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JMU is a catalyst for a career in public service

By Katie Francis ('08)

Katie Francis ('08)

This issue’ guest alumna columnist Katie Francis ('08) works in the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission for Virginia. The double major in psychology and public policy and administration says that JMU helped her find her passion for public service. She also sitll defends her love of sporks.

“If you could be a kitchen utensil, what would you be?” I laughed at JMU alumnus Chris Bast (’04) and thought, this is the best interview question I’ve ever been asked. “A spork,” I blurted without thinking, which I instantly regretted. As I sat there questioning my potentially unhealthy obsession with sporks, Chris’ enthusiastic “Yeah” was followed by a high-five. At that moment, I knew that the governor’s office of Virginia would be a great place to work. What I didn’t know was that this job would place me on a path to success in public service — and it was all possible because of JMU.

My Madison Experience helped me realize my passion for combining the research and analysis side of psychology with the policy and program evaluation side of public administration. In my senior year, I attended a JMU public administration career workshop, where I met JMU alumna Trish Bishop ('92). She told me about her work at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, and I instantly wanted to work there. Unfortunately, I was not qualified, but I didn’t want to give up on a state-level job. Political Science Professor Dr. David Jones connected me with Chris Bast, who then hired me to work in constituent services for the Governor of Virginia.

I loved learning about key Virginia government issues. I realized, though, that I wanted to focus more on research and analysis. Consequently, I quit that job to research psychological rehabilitation issues at Virginia Commonwealth University. Although the work was interesting, I wanted to incorporate public policy and program analysis into my research. I wondered how I could strike a balance. Then it hit me — my passions could be synergized in analyzing government social policies and programs.

I knew I needed more training to move my career forward. I pursued a master’s in public policy administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. There, I built upon the core analysis and evaluation skills I obtained at JMU and applied them to myriad federal, state, and local policies and programs.

Upon graduating from Maxwell, I worked as a consultant at the Washington, D.C., Public Schools Office of Special Education, focusing on change management and strategic planning. It was a great experience, but I knew I needed to get back into more analyst-driven work. My mind kept coming back to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, so I decided to apply for a position. At JLARC, I’m finally aligning my two passions through Virginia policy and program analysis. It is exciting, meaningful work that has solidified my desire to pursue a lifelong career in public service.

A career is hollow without passion; passion is aimless without drive, and drive can be reckless without humility. My career potential without education, guidance and direction had limited traction. JMU’s education and the alumni network aided me in fulfilling my potential by helping me realize my passions. This realization gave me the traction necessary to obtain a graduate degree in public administration and pursue a career in public service. JMU made all the difference.