Syracuse University Magazine

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Robertson Fellows Alexandra Hackbarth G'15 and Justin Gradek G'16

Photo by Steve Sartori



Educating the Next Generation of Government Leaders

Alexandra Hackbarth G’15 comes from a long line of government career professionals—her grandparents, parents, and brother have all worked in the public service arena. “We call it the family business,” she says. So after graduating from Lewis and Clark College in 2009 with a degree in international affairs, she spent several years as a legislative assistant for U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, working on domestic policy issues. But her heart has always been in the area of foreign policy and national security, so she headed to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, where she was chosen to be a Robertson Fellow. “Government service is very important to me, and the whole focus of the Robertson Fellows program is on building the next generation of government leaders,” says Hackbarth, who graduated in June with master’s degrees in international relations and public administration. “The fellowship, which covers tuition and living expenses, gave me the financial flexibility I need to take a government job because I graduated with no student loans.”

The mission of the fellowship program, funded by the Robertson Foundation for Government, is to educate and motivate talented graduate students to pursue federal government careers in foreign policy, national security, and international affairs. In 2010, Maxwell was one of five universities chosen to launch the program. Initially, Maxwell received a $750,000 six-year grant to fund two fellowships a year. In 2013, as part of the foundation’s matching grant challenge, Sean O’Keefe G’78, then chair of the Maxwell Advisory Board and now University Professor and Howard G. and S. Louise Phanstiel Chair in Strategic Management and Leadership, and his wife, Laura, supported a third fellowship, as did advisory board member Ronald O’Hanley III G’80 the following year.

 According to Christine Omolino G’95, G’96, director, admissions and financial aid in Maxwell’s public administration and international affairs department, the school receives approximately 20 applications a year for the fellowships, which are open to highly qualified applicants who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Candidates must commit to working in the federal government for three of the first seven years following completion of their graduate degrees, and are required to apply for a post-graduate paid internship with the Presidential Management Fellows program, which offers an entrée into federal government careers through training, mentoring, and work assignments. To date, nine Robertson Fellows have graduated from Maxwell and gone on to complete internships and take positions in such government agencies as treasury, state, defense, and USAID. Another three are scheduled to graduate next year.

Justin Gradek G’16, a first-year Robertson Fellow studying for master’s degrees in international relations and economics, says the program offers a vast network of professional contacts and opens a lot of doors. He was accepted into the Pathways Internship Experience Program, which provides students with opportunities to explore careers in the federal government while being paid for their work. He is spending the summer and next academic year in Washington, D.C., completing his graduate degrees while working as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in its program on Sub-Saharan Africa. “I think it’s really important to serve your country in whatever way works for you,” Gradek says. “It means a lot to me that I was chosen to be a Robertson Fellow because it’s validation that federal service is a valued career option.”  —Christine Yackel