ATLANTA—Jessica Watkins counts 2019 as a special year: she completes her Master of Public Administration degree from the Andrew Young School in May, and she was chosen as a finalist for the highly prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF).
The PMF is a leadership pathway into management positions within federal agencies. Finalists are invited to attend an exclusive job fair that typically yields a 50-60 percent fellowship placement rate within one year of being selected as a finalist. Most fellows begin at a government GS-9 pay scale level, but it is possible to start at GS-12, rankings that generally take years to attain. Fellows go on to serve four- to six-month rotations at their hiring agency, which can turn into full-time employment at the end of a two-year commitment.
Although placements are common in locations like D.C., Colorado or California, Watkins hopes to stay in Atlanta. “One, you get a raise, and two, the cost of living here is so much more manageable,” she said, “but, ultimately, I want the chance to work with veterans, wherever that is.”
Mention of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs brightens her eyes. “My grandfather was a Vietnam Air Force veteran, so I grew up having an immense amount of respect for all military and veterans. Once I got older, I started seeing how veterans were treated and how difficult it can be for them to receive assistance,” she said.
An experience working with homeless veterans in her freshman year of college intensified her dedication. “They sacrifice so much for this country, and we should do everything we can to honor that sacrifice. They deserve so much more, and I want to work to ensure no veteran ever goes hungry or experiences homelessness.”
Watkins found out about the Presidential Management Fellowship in the midst of charting her post-graduation trajectory last fall. She began to notice Director of Career Services and Alumni Relations Colleen Perry’s increasingly urgent reminder emails for grad students to apply and thought, “you know what? Why not? It’s a great opportunity.” That self-directed pep talk turned out to be life-altering.
She received the good news about being chosen as she stepped off of a plane in Amsterdam. The one-two win of vacationing in the Netherlands and reading that announcement email created an unforgettable mark on her personal timeline.
Her next milestone is the PMF job fair this spring. “I was selected on November 21,” said Watkins, “so I have until November 21 to be placed.”
Watkins is banking on her concentration in policy analysis and evaluation to help seal a policy analyst or program manager position. “I feel really prepared, and I welcome the opportunity to use what I’ve learned in an agency that can truly make a difference for Americans.”