Anybody have a map? Our latest “Profiles in Public Service” guests do!
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Anybody have a map? Our latest “Profiles in Public Service” guests do!

June 6, 2022

On this episode of the “Profiles in Public Service” podcast, co-hosts Loren DeJonge Schulman and Rachel Klein-Kircher speak with Carrie Stokes and Sawyer McCarley about how digital mapping tools and technologies shape decisions about providing humanitarian assistance in developing countries, and why mentoring and investing in young people is critical to public service.

Digital mapping for international development

Stokes is the chief geographer at the U.S. Agency for International Development and a 2016 Service to America Medals® finalist. Listeners will hear how she and her team at USAID helped launch the GeoCenter after identifying a need to improve the agency’s internal decision-making for international development programs. Stokes currently serves as director of the GeoCenter. 

USAID has used the center’s digital mapping work to inform economic and humanitarian assistance efforts in developing countries, including insecticide spray campaigns to fight malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, addressing the root causes of migration from Central America and the effects of climate change in the Amazon.

“Having information that we can see visually to display complicated or complex relationships between different factors that affect a place [where] we are working is really powerful,” Stokes said.

Mapping the way for the next generation of public servants

A signature initiative of the GeoCenter is the YouthMappers program, which cultivates the next generation of geospatial technology experts by empowering young people with the tools, training, confidence and leadership opportunities to—as described by Stokes—“define their own world and to participate in it with the latest in technology.”

“It’s not just a matter of learning a new technology or a new skill,” Stokes added, “but learning about social issues and giving them a tool to feel as if they have a part in the solution for [them].”

Sawyer McCarley is a former research fellow with the YouthMappers program and a recent college graduate. McCarley has applied the skills learned from his training with YouthMappers to contribute to disaster response projects with the National Emergency Response Geographic Information System Team in Jamaica and as a disaster recovery specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he supported recovery efforts in response to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.

When asked if he would encourage other students or young professionals to pursue a career in the federal government, McCarley said yes without hesitation.

“I think the federal government is a really good way to make change,” he said. “I would say, ‘Take the leap. [Working in the government] is definitely something that is worthwhile for you.’”

To date, the YouthMappers program has built a network of mappers, students and emerging public service leaders from more than 300 universities in 65 countries.

Stokes added, “I think it’s extremely important that we invest in our young people. They’re leaders—not for tomorrow, but for today.”

How to Listen

Tune in to this episode, “Anybody Have a Map? The Government Does,” from “Profiles in Public Service” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Loren DeJonge Schulman: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous. 

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives. 

I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman, 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher.  This week we will be hearing from Carrie Stokes, chief geographer at the U.S. Agency for International Development, otherwise known as US-AID, and the director of the agency’s GeoCenter. Carrie was also a finalist in 2016. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Founded in 2011, the GeoCenter uses web-based digital mapping technology and geospatial tools and analysis in support of international development. A geographic information system, also known as a “GIS,” is a system that helps collect, manage, analyze and map all types of data that are associated with a location. 

Carrie’s work and the GeoCenter have helped USAID make better decisions about its economic and humanitarian assistance in developing countries by harnessing the power of satellite data and geographic information to combat poverty, disease and natural disasters.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Since establishing the GeoCenter in 2011, Carrie has fostered a community of 70 GeoSpecialists across the agency, half of whom are Foreign Service National employees from the countries where US-AID works.  

Carrie is also a leader in preparing the next generation of public servants, notably through the YouthMappers program, an initiative funded by USAID. YouthMappers is a global community of students, researchers, educators and scholars that use public geospatial technologies to highlight and directly address development challenges worldwide.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: We are also joined today by a former research fellow with the YouthMappers program, Sawyer McCarley. Sawyer is a recent college graduate who is now a civil servant working part time as a disaster recovery specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Welcome Carrie and Sawyer!  

Transition music 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Carrie and Sawyer welcome! Carrie, you work as the chief geographer at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tell us about what is that role? What does the GeoCenter do at USAID? And why is it so important?

