star twitter facebook envelope linkedin instagram youtube alert-red alert home left-quote chevron hamburger minus plus search triangle x

Forget March Madness: Heinz College Has Its Own Elite Eight to Cheer on This Spring

By Jennifer Monahan

In the midst of March Madness, Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy has its own version of the Elite Eight. Basketball skills aside, eight standout individuals were selected as 2023 finalists in the prestigious and highly competitive Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program.

PMF is the federal government’s flagship leadership development program for advanced degree holders. Approximately eight percent of this year’s 10,070 applicants were selected as finalists. The designation allows them not only bragging rights, but also the opportunity to match with federal agencies looking to hire top talent.

Sarah Becker, Kristen Hochreiter, Robert Lincoln, Brandon Wallace, and Jacob Wildfire – all currently studying in the Master of Science in Public Policy and Management (MSPPM) program – and Sophia Philip, part of the Master of Science in Health Care Policy and Management (MSHCPM) program, will graduate this spring. Ethan Gabbour and Jacob Harwas earned MSPPM degrees in 2022. Gabbour, Harwas, and Hochreiter are all part of the Washington, D.C., track of MSPPM.

Applicants undergo a rigorous months-long application process that includes a personality assessment, a behavioral assessment, and an interview with situational questions.
I always thought the federal government might be a good fit for me. Kristen Hochreiter

Hochreiter said the program appealed to her because of the opportunity to engage in macro-level policy issues.

“I always thought the federal government might be a good fit for me,” Hochreiter explained. She had the opportunity to intern at USAID after her first year at Heinz and spent the summer doing data analysis, cleaning, and visualization around challenges of conducting program evaluations during the pandemic. At the end, she presented her findings to the department along with recommendations for long-term follow-up.

Hochreiter said she was selected for the internship because of her ability to use R and the quantitative analysis skills she gained during her first nine months at Heinz. The experience, combined with some informational interviews she did with former PMF Heinz alumni, cemented her interest in the program.

“The PMF program is a really great way to make an impact, to influence policy, and to be able to have that career track to a management position,” Hochreiter explained. “I felt like it was a great mix of my interests, and also connecting me to a long-term career in the federal government, which I am excited about.” She credits the Heinz College Career Services team for guiding her through the application process and connecting her with a Heinz alumna for a mock interview to help prepare for the final selection round.

The PMF program was attractive to Harwas because it provides an accelerated track to meaningful work.

“PMF offers the perfect opportunity to find work that is fast-paced and will make a difference and help taxpayers, right out of graduate school,” Harwas said.

Harwas completed a summer internship at the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General and a year-long fellowship at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during his year in DC. He said his classes at Heinz College prepared him well for both roles.

“I got some background about what the inspector general does, and learned about that watchdog aspect of government that I wasn’t familiar with before,” Harwas said. “I definitely used what I learned in Silvia Borzutsky’s classes when I was writing policy memos at work.”

Currently employed at the GAO, Harwas is passionate about audit and inspector general work.

“Working in accountability is just making the government work better for Americans,” Harwas explained.

Becker, who taught English as a Second Language before coming to Heinz, completed an internship as a data analyst at the National Head Start Association. She fell in love with both research and program analysis and hopes to utilize the PMF opportunity to secure a position either at the Congressional Research Service or as a policy analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Like Hochreiter, Becker said that both the Career Services team and Heinz faculty helped her prepare for the PMF application process.

“In David Lassman’s course on leadership, we talked a lot about leadership roles and how you approach being a good manager, what it means to be a good leader, how to work well with other people” Becker said. Those lessons were front-of-mind as she answered the situational questions during the PMF application process.

Becker said that although she did not have a strong foundation in math prior to graduate school, Heinz’s Quantitative Summer Skills Program (QSSP) helped her get up to speed before her regular coursework started; she has taken a number of quantitative-intensive courses since.

“I found out I really like math. I like coding. I like data analysis,” Becker said. “The skills are incredibly useful and will allow me to work well within the federal system – and now I have resources to be able to help the communities where I came from.”

Wallace said access to the internal PMF job portal was his main motivation for applying.

“Logistically, it’s a great way to enter government service,” Wallace explained. He entered graduate school after working on defense research and policy for a number of years, at much smaller organizations. During his Heinz College summer internship, Wallace worked at the Federal Reserve in the Division of Research and Statistics at the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., which he described as a transformative experience that provided new perspective and valuable knowledge.

Wallace hopes to find a PMF role working in analytics, ideally something focused on innovation. He said Heinz has prepared him well for a career in government service by exposing students to a breadth of very specific skills and methods for problem solving as well as strong analytics training.

The PMF designation provides a kind of pre-screening for federal agencies; capacity to do the job and intelligence are givens among these talented candidates. What remains is to find the right fit, aligning the Fellow’s interests with the agency’s needs. Once selected, Fellows have 12 months to find placement with a federal agency.

Learn more about MSPPM: Washington, DC

Learn more about MSPPM

Learn more about MSHCPM