Dec. 08 2015

Record Number of Mailman Semi-Finalists Selected for Presidential Fellowship

Seven Mailman students have been chosen as semi-finalists for the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship.

When the semi-finalists for the 2016 class of Presidential Management Fellows were announced on November 18, the list included seven students from the Mailman School—the largest number in years for Mailman and more than any other graduate school within Columbia University. 

Created more than three decades ago by Executive Order, the Presidential Management Fellowship program, or PMF, selects from the best graduate students nationally with the goal of developing a cadre of government leaders. Fellows are given a challenging work assignment with a full salary and benefits while getting mentoring and training in leadership, management, and policy. Most who complete the program are offered permanent positions in government.

“The PMF is one of the most prestigious fellowship programs in the country, and provides a fast-track career path into federal government,” says Heather Krasna, assistant dean and director of Career Services. “I am thrilled to see how successful our students have been in getting through the extremely competitive first round of this process.”

Of the approximately 6,000 applicants from 300 colleges and universities, only 808 were selected as semi-finalists this year. Finalists will be announced in March.

Among a total of 24 Columbia University students selected, Mailman’s seven PMF semi-finalists include Kinan Lagast, Tehmina Mall, Katherine Sapra, and Marissa Swanson in Epidemiology; Victoria Tan in Health Policy and Management; Kathryn Martin in Population and Family Health; and Semret Seyoum in Sociomedical Sciences.

PMF semifinalist Kinan Lagast worked for Teach for America for two years before joining the Mailman School as an MPH student in Epidemiology. As a high school science teacher in a low-income neighborhood in Atlanta, Lagast saw firsthand the consequences of health disparities: students who got sick but couldn't go to a doctor because they didn't have insurance or the copay was too much, as well as those who struggled in class because they didn’t have prescription eyeglasses or asthma medication they needed.

“I knew I needed to work on the health disparities I saw in my students,” said Lagast. The skills he is learning at the Mailman School will help him accomplish this goal. Meanwhile, his ambitions have already caught the attention of PMF administrators.

For PMF semifinalist Semret Seyoum, attending last year’s Office of Career Services Spring Week in Washington D.C. bolstered her interest in working in government. Hearing directly from those who work in federal positions—many of whom are Mailman School graduates—and learning more about the PMF program motivated her to apply for the fellowship this fall.

This past summer, Seyoum, a MPH student in Sociomedical Sciences, did her practicum in France, where she put her knowledge of population health into practice, working on the influence of education on stroke and disability. Going forward, her plan is to parlay the project into her master’s thesis and potentially to a job in government. Says Seyoum, “I'm fascinated by the population trends I see, and the process of making the connection between collecting empirical data and then translating those findings into policy to improve health systems.”