Carrie Stokes: Well, yes, I am the chief geographer at USAID. We are the foreign assistance lead for the U.S. Government. We work in about a hundred countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. And we focus on alleviating poverty and driving economic growth, specializing in many sectors like agriculture and food security, democracy, and governance, conflict and stabilization, environment and climate change health and humanitarian assistance during disasters.

So, my team, which is the GeoCenter is made up of geographers and data analysts, and we provide data informed insights to our USAID colleagues all around the world. We conduct geographic analyses, and we make maps to aluminate where need is the greatest to ultimately inform our colleagues about where to prioritize placement of our programs all around the world.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So Carrie, for our audience that may not all be technical and I’m going to include myself in this. Can you define GIS for us? Sure. GIS really stands for geographic information systems and it has now come to encompass many additional tools that are geography related, but the simple way to think about it is a mapping tool or mapping application.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Can you tell us a little bit about a project that you’re working on to give our listeners a sense of like, what does this look like in practice?

Carrie Stokes: Sure. And you were right in today’s world with so many things grabbing our attention, being able to focus when you have to make a decision sometimes without full information and under, you know, a time sensitive crunch, having information that we can see to display complicated or complex relationships between different factors that affect a place that we’re working is really powerful.

So, my team uses geographic economic and demographic information to generate these custom analyses for our field missions. As we call them our field offices and our technical offices in Washington, DC. At any one time, we are working on probably 20 to 30 projects at a time with a team of about 18 of us.

And a few examples of things that we’ve been working on lately are: analyzing the root causes of migration from what’s called the Northern Triangle of Central America, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing satellite imagery to monitor forest loss in the Amazon, helping countries in Africa improve their resilience to climate change and mapping for malaria prevention is another example.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: What a diverse set of issues and challenges to be able to portray in that way. How do you decide where, and why and maybe with what lens to map a place because you gave so many incredible examples that it spurred in my mind 20 more that could be possibilities as well?

Carrie Stokes: Well, of course the world is it’s a big place to map for sure. And we do focus our energies sometimes on mapping, under-mapped or unmapped places. But most of the time, what we’re trying to do is better understand where USAID is already working. It seems like an easy question to ask, but it’s not always an easy question to answer because we have a presence in so many countries around the world and in so many sectors, as I mentioned earlier. So understanding the scale of our work and the various types of programs and projects within countries is a massive undertaking. So, we will usually start by working with our colleagues who work in our field offices, also known as missions, to better understand where their programs are currently placed. And then, we like to also bring in the data and analytics with all kinds of different datasets, as I mentioned earlier, to understand where the need is actually the greatest. Many times, those two things match up, but not always. And so, it’s important for us to be able to know where should we be targeting our programs in the future. The way we decide what projects to take on is truly based on the needs, expressed by our colleagues from all over the world and in Washington, where we are based.

And they will ask us, they’ll come to us with a question or a particular challenge that they haven’t been able to figure out. And they’ll say, ‘Hey, we hear you, you all make maps or you monitor what’s happening on the earth from space, you know, can you help us?’

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Carrie, we would love to know something about the YouthMappers program. Understanding it is an initiative that’s funded by USAID. And I love how it’s described as not just building maps but building mappers. Can you explain for our listeners about the YouthMappers program and its goals which empower a new generation to contribute to geospatial mapping and international development programs?

Carrie Stokes: Sure, so the youth mappers program is a signature initiative of the GeoCenter, the team that I lead. And most of the work in our team is focused inward. As I mentioned earlier, we’re trying to improve decision-making about international development programs. And it became clear to me a few years into starting the GeoCenter, about 10 years ago, that there was a gap. We needed digital information ready to be analyzed from many places where USAID works, but it just didn’t exist at that time. So, it really became clear that there were these under-mapped places in the world. In today’s world, we’re here in 2022 now, most everybody is familiar with using something like Apple Maps, or Google Maps or having access to immediate mapping information on our cell phones.

