people on my own team who I benefit from working with, I encourage them to move on and up and take on bigger challenges that fit their skill sets.

In terms of a legacy, I spent two years after the earthquake in Haiti working for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. That was some difficult work. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund had about $50 million in funds and we did some things in Haiti that were good and different than what other organizations were doing. We empowered small business in the local communities and when we worked with NGOs, we tried to ensure that their goal was to transfer knowledge to local Haitians and empower the community. Ultimately, this created sustainable jobs.

What other advice would you like to share?

I’d like to share that it’s important to ask for help. Do it in a way that makes sense, be respectful and reasonable when talking to busy people, but ask for help. It’s also really important to follow up to say thank you. In all the years that I have been making myself available to help people interested in getting involved in the Foreign Service, only 1 or 2 have followed up.

What are your goals for the future?

 When I went to China, I started reading the Economist. The back of the Economist had all kinds of job advertisements for things that sounded so interesting. My goal is to one day find a job in the ads in the Economist that interests me, apply, and get it. I’m not preparing in any special way for this, I don’t have a specific job in mind, but I know that it’s an achievable goal for me. I’d hope that’s the way life would work for all of us. That we have a goal and work towards it, however slowly, and eventually, achieve it.

About Jean

Jean Pierre-Louis is Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to France, where he helps optimize operations so that the Ambassador and his Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) receive the best possible support from the Embassy’s 1,000 staff and 40-plus USG departments and agencies. Jean took up his current assignment in August 2012.

From June 2010 until February 2012, on loan from the Department, Jean managed $50 million in grants, loans, and investments that fostered economic development in Haiti as the Senior Program Manager of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

From August 2008 until May 2010, Jean served as Special Assistant to the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), from which he deployed to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake.

Jean’s previous overseas assignments include working as Deputy Branch Chief of the American Institute in Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Branch Office, where he was responsible for economic & political reporting as well as consular functions from August 2006 until July 2008. In his first tour at the Department, Jean served as General Services Officer at U.S. Consulate General Shanghai.

Jean holds a M.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a B.A. from the University of Florida. As an undergraduate, Jean attended two yearlong exchange programs – spending his senior year at National Taiwan University in Taipei and his sophomore year at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’An, China. He is fluent in French, Haitian Creole, and Mandarin Chinese. Jean was born in Mole St. Nicolas, Haiti; he grew up in Miami, Florida. Jean is married to Janée Pierre-Louis, a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of Commerce. They are the proud parents of three dynamic children – Julien, Sarah, and Joelle.

PPIA at the Conference on Diversity in International Affairs

In April, over two hundred professionals and students from diverse backgrounds gathered in Washington, DC for the Conference on Diversity in International Affairs, hosted by the Council on Foreign RelationsGlobal Access Pipeline, and the International Career Advancement Program. The event featured Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, the US Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States,  and Charles Bolden, Jr., Administrator of NASA and attendees benefited from workshops on topics ranging from “World Demographics & Economic Challenges” to “Making yourself Marketable for International Careers.” Thanks to its involvement in the Global Access Pipeline, PPIA was able to share this unique opportunity with seven outstanding alumni.

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Michael Cruz, UC Berkley ’11, and Tasneem Chowdhury, Princeton ’12.

They came from different Junior Summer Institutes and different years but this event was a chance for PPIA alumni to make new connections. According to Michael Cruz (UC Berkeley, ’11), “Meeting some of the other PPIA alumni from other institutes and years was extremely enlightening about the diversity that PPIA brings to the table. I look forward to more events such as this one in the future.” In summing up his experience, Liban Ahmed (Princeton, ’10) said he “…was inspired by the bright and tenacious youth who were present.” He explained that for him, ” this conference demonstrated that globalization isn’t just a diffusion of ideas and information, but the joining of lives and professions on a global scale.”

