Learning to love public service

How one college student answered the Partnership’s “call to serve”

Learning to love public service: How one college student answered the Partnership’s “call to serve”

In 2002, the Partnership collaborated with the Office of Personnel Management to launch Call to Serve, the only nationwide network of colleges and universities dedicated exclusively to promoting federal service. For nearly 20 years, Call to Serve has worked to help government identify and recruit young talent, connect agencies with institutions of higher education, and provide young learners and recent graduates with a better understanding of federal work. Since its inception, Call to Serve has worked with more than 700 colleges and universities to recruit the next generation of public servants. Read more to learn how this nationwide network enabled one student take the next step toward a career in government.

In the spring of 2020, Lyndsey Gallagher was a first-semester senior earning a bachelor’s and master’s in George Washington University’s dual-degree public health program. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, Gallagher worried that the internships she had counted on to help launch her post-graduate career would disappear.

That’s when she applied to the Partnership’s Call to Serve Innovation Internship program, launched in 2019 with the generous support of Patricia A. and George W. Wellde Jr., an alumnus of GW who serves as a member of the Partnership’s board of directors and a member of GW’s board of trustees. Through GW’s Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund, which provides financial support for students doing unpaid internships in government and nonprofit organizations, the program places GW undergraduates as summer interns in federal agencies and helps government recruit and retain sorely needed young talent.

By May, Gallagher had secured a summer internship with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center, an office that develops and tests national health care payment and service delivery models.

The center provided Gallagher with a stellar internship experience, providing real-world experience, an opportunity to develop her technical skills and a better understanding of how government works. Today, she is thriving in graduate school and considering applying the skills and perspectives she gained as an intern to a career in the federal workforce.

Lyndsey Gallagher, 2020 Call to Serve Innovation Internship program participant


Making an impact

As an intern, Gallagher took on significant responsibilities that helped advance the innovation center mission and research portfolio.

During her first few days on the job, Gallagher’s supervisor gave her an overview of the CMS’ databases and encouraged her to build research projects around topics of interest.

As she analyzed the data, Gallagher began to compare how different hospitals charged CMS for medical services. She noticed that states that have not expanded their Medicaid coverage—like Texas and Florida—had charged the agency the most, while states that provide hospitals with set funding each year to encourage efficient spending—like Maryland—had the lowest charges.

The results showed that CMS’ waiver program in Maryland, initiated in 2014 to encourage hospitals to find effective low-cost health solutions and offer a model for future nationwide health care reform, was working.

“My supervisor was always coming to me for what I thought about something and including me in higher up conversations,” she said. “He was really good at uplifting my voice.” 


Applying new skills

Gallagher also helped edit and evaluate project proposals that came to her group at the innovation center, work that required her to learn how to use Excel and statistical analysis software.  

She said these skills have come in handy as she pursues her master’s degree in public health and works on advocacy projects aimed at improving long-term care health care as a states and community engagement intern at the AARP. 

“It goes back to the lessons that I learned at CMS,” she said. “The hard skills have translated nicely into what I’m doing now.” 


Next steps

After she earns her master’s degree, Gallagher wants to build on her Call to Serve experience and work in government to develop and promote policy solutions that address health disparities in America. She highlighted agencies like CMS or the Department of Health and Human Services as possible fits—and has considered working in Congress as a staffer or policy analyst. 

“You really have the ability to influence and make change in government, and affect people’s lives” she said.

Unfortunately, today’s recent graduates often look outside the federal government for job opportunities.

Declining federal internships and misconceptions about government work—as highlighted by a recent Axios Harris poll—have made young people far less likely to seek a federal career than a job in the private sector. The number of interns and recent graduates working in government per year has dropped by 80% since 2010 and, today, just 4% of new hires are drawn from federal programs that employ students and new degree-holders.  

As a result, young employees remain badly underrepresented in the federal workforce. Indeed, roughly 7% of full-time federal employees are currently under the age of 30, while more than 20% of all private sector workers fall into the same category. With about one in three federal workers eligible to retire in the next five years, the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors must work together to help government attract, recruit and retain the vital young talent it needs.

The Partnership is making critical contributions to this effort. Programs like the Call to Serve Innovation Internship program, the Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations and the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative, for example, help federal employers identify, recruit and retain young talent often shut out of a system that has typically prioritized more experienced professionals and can be confusing to navigate.

Breaking down these barriers is critical to government recruiting the next generation of public servants to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.  

 “I think what the Partnership is doing is so important because there is a barrier to be able to get an internship in government,” Gallagher said. “Going directly to college campuses and providing that entryway is great.”

Continue reading for information on how to apply for the Call to Serve Innovation Internship program.

“I think what the Partnership is doing is so important because there is a barrier to be able to get an internship in government. Going directly to college campuses and providing that entryway is great.”

Lyndsey Gallagher