Believe it or not, that’s a very recent functionality that many of us grew up not having. And it’s hard to imagine our lives without it now, but in many of the places where USAID works, that functionality still does not exist. So, I thought along with a partner of ours in the university system that tapping into the creativity and the innovative energy of young people in the universities around the world would be a great way to teach basic digital mapping skills, create new geospatial data (which is a fancy way of saying mapping data) and allow people at a university level to learn about international development challenges around the world. So, we use a platform called open street map, OSM for short, it’s a free and open mapping platform on the internet, and anyone can get access to it if you have access to the internet. So, the idea here was to produce new geospatial data where it didn’t exist so that we could use that data in the GeoCenter and beyond for conducting the kinds of analyses we do for our programs and also to empower a new generation with the tools and the confidence and leadership opportunities to define their own world and to participate in it with the latest in technology today. So that’s where our tagline comes from is, we don’t just build maps, we build mappers.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This sounds exciting to me, for somebody who is in school, has these skills, and to your point, some of this technology didn’t exist before. So, are you also helping to shape academic programs and coursework that would actually train students in technology in the way that you’re looking to use it?

Carrie Stokes: We are. And when we started on this adventure about seven years ago, we didn’t know where we would be with it now. It was a truly an idea and it was an experiment. And we started with three founding universities in the United States who each had proven abilities and experience working with mapping technologies and geographic information with students.

So, the idea unfolded first, as I said, with a few universities in the United States, but soon it spread to Africa and West Africa, and then it went from there to many other countries. Now we have more than 300 universities in 65 countries. Thousands of students who have gone through the program, graduated and are now even using some of the skills that they learned in job opportunities afterwards.

So, it was clear to me that when this program surprised us all and pleased us all by really taking off, that it made sense to go beyond just basic mapping skills and to also support curricula in universities in geography and other social sciences, and the hard sciences, about how geography really is a unifying study of discipline that brings in so many different types of challenges and opportunities for seeking solutions to some of our greatest challenges in our societies. These mapping clubs get started now called YouthMappers, and they all have individual names in their own universities that they choose, and they take on issues in their local communities that they can collaborate with their peers in a virtual environment with other YouthMappers from other universities all over the world in helping to map these places.

This high-resolution satellite imagery is the backdrop, and then we as the organizers of the program tell them what are the areas we need to have mapped. Then that information is shared on this open platform that I mentioned earlier. So now we’ve got these leadership programs and areas of study in higher learning, a masters and PhD programs that we have invested in as well for students who qualify and can up their game so to speak on the geospatial front if they realize that what they’ve learned in the YouthMappers program is something they’d like to pursue further.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Carrie, is there an example of a YouthMappers project that you can share with us? Because this all just sounds incredible.

Carrie Stokes: Sure. So, when we first got started with this, we collaborated with something called the Presidential Malaria Initiative, PMI. And the purpose of that initiative was to prevent malaria since it’s one of the largest killers of children under five years old in Sub-Saharan Africa. And there are spray campaigns that use insecticide to spray homes. We also have additional programs that distribute mosquito nets that people hang over their beds when they sleep at night, because that’s when people are most vulnerable to being actually bitten by mosquitoes that could carry malaria.

So, the challenges that were faced by our spray campaigns or that it was difficult and expensive to do these remote efforts to go out with enough insecticide planned in advance and know that they’re going to be able to cover at least 80% of the area of concern that we know is susceptible to malaria.

Where we got involved with the mapping part with YouthMappers was to create maps of the communities in advance of the spray technicians so that they would know how many homes they would need to spray, how many buildings, the roads, how to get there. These are usually very remote places sometimes.

And they could plan how much insecticide to take with them. So, the first time we involved our YouthMappers in mapping this, we used, as I said, high resolution, satellite imagery as the backdrop. And then we validated the features on the ground that our youth members were mapping remotely with people on the ground who could verify, yes, this is indeed a person’s home.

Or no, that’s not a home, that’s a grainery. And this was a nice collaboration too, at the time with the Peace Corps, because at the time we had Peace Corps volunteers on the ground who could verify that we were getting those features right. So, after this effort to map, we then followed up to better understand what the impact of this work was.