Networking didn’t just happen between the PPIA alumni, participants had the opportunity to engage with accomplished professionals who provided insight on opportunities in international careers. Ronnell Perry (Carnegie Mellon, ’07), connected with the director of the Global Language Project to talk “… about how she works to provide language learning opportunities for youth who would otherwise not be exposed to foreign languages and culture.” He followed up with her after the conference and has been asked to submit a guest blog post for the Global Language Project’s website.

The experiences of these alumni captures a fraction of the valuable interactions and connections that were made over the course of this day and half long event. PPIA looks forward to continuing to support our alumni with access to professional development opportunities like this one and hopes to be able to bring more alumni together at next year’s event!

For a look at the full conference agenda, click here.

Diversity, Equity, and Public Policy: APPAM’s 2013 Spring Conference Recap

On April 6, 2013, nearly 100 academics, researchers, educators, and analysts attended APPAM’s Spring Conference, Diversity, Equity, & Public Policy. Among the participants were members of the PPIA Board of Directors and National Office, including Tara Sheehan, Martha Chavez, Erin Mann, and Maggie DeCarlo. This year’s conference was sponsored in part by RWJF New Connections, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) with technical assistance and direction provided by OMG Center for Collaborative Learning.

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Lilliana Garces answers a question from the audience.

The conference consisted of three sessions that covered various aspects of diversity issues in the public policy field, from education programs to the workforce. In the first session, Different Models of Pipeline Programs to Increase Diversity, panelists discussed efforts of various pipeline programs in the field of economics, a Master’s Program, postdoctoral training, and social programs. The second session’s panel, Reaction about the Realities of Diversity in Public Policy, included members from the federal government, practitioners, and academia.

The presenters shared the realities they face with diversity in educating and hiring public policy graduates and staff.  The final session, Access, Higher Education, and Public Policy, took a look at the future of diversity in higher education. Presenters discussed affirmative action, recent court decisions regarding admissions policies, financial aid, and how these issues continue to impact diversity policies today.

At the end of the conference, attendees filled out a comprehensive survey and the results will help determine APPAM’s next steps in addressing diversity. An action plan for progress will be determined and the Association will continue working with its members to further discuss and promote diversity in the field of public policy.

You can check out videos of each session online at APPAM’s YouTube channel. Session summaries and presenter slideshows will be posted on the APPAM website in the coming days, so check them out on social media and their homepage for more information.

Face to Face – PPIA Alumni Connect in DC for a Networking Happy Hour

From left: Eduardo Garcia, UC Berkeley '09, Juana Hernandez, UC Berkeley '08, Daysi Alonzo, Marc Bacani, UC Berkeley '09

From left: Eduardo Garcia, UC Berkeley ’09, Juana Hernandez, UC Berkeley ’08, Daysi Alonzo, Marc Bacani, UC Berkeley ’09

On Thursday, April 25, 2013, several PPIA alumni in Washington, DC got together for a happy hour at Front Page in Dupont Circle. The event was the second PPIA happy hour of the year. Like many of the alumni present at the event, Michael Fletcher (Michigan ’11) was eager to reconnect with his cohort. “I really enjoy attending PPIA happy hours because it’s a great opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. It is great to come together with like-minded, ambitious, caring, and intelligent people in a relaxed social setting. The drink specials were great too.”

In addition to meeting and making friends, PPIA alumni also found the event a valuable time to make professional connections. According to Ryan Price (Princeton ’12): “It’s always fun to compare experiences and share stories…and I’ve actually followed up with a few other fellows on networking and job opportunities since as well!”

James Goldgeier, Dean of American University’s School of International Service and Co-Chair of PPIA’s Board of Directors, also joined the alumni at Front Page. Dean Goldgeier remarked about the importance of PPIA alumni events, “It was so great to meet such successful PPIA alumni! It’s such an impressive and talented group, and the opportunity the happy hour provided for networking was invaluable.”

Make sure you don’t miss the next event in your area! Connect with us on social media and update your Alumni-Net account! To plan your own event, email ppia.office@ppiaprogram.org!