Essays About Public Service

Generally, when I don’t write here for a few days, it is because I am writing somewhere else. I might be writing a short story riffing on how a hand-held universal translator would effect the lives of human translators (much like the computer did Computers) or designing a musical fundraiser using French art songs to examine human trafficking. This week, I am writing a batch of applications, including one to the White House for an internship with their Office of Digital Strategy.

The application requires two essays, the other of which I like but it’s a memo on something about which I’ve already written. When I write for job applications, I assume I’m writing read-and-skim documents: I am more receptive, less lyrical and more bragging than I ever get here. But sometimes I like the writing I do for job applications, which is why I’m sharing it today:

1) In no more than 500 words, please explain your commitment to public service and (a) include an instance when you asserted leadership in a community or civic activity, what you learned, and how you think this internship could further advance your leadership and personal goals.

I feel inspired when I work for the public good and I am committed to serving my country and my fellow human beings every working day of my life. I have always planned to work in public service, whether for the government or an NGO, because I have a duty to use the privilege of my birth and my skills to help other people. This commitment crystallized into a career path during spring 2011, when I convinced the Pittsburgh City Council to become the first mid-sized city in the United States to introduce comprehensive anti-sex trafficking legislation targeting brothels posing as massage parlors.

For six weeks, I rallied a movement which brought together 22 student groups—including both the Life Matters Club and Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics Club of Carnegie Mellon University—to hand-write 500 letters to the Pittsburgh City Council. I gathered support from faith communities, local NGOs, and law enforcement to eliminate sex trafficking in the 15 brothels posing as massage parlors within the Pittsburgh city limits. I also drew on my friends and training from my summer as the Polaris Project’s New Media Fellow. My ordinance’s language was originally drafted by a legal fellow in 2010. My work was mentioned in 32 newspaper articles nation-wide and inspired three other cities to start drafting their own versions of the ordinance. I spent the summer of 2011 helping those activists connect with their local politicians, draft state-constitution compliant language, and get trafficking survivors in crisis the help they needed.

Those six weeks were a crash course in what it means to craft legislation, manage lobbyists who opposed my bill’s language, and keep my volunteers engaged. I achieved more than I had ever imagined when I first cornered a city councilman at a Democratic party function to tell him about the danger of sex trafficking in his district. I also made mistakes: at a press conference with Pittsburgh and national press, I handed a custom Google Map a friend and I had made of all of the brothels posing as massage parlors. Though I explained we sourced the map from the men who admitted in online forums to buying sex, the next day all of the articles sourced me as the evidence that there was prostitution in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. I believe an internship with the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy would give me a safe space to learn to more skillfully navigate the world of public service communications. Those skills would allow me to grow my local movement to end trafficking into a national one, passing similar bills in cities nationwide and working towards a world without slavery.

In the form letter I wrote for my volunteers to copy for their 500 letters, I closed by thanking the Pittsburgh City Council for being willing to engage in “the energetic pursuit of the good.” I am committed to living and working in public service because I can think of no better way to live my life than in the energetic pursuit of the good.

“We don’t know what the next president is going to face. If we choose someone with vision, someone with guts, someone with gravitas, who is connected to other peoples lives and cares about making them better. If we choose someone who inspires us then we will be able to face what comes our way and achieve things we can’t imagine yet.”–Toby, The West Wing

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Two days into the second semester of my senior year at American University, I left school and boarded a train for South Carolina’s Republican Primary. I had already volunteered the previous four weeks at Senator McCain’s Nevada State Headquarters, and I didn’t want to sit in class studying the primaries when I could be there impacting them.

I spent the week talking with voters and assisting the advance team. At one point, I was delegated the all-important task of “human-traffic-cone.” I stood in heavy rain to save a parking spot for the “Straight-Talk Express” because even the smallest of my efforts could have an impact. I believe I am a good candidate for the Campus Gov/GovLoop Schoolarship because it would help me achieve a greater impact on public service in the future.

My idealism isn’t naïve. I have interned for a lobbying firm, worked for the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), served as Campaign Manager for a State Assembly race, and currently work full time for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Through it all, I’ve become more interested and confident in our government and how it serves people.

I actually started working for ICMA after writing my graduate school statement of purpose for Georgetown University. Their application, like yours, required I “relate (my) education and interest in pursuing a career within the public sector.” During my undergraduate course work at American University, I studied public administration and did independent research on the benefits of publicly funded stadiums, and I knew that I eventual hope to serve as a city manager. So, I researched what city managers do on ICMA’s website, applied for a position ICMA advertised, and have worked at ICMA full time for the past year – all while working full time towards my Master’s in American Government at Georgetown.

I’m also excited because, in the last month, I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to serve the public sector and give back: I’ve been selected as a finalist for the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF). Although I don’t know yet where I’ll find placement, I believe the PMF will allow me to pursue amazing leadership opportunities in the federal government and better prepare me for when I eventually apply for city manager positions.

It is as a city manager that I believe I can have the most impact. I’ll work directly with residents, staff, the mayor, and city council to develop policy which positively impacts the community and those who live there. And because it’s at the local level, I will have the unique privilege to see that impact.

The scholarship would greatly help me finish my graduate education (especially the summer courses), and create a lasting impact in my own life.

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