And we did learn that this spray campaigns that were using these maps for the first time, indeed improved the efficiency and the effectiveness of the program. So, then we replicated it in other countries that had similar challenges with malaria, from mosquitos.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: That is such an incredible example. And I love the network and the community and the capabilities that you’re building with this. It’s something that I don’t think people recognize in government that it is, it is not just like people sitting in Washington who are sitting at their desk doing things, but with this network that you’re building all over the country and all over the world, is a really generous form of mentorship in a way.

And that’s the next thing I wanted to ask you about. So, you strike me as a person who when I asked this question, you are going to say like, this is so obvious, but given that this YouthMappers program is just a very kind of different and capacity building form of mentorship, why is mentorship of young people important to you and to your work? What is the importance of this to the field overall, do you think?

Carrie Stokes: I think it’s critical from a big perspective. I would say that for democracies to be stable, we need participation from the people who live in the countries, from the citizens and all segments of the population are important and all voices matter.

In my work where we work all over the country and in countries that don’t necessarily have stable governments, it’s critical to have the young generation feel as if they have a voice. And not just feel it, but to see it and make an impact. So, from the perspective of democracy and governance, I think it’s extremely important that we invest in our young people. They’re leaders, not for tomorrow, but for today.

And in terms of being digital natives and un-daunted, by the plethora of digital technologies that exist today, YouthMappers is one way to help them get engaged. It’s not just a matter of learning a new technology, a new skill, but learning about social issues and giving them a tool to feel as if they have a part in the solution for it.

So, it involves of course, the future stability of communities and countries and the world. I think it’s empowering at a time in peoples’ lives where they’re wondering, you know, where do I fit in, in my society and how can I contribute? I think it’s important to tap young people for their creative ideas.

You know every generation pushes the previous generations with novel thoughts and a little bit of rebellion sometimes, and that’s a good thing for us. Because yes, those of us who have been around for a while, it can get kind of get set in the ways of our ways of doing things. And I’ve been so inspired by the incredible energy that I’ve been able to tap into and to see, and to benefit from, with so many young people around the world.

And right here in our own country, we have a YouthMappers website that explains how to get involved for universities that want to join the program. And YouthMappers are contributing blogs on almost a weekly basis about their work. Once they learn these skills, they take it to levels that are well beyond anything that I would have ever imagined or our partners in the university system who run the program.

And it really inspires me, especially on the days when I feel like the news is negative and you almost wonder–the sky is falling while listening to all the things on the news, and then I go read a YouthMappers blog and I feel so inspired. There’s hope. There’s hope because they have this belief in, they don’t believe they know about the interconnectedness of everyone, and they instantly connect now because that’s how they grew up. And to be able to take that instant connection and produce new information and know that that information will be used by decision makers far away or near in their own communities. Or that they themselves can take on social issues in their own local communities and become leaders…to me that’s as a public servant, I can’t think of a more rewarding way to spend my time and energy.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Sawyer I want to bring you in on this question as well, and we’ll ask you about your specific experience as a YouthMapper in a moment, but I wanted to ask you about the other side of that mentorship. What did that mean to you to be a part of this program? And why do you think mentorship of young people in the public sector is so important right now?

Sawyer McCarley: I think you guys have already hit the nail on the head. A lot of the issues, you know, I started out with the YouthMappers program through an internship, and then I was asked to be the president of Clemson Mappers. I went to Clemson University. Clemson Mappers was our chapter. And through that, I was able to be a leader. I was able to work directly with the Red Cross, on a project called Call My Name. And through that, I had a couple of goals that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to pass on what I’ve learned to the next generation of people that would be in the club. I wanted to work directly with an organization, which I worked with the non-profit, Red Cross, and I wanted to do a map-a-thon. And with the three to four months that I had, I was able to achieve those three steps. And I think I was able to do that just because of the skills I was able to learn through GIS and YouthMappers. When I graduated, I was able to pass the baton, if you will, to someone who was in the program below me and I’m a sociology major and she was [studying] criminal justice and we both saw potential in these skillsets. And now that she’s graduating, she’s looking for jobs within GIS because she sees so much potential in that.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: I love this kind of the passing of the torch and the passing of the skills. How did you first learn about the program and what inspired you to get involved as a research fellow?

