Friday, October 2, 2009

Insider's Perspective - Acclimating to life as a Presidential Management Fellow in DC

When I joined the Peace Corps as a Masters International student from the Evans School of Public Affairs, I fully intended on it being a stepping stone into a traditional international development career: USAID, International Rescue Committee, or Gates Foundation. But plans change in the Peace Corps. Sometime during my two years assisting a small village with ecotourism development while confronting the environmental challenges of balancing subsistence with preservation, I discovered that my passion was not in some abstract form of "helping people," but was instead in working on this specific issue of sustainable development. I also learned that this form of "development" did not necessarily mean traveling around the world. Instead, I felt that I could use my experience working with a community that walks this fine line between providing a better life for their families now and ensuring the same same for their grandchildren in order to make real change where it counts.

So upon returning to the US, I began the process of entering into US Federal Service through the Presidential Management Fellowship. Working for the US Government may not have quite the same sexiness to it as the Gates Foundation, but I firmly believed that the actions taken by the US in terms of domestic environmental policy have a major and real impact on the ability of communities around the world to thrive.

Accepting my current positions as a Policy Analyst at the Department of the Interior did not come without serious consideration. After two hot, muggy years in Central America, I swore that the only way I would ever leave the Pacific Northwest would be kicking and screaming, with a hot cup of Cafe Vida in one hand and a cool pint of Big Time IPA in the other. But life here is good. Though it is no Mt. Rainier, the view of the Washington Monument is pretty awe-inspiring, and while I have yet to find a good coffee shop to sit and relax, the parks and open spaces have exceeded my expectations. And most of all, I am fulfilled by the work that I am doing, helping to inform decisions at the highest level of Interior, protecting our nation's public lands and resources in the best way that I can.

Shella Biallas
Presidential Management Fellow
Office of Policy Analysis
Department of the Interior