In 2023, 12 Harris students were chosen as finalists from over 10,000 applicants. The 2024 application opens September 12.

As the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program winnowed 10,000+ applicants down to 850 finalists, a dozen Harris School of Public Policy students made the cut — one of 2023’s best showings among the nation’s top universities. 

Jason Hanchar headshot
Jason Hanchar, Senior Associate Director of Employer Partnerships

Now, the goal is to keep the momentum going, said Harris Senior Associate Director of Employer Partnerships Jason Hanchar

Harris, he said, wants to ensure that students who want — or may want — a career in government don’t miss out on the two-year PMF Program, a “premier pathway” that’s launched Harris alumni into leadership roles in agencies ranging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

PMF, Hanchar added, is not like “going to the USAJOBS site, applying, and feeling like your application has fallen into a black hole.”

Elizabeth Belser-Vega, MPP ’11
Elizabeth Belser-Vega, MPP ’11

Established in a 1977 executive order by President Jimmy Carter, the PMF Program is “a way that the government competes with the private sector, getting best-of-the-best master's and PhD students into federal jobs at a high level,” said Elizabeth Belser-Vega, MPP ’11. A former Fellow, Belser-Vega now leads the PMF Program for the CDC in Atlanta and last month was honored as Agency PMF Coordinator of the Year.

“It's hard to get into the federal government and I don't think I would have ever gotten in if it wasn't for PMF,” she added. 

It’s also hard for federal agencies to attract and hire the caliber of candidates who will become the government's next generation of leaders.

The CDC has one of the largest PMF cohorts each year, Belser-Vega said, and from an agency perspective, the program is “one of the best ways to get amazing candidates.” 

Grace Finley headshot
Grace Finley, MPP '23

Such candidates include students from Harris, whose 12 PMF 2023 finalists are among 25 finalists from throughout the University of Chicago. One 2023 finalist, Grace Finley, MPP ’23, is still weighing PMF opportunities while working as a senior associate at the consulting firm ChildFocus. 

Finalists have a year to secure an appointment, and jobs, which are not guaranteed, are found by scouring a PMF-only jobs list, that Finley described as “a filtered database of jobs, or like LinkedIn, but just for us.”

Once they’ve matched and settled into their host agencies, Fellows get to identify a different job to try for four to six months to get another perspective on policy-making and government service. Some try the White House, Congress, or State Department; others head off to be a forest ranger. They can also go abroad, as Belser-Vega did in the CDC’s office in Zambia.

“It's very difficult to even get an interview if you're not already in government, which I didn't quite know until I started the PMF process,” Finley said.

“But after realizing that I definitely want to work in the policy space and on child welfare, I felt that some federal experience would be really beneficial to whatever I did after that,” she said. “If I decided to stay, it would be great exposure to the inner workings of how policy gets made and implemented and impacts people's lives. And if I didn't stay after the two-year fellowship, it would be this great experience to draw on as a policy-maker. That was why I was drawn to PMF.”

While drawn to PMF, Belser-Vega said she never thought she “would end up at the CDC.”

That changed when she went to a PMF job fair — now replaced with virtual job-hunting — and was offered several positions at the agency. “I had to go into a corner because I was crying and I had to call my then-very-new-partner and he heard me crying and said ‘Oh, don't worry honey, you will get an offer some time.’ And I said, ‘I have five, but they're all in Atlanta and we would have to move there.’ And he said, ‘Let's go!’”

Kyle Svingen, MPP ’19
Kyle Svingen, MPP ’19

Former Fellow Kyle Svingen, MPP ’19, didn’t initially envision a career with a federal agency in Washington. He was two years out of Harris and working as a budget analyst for Chicago Public Schools when he applied for the fellowship. After becoming a finalist, he opted for a PMF post at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He then took a six-month temporary developmental assignment at the Treasury Department before returning to HUD where he decided to remain after the two-year PMF commitment, and now works as a Strategic Planning and Performance Management analyst.

“I spent my whole life as a teacher or in the education space and I think that I needed to hold onto a sense of commitment or a mission to serve the students,” he said. “I left the classroom, but I have those young people in mind, and I think going to HUD was a way that I could feel like I was continuing to serve the same people and fight the same fight that I fought as a teacher.”

While Svingen and Belser-Vega are among the average 87% of Fellows who, according to the program, take a permanent or term position after completing their two-year program, not all Fellows do.  

“You’re not making a choice for 30 years. You're making a choice for two years,” said Svingen, who said he stayed on after his fellowship because working for the federal government “is a way to do really impactful work on a larger scale.”

Students who want to make that kind of impact can apply for the 2024 PMF Program Sept. 12-25A virtual information session hosted by UChicagoGRAD is planned for 12:30 p.m. Sept. 6 for interested students. 

“If you think there's a chance that you might want to be a federal employee, spend the hour-and-a-half to apply,” Svingen said. “It's a pretty low cost of entry and the opportunity is really great.”

Harris 2023 finalists include: 

Zackariah Crahen, MPP ’22

Tara Farwana, MPP ’23 

Grace Finley, MPP ’23

Bethany Gedzelman, MPP ’23 

Devon Grussmark, MPP ’23 

Chandler Hal, MPP ’23

Brendon Krall, MPP ’23 

Piper Kurtz, MSCAPP ’23

Emma Steyaert, MPP ’21

Emma Tatem, MPP ’23 

Cynthia Turner, MPP ’23 

Hillary Wang, MPP ’23