Sawyer McCarley: First, I want to start with how I got into GIS because I initially had no idea what any of this was. I’m going to be very honest. I was walking and hiking with a friend one day and he’s a data analyst. He was explaining to me how you can take data off the internet, and you can kind of compartmentalize it and give it visual perspective so you can look at things. And I think Loren hit on this earlier, where you can look at data and you can make change off what you see. Being a sociology major, everything’s dense. Everything is just a lot of words sometimes, but when you can see the issue, you can grasp it a little bit easier, and you can make more sense of it.

So, I was like, well, let me see what I can do. I got into this GIS certificate class who comes in the Clemson Center for Geospatial Technologies, CCGT, and they offer a six-week program where you just get like the basic skills and through that they offer internship opportunities and any connections that they may have. They sent me an email saying, ‘hey this is something you might be interested in’ because I personally liked disaster management and planning. And they were like, ‘this is something you could get involved in.’ I applied on the whim; I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This was also two months before COVID, so I don’t think any of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into and I got the internship and went that way. Yeah.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, tell us a little bit about some of the work you did specifically through this program, and maybe, maybe tell us what you’re most proud of from the work that you did with the National Emergency Response GIS Team in Jamaica.

Sawyer McCarley: Like I said it was during COVID. Initially we were all going to go to our research country for a little bit and they came back, and we were going to collaborate throughout the entire summer to create this research project. But with it being online, we kind of had to schedule out like our meetings kind of like a project manager saying, this is who we’re going to meet with on this day.

And then we’re going to go back and analyze the data. Then we’re going to like, make these maps and see how we can do this. And my favorite thing that I got to do. Was I got to create like a proposal for a training program that they did. One of the things that YouthMappers is trying to do is to train people to do these skills.

And I was able to kind of see the different gaps between disaster planning for them. And like the time intervals was of how long it took for them to do things, how long it took for them to see the issues. And I took a lot of the words that they were saying, and I was able to create like a six-month long training proposal with YouthMappers, and we would train people and YouthMappers for a few months on OSM within these states and these governments. Then after disaster, they could take these skillsets and kind of map out what was directly impacted by disaster. So that the way they could take that data back to the agency and kind of create like a disaster response.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: I have to tell you my internships when I was in college, I thought were pretty cool at the time. Nothing like this and nothing like that really amazing on the ground impact, even amid COVID. But the other thing I love about this is how you’ve now transitioned to become a civil servant yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about, like, what was that journey?

How did the YouthMapper program help you develop some of the skills or maybe the inspiration to pursue the role that you’re in now?

Sawyer McCarley: I think it came a lot from me being persistent in wanting to achieve a dream such as this, like since middle school, early high school was like, oh, I’m going to help communities after disasters, and I had no clue what that meant. YouthMappers kind of gives you that training to look at all three lenses. Right now, I am currently an interagency recovery coordinator for FEMA. I work part time and I am deployed directly after disasters. The last time I was deployed was Hurricane Ida and Louisiana.

When that happened, they were like, hey, this is something we need you to do with this department. And it was the GIS department because I knew I had skill sets. And they were like, Hey, you’re just going to get up every morning, you’re going to look at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) imagery and you’re going to map out the houses and communities after these disasters, and see the path that it took, see what neighborhoods were directly impacted, and we put all of this in a database and sent it to the Army Corps of engineers to help with disaster relief. But it was really cool because YouthMappers gave me these skills and from someone who like wouldn’t have any idea what was going on.

It’s, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of colors. It’s a lot of maps. It’s a lot of skills, but when you like really get to the point of it, it’s just drawing points, lines and polygons. Like, it’s nothing crazy. I think anybody could do it if you want to do it. And there’s so much potential in it. But zooming out of the map, there’s people working from all over the world on this, the state of Louisiana at that point, and every little neighborhood was highlighted or being highlighted and to see that kind of international impact on such a project is really kind of humbling.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I think what’s so exciting for me is, is listening to both of you, Carrie and Sawyer, describing these projects that have real time results. And I love that, you know, Sawyer, how many times in this conversation you’ve already said, I didn’t even know what it was to be honest, or I didn’t know what I was getting into.

