In tough economy, students consider government jobs

| Contributing Reporter

The Gephardt Institute for Public Service showcased government jobs in an event on Nov. 10, as students look to government jobs in a tough economic climate.

Called “A Fresh Look at Government Jobs: Civil Service in the 21st Century,” the event featured George Selim, a Department of Homeland Security employee who spoke with students at the Danforth University Center and attended a luncheon with them. A number of other government employees attended the event, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Employees from the FDIC and the Department of Commerce held programs at the Olin Business School.

The event stemmed from a grant that created a partnership between the Gephardt Institute and the Career Center to promote government careers.

“With the economy being what it is now, students I think are more open to the idea of looking at different alternatives, including the public sector,” said Robin Hattori, program director for the Gephardt Institute.

Hattori also noted the need for young talent in government agencies to replace retiring government employees.

While the event was relevant to seniors who are considering pursuing government jobs after graduation, it also catered to graduate students, sophomores and juniors.

“People might not be ready to start looking for a job yet, but maybe a summer internship would be another option to look at,” Hattori said.

For Washington University law student Michael Wu, his internship created job opportunities on Capitol Hill. After working as an intern, Wu became a staff assistant and subsequently a scheduler for three different members of Congress. Wu is now enrolled in law school with the hopes of becoming a national security lawyer.

“Lawyers represent clients generally, and I feel like that’s not as exciting to me as the idea of trying to do good,” Wu said.

Senior Laura Lane-Steele is considering joining AmeriCorps during her gap years between graduating from the University and enrolling in graduate school for anthropology.

“I’m interested in working with people and trying to get on that community-based level,” Lane-Steele said. “I’m more of a public interest kind of person, and corporate America doesn’t really appeal to me in terms of social justice.”

Lane-Steele also finds the health insurance, benefits and non-discrimination policies that government jobs provide to be appealing.

In addition to providing opportunities to work for the public good, government jobs allow new employees to take on significant responsibilities.

“Most of the agencies have a lot of money for professional development and for training,” Hattori said. “The pay is not what you would find in the corporate sector, but to make up for it you really do get some great responsibility at the get-go.”

Hattori added that government jobs also provide mobility.

“Once you get in the government you can look at other agencies, and you can look at other departments within your agency,” Hattori said.

Undergraduates at the University are preparing for government jobs by selecting specific coursework.

Senior David Weisshaar, who has an interest in international policy and development, double majors in Latin American studies and political science with a concentration in international relations. He also minors in business.

“Having a little bit of quantitative skill I think is always useful in any government career,” Weisshaar said.

In addition to preparing for a government career through his majors, Weisshaar learns from the experiences of his fellow students.

“Just hearing their experiences, how they’ve gone about getting internships, the kind of perspectives they have on this field have certainly informed my own opinion and perspective on how I can best go about procuring a job in this field,” he said. Weisshaar also plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy.

“I’m personally encountering a kind of skepticism among people in our general age range, 18-22, and a cynicism about government that I think is rather unhealthy,” Weisshaar said. “My personal viewpoint is that government is the quickest and most effective way to have an impact on public policy.”

“Government is a place where good can happen and inspiration can happen,” Wu said.