A Better Sense of Service

Sep 18 2023
By Tom Durso
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Inaugural Public Service Career Day to Show Breadth of Career Options

According to White House documentation, 15 percent of the federal government workforce is eligible to retire today, and 30 percent are eligible in the next five years. Just 7 percent of federal employees are under 30 years old, reports FEDweek.

With these sobering data as a backdrop, the School of Public and International Affairs and the Center for Career Development are hosting Princeton’s first-ever Public Service Career Day. The event will be held Friday, September 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Robertson Hall, and is open to students in all majors and programs. 

SPIA alumni employed in various sectors of public service – including federal, state, and local government, nonprofits, NGOs, and think tanks – will return to campus to share their experiences and offer advice.​

“We need a younger, more robust public sector workforce to move into government,” said Elizabeth Choe, director of the undergraduate program and undergraduate career services. “We want to show our students that there is a myriad of paths in public service, and that each person's path into public service looks different.”

Public Service Career Day developed out of conversations between Choe and Paul Lipton, senior associate dean for academic administration, regarding not only how to educate Princeton undergraduates about careers in public service, but also how to kindle a passion in them for such careers. Why not, they realized, tap into the Princetonians currently doing the work?

We know we have a wealth of alumni in the public sector,” Choe said, “so we wanted to tap into this deep and rich resource.”

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer ’96, of Washington State, will deliver keynote remarks. Panelists include alumni working in the departments of State, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Senate; New York City’s Department of Transportation; the American Civil Liberties Union; the Brookings Institution; and the Brennan Center for Justice, among others.

Class years represented range from the mid-1980s to the early 2020s. It was SPIA’s Student Advisory Committee that recommended the program include the perspectives of more recent alumni, as many students are curious about how to get started in public service.

“It's great that we have alumni who are in senior positions within the different sectors of public service, but the way in which these individuals crafted their careers looks very different from how one might break into public service today,” Choe said. 

There are ample resources at Princeton for those who want to enter public service, and the program will include breakout sessions to make students aware of them. Participants include the Center for Career Development, the Office of International Programs, the John H. Pace Jr. ’39 Center for Civic Engagement, and more.

Choe pointed out that because public servants are needed for a wide variety of reasons, they come from a wide variety of disciplines, including languages, the sciences, communications, economics, history, religion, and more.

“There’s a place for everyone in public service,” she said.

Reflecting SPIA’s strong interest in fostering a desire to serve, Choe and two colleagues – Joanna Kovac, academic coordinator of the undergraduate program, and Zacharia Ahmed, undergraduate academic advisor – completed the Partnership for Public Service’s Federal Advisor Certificate program over the summer.

“Regardless of your major,” Choe said, “you can make an impact.”

Career Day