The fact that folks at such early stages of their career can make such an impact for literally lifesaving undertakings. And you know, here at Partnership for Public Service, we have a call to serve network where we’re really trying to encourage that next generation to enter public service.

We’re connecting federal agencies with universities, we’re connecting students here’s how to think about the government, here’s how to apply. I mean, I’d love to know Sawyer, did you ever imagine you would be working for the federal government?

Sawyer McCarley: No, [Sawyer Laughs], It’s kind of insane. It’s a long process. Like I said, I wanted to do it in early high school, and it took a long time.

I found out what job I wanted, and it took me a year to apply. I had to be very persistent in emailing the hiring managers or recruiters, making these contacts, having these constant conversations, because sometimes people do mention there is a kind of like an invisible wall between the public and the private sector. And if you want it, it’s there and it’s yours to take. But it does take a little bit of work.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You know, when you had said that your dream had been to help communities after disaster has been not knowing what that looked like and the fact that you can do that as a public servant. So would you encourage other students or young people to think about and really pursue these early career roles with the federal government?

Sawyer McCarley: Absolutely. I think the federal government is a really good way to make change. Carrie and I were talking about this the other day, it’s a slow process, but the American government isn’t supposed to be this very fast paced process is supposed to be slow, so everything is fair and even. But on the other side of that, you can really make real change. And when you work directly with communities and see what they need and what they are recovering from, and you’re able to help them directly, that really does make a difference.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And you mentioned, you know, being persistent was a big part of being able to get this opportunity. What other recommendation would you have for anybody who’s in high school or college listening right now?

Sawyer McCarley: Network. Get to know people in the area so you can sit down and be like, hey, this is something I’m interested in. Do your research. I didn’t necessarily know what it looked like. A federal resume is very different from a corporate resume. My federal resume is six to seven pages long. Get to know what kind of skill sets you need. Learn those skill sets. One of the beautiful things about the internet is all the skill sets are there. You could just take certification classes. That’s what really helped me. Just do your research, I would say.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Actually, this comes back to a question I wanted to ask Carrie earlier around those networks that are useful and going into the federal government. One of the things that you’ve done, Carrie, is build a network that students can utilize, whether or not you designed it this way. By building the partnerships that are necessary to support youth mappers. It created a network for young people, young leaders, to learn more about what the possibilities of the federal government are and what the connections are, where the skills are and so on.

So, I’m really curious. How would you suggest that others— federal government agencies— think about building partnerships like this? What are some of the lessons that you took away from this experience that they could apply and trying to think about how they could invest in young people in a way like YouthMappers or another kind of corollary program?

Carrie Stokes: I think there are a lot of opportunities and like Sawyer just said, it just takes doing the research to realize what may already be there. You just have to find them. So, one of the things that I’ve taken advantage of even beyond the YouthMappers program is creating formal and informal internships for students still in college.

There are more formal programs with the federal government called the Pathways Program. There’s another one called the Presidential Management Fellows Program, PMF for short, and that draws people with master’s degrees. And then there’s the AAAS program, which stands for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

And that brings people with PhDs into the federal government for a period of up to two years, usually. So there are existing programs that are in place. It’s just a matter of tapping them and nothing usually happens too fast in the government, I’ve found. And so, if you really want to make change or do something innovative, you have to have the energy to sustain and to navigate the bureaucratic process.

And you can still do very creative things and fun things and engage people who have energy for trying things out in ways that may have not never been done before. And another thing that I’ve done is reach out to local schools. Sometimes I’ll give presentations when I’m asked. Other times I’ll purposely reach out to minority serving institutions, for example, to ensure that we are offering partnerships and opportunities to people who historically may not have had access to working in the federal government or just in public service, at the level of state or local government. But one of the things that I’ve heard from the many young people that I’ve been able to either provide internships to, or ultimately hire, or just have hopefully provide some inspiration to, is that everybody wants a purpose driven life.

And the thing that the public service offers is just that, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a purpose driven life working in the private sector. I’ve also worked in the private sector. I’ve worked in many different sectors, but to be able to have an idea and pursue it to fruition, that in a way that you know, is doing good for a large group of people, that is the purpose of the government. That’s why it exists. And so, I have worked in many places and had many amazing experiences, but I think my home, I landed in the government and the federal government. I love what I get to do, and I love trying to create opportunities for other people to be able to realize their dreams as well.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: You’ve been incredibly successful in that. One final question for you, both because you both in different ways told incredibly compelling stories around why public service is so important to you and the kind of impact you’re going to have and the really creative and amazing paths you can take into it, but also when you’re within government. So, with all of that, why do you think that government has a hard time attracting young talent and what’s something we could do about it? How could we fix that?

Carrie Stokes: Well, I think it’s important to just make people aware, as a first step. I really think that many people, at least in this country and the countries where I work in with USAID, are not always aware of the many different diverse services that the government provides. And even the term, ‘the government,’ makes it seem as if it’s one thing or one entity or one, you know, special group that’s body that’s making, all these great big decisions for everybody. It’s not the government is us, it’s many.

So, the word government is sort of this collective word. It represents two, three million people in the United States who are working at various levels of government. So, I think it’s, you know, an easy thing to blame when times are challenging and it, and you want to just find a reason for why things don’t seem to be working out say, ‘oh, it’s the government’s fault.’

It’s an easy out. But it’s, it’s never usually that simple. The government is responsible for all the public goods that we come to rely on every single day. The road system, the clean water, the tap that we have— most people — have in their homes. And they can trust that the quality of water I realized is not the case everywhere.

The library system, the school system, caring about the air and the water that we breathe. And we drink standards for food. When we go to the store to buy the food, if you’re not already growing it yourself, these are the behind-the-scenes sort of invisible infrastructure that allows for life that we enjoy in this country and in other countries to happen.

And it’s not until something goes wrong, people decide to blame it, but did they think to be appreciative every day when it goes right? So, I think the awareness building is critical. So what you all are doing is a big part of that here. I also think it’s important to remember that the government doesn’t have a budget for doing advertising in the typical places where we see advertising—the television, or if it’s on social media— we don’t use the public’s money to advertise our work. We just do the work and then let the public, you know, live with it. And it’s hard to compete when there are so many other entities that do advertise about the things that they do and they accomplish.

I think the awareness building is absolutely critical. And many times, people don’t have an appreciation until they really need it, and then disaster is one of those examples that Sawyer talked about. You all of a sudden do appreciate it when people do swoop in if your community, unfortunately, experiences a disaster, that’s one of the first faces you’ll see, as the people who come to help, and that is usually the face of the government.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Sawyer, we’d love your take as somebody who is a recent graduate, what do you see as you know, reasons in addition to what Carrie shared, you know, why, why is it hard for government to not just attract young talent, but to hold on and retain them? And if you could implement anything, any suggestion for the government to do, what would that be?

Sawyer McCarley: Kind of what she was hitting on is like it’s really hard for people to see the advertisement side of it. But going back to like going on the internet, I know that during the hiring process, FEMA was offering all of these workshops: how to interview, how to say the appropriate things, how to do the appropriate resume.

And I think that like the government is the people, ‘we the people.’ And I think there’s definitely like a slower process to it. People when they get out of college, they want to do all of these big and grand things with all of these corporate companies. And that’s great and that’s for them, but sometimes there’s a real change that can happen in a different way.

I think it’s kind of the path less tracked from a lot of people because there’s so many other opportunities that you could do that’s kind of right there in your front of your face. I would just say, take the leap. If you want to check it out, this is definitely something that is worthwhile for you.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: This has been an incredible conversation. I have, first of all, learned so much and I get inspired all the time about all the incredible things that the government does that nobody knows about.

And as you say, Carrie, we have no advertising budget, but this is one of those that truly beyond the scope of my imagination of where government is having impact in so many amazing and creative ways that is building out a next generation of public servants in however you define it, not only across the country, but around the world.

So, um, thank you both so much for the conversation, but also really thank you for the work that you’re doing. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy to be able to share your stories with the world.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Loren, I loved the fact that we had two guests that were emblematic of what each other was saying. Here we have Carrie talking about seeing a need, creating opportunities for communities and having that need filled by students who get to do real-time projects, seeing real-time results. And then we heard from one of those students who actually saw this dream of supporting communities come to fruition. It was such a fun conversation.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Rachel, the thing that I took away from it is that was mentorship made real. People talk a lot about like, what is mentorship? Is it having coffees with people? Is them helping with your resume? Yes. But Carrie saw an opportunity not only to fill a real need in our foreign policy and a real need in terms of capacity, but a way to engage, just what an amazing community of students and enthusiasts worldwide.

And then with Sawyer, the fact that he took this nearly lifelong interest in just helping support people and disasters to join this program and have real time impact in Jamaica, but just what an incredible story and what a way to show that these aren’t just like little things that people do to be nice. These are actual programs that make a huge difference in not only both of their lives, but in lives around the world. I mean, it was just incredibly inspiring.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And what trust too. Because Carrie was saying, I know that there’s brain power out there. I loved that she also referred to the students as leaders and they have a chance to lead right now. We’re not just developing and mentoring future leaders, but they can lead now. And then the trust from Sawyer saying, ‘I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, I just followed this path and saw where it led.’ Just what a great pairing and an amazing opportunity.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: The point in the conversation where Sawyer was talking to us about work around Hurricane Ida and how people all over the place for helping contribute to new information around how the disaster was impacting communities and highlighting needs, highlighting requirements, highlighting places where people needed help. It was this crowdsourcing view on the work that we can do in public service I had not really thought through before in ways that can bring people in to working with government that I’m not sure exists in other sectors in the same way. It just led to 10 million new thoughts and questions, like how could this model be applied elsewhere?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I think that draws exactly on Carrie’s point about you need for, to have participation from citizens. I do feel technology has allowed for this participation, as you say, in ways that we could never have imagined.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: This would be one of those programs where it would have been so easy to set up a whole lot of rules and boundaries and barriers around it in terms of how to structure it and how to get good participation. As you said before, the trust that Carrie had, not just that there was talent out there, but that it could be collaborative and purposeful and bringing people together from all over the world to solve problems together is what an amazing opportunity that she created. And she’s so so humble about it. Like, oh, we just created this program. But no, this is amazing. You have no idea, which is of course it’s so often what we hear from our interviewees.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And she said, you know, government, isn’t one body it’s us. And just everything you said, like, that’s the embodiment of it. It is us. Carrie gave the examples of all of that invisible infrastructure and all of the behind-the-scenes people and work again, the theme that we’re hearing from all of our guests, this is the unsung heroes, the work that you don’t necessarily see front and center. And it is it’s everyone. And what an example of folks who aren’t even officially public servants, still able to help in this way.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Just to close this out, what was funny to me is, as she was talking, I kept thinking, are you reading from the report that we just wrote on trust in government at the Partnership? Because the themes there of what people in the United States don’t see: that invisible work, the day-to-day activities of public servants, how they contribute to their lives, and the themes of what would make them feel more confident in their government which is all of that—to be able to see like that behind the scenes, invisible work— that’s exactly what Carrie was saying. It’s exactly what we found in the trust report that when people say that they struggle with what government does or they start with trust in government. They’re thinking politics. When you talk to them about these public servants who are doing this incredible work around the country, around the globe invisibly, they are just as motivated and as inspired as we are. So, which is why this podcast is such a joy too, for us to put together.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I really hope that the younger listeners take to heart what Sawyer was saying, because I was very jealous as he talked about how much easier it was to navigate the, finding a federal job process because of the internet. When I was looking for a job, the internet didn’t exist. I just, I love that he emphasized that because it’s not something to take for granted.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Absolutely. Well, Rachel, these were great new season podcast guests to bring on and to be able to learn about these amazing opportunities. I’m so glad that we’re continuing the show.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I am as well. Thank you, Loren.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: “Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.  Thanks to District Productive for co-producing this episode of Profiles in Public Service.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!  

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