Learning on the front lines of Virginia government

Virginia Tech
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Daniel Rico awakens early each weekday morning to drive to a parking garage two blocks away from the state capitol building in Richmond.

Rico, who recently graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science and criminology from Virginia Tech, walks to his office, scans his keycard for entry, and proceeds through a security check before heading up to his workspace. Later, he will sit down for lunch with colleagues.

In Rico’s case, those at the table might include cabinet members from the Virginia Department of Veterans and Defense Affairs.

Rico is taking part in the 2021 Governor’s Fellows Program, along with two others from Virginia Tech. Jordan Frijas is a graduate student in the master of public administration program offered through the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Alli Pillion is a 2021 graduate who majored in national security and foreign affairs with minors in Japanese studiesglobal engagement, and philosophy, politics, and economics, all in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Each year, the Governor’s Fellows Program provides a select group of rising and graduating college seniors and graduate students the opportunity to experience firsthand the administration of the Virginia government for two months. The application process is very competitive, and the program only accepts those enrolled in Virginia higher education institutions or who are residents of the commonwealth. Students must excel in academics, demonstrate leadership skills, and participate in extracurricular activities and community service.

“I applied to the Governor’s Fellows Program because I wanted to better understand how state government operates and implements policy,” said Frijas, whose placement is with the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade. “I want to be the best public servant I can be, and a thorough understanding of how state government works will help me achieve that goal.”

Pillion landed her first choice — the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

“Virginia Tech provided me with a multitude of opportunities that allow me to flourish in this program,” Pillion said. “I was able to take classes addressing the various issues I now deal with daily. I’m incredibly interested in cybersecurity and internet policy, and classes such as Dark Web Analytics, taught by Eric Jardine, allowed me to explore that interest.”

Pillion also studied abroad in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, through the European Affairs in a Global Context Program, led by faculty members Scott Nelson and Yannis Stivachtis, and conducted research on global internet policy with the U.S. Department of State through the Diplomacy Lab. In addition, she said, her minor in philosophy, politics, and economics prepared her to analyze the philosophical, political, and economic intersection of the issues, an advantageous skill for conducting research or writing briefings and policy memos for her office.

“We are very proud of our students and their work in the Governor’s Fellows Program,” said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the School of Public and International Affairs. “We know they are representing the university with dignity, purpose, and excellence, and this experience will make them extraordinary leaders and role models for future public servants.”

All three fellows believe the skills they receive as fellows will help position them in the future.

“This fellowship will help me achieve my career goals,” Rico said. “I am pleased that my experience as a fellow has shown me the best sides of working in state-level government, and it has affirmed for me I chose the right major and career path. I genuinely enjoy the administrative and policy work we do as fellows. The networking opportunities are incredible, and I believe that this experience will make all us fellows very competitive in the job market.”

When asked about his most memorable experience as a fellow, he said it was collecting data about tuition increases in the mid-Atlantic from the past 13 years. His office will use this information during a joint-task-force meeting to address the tuition assistance program for the Virginia National Guard.

Frijas considers the overall experience to be memorable, from getting to know the people who work in the governor’s office to meeting with other fellows, working on assignments, and attending events. Typically, fellows have lunch together, visit each other’s offices, take field trips, learn from special guest speakers in the administration, and visit other agencies under their cabinet secretaries.

Each student experience is unique. For instance, Pillion met rapper Meek Mill during the signing of a probation reform bill.

“The bill will limit probation terms to a maximum of one year for misdemeanors and five years for felonies,” Frijas said, “in addition to limiting how much prison time a court can order for a probation violation. Both Meek Mill and Governor Northam have worked endlessly on probation reform to fix our prison systems. Meeting a famous rapper was obviously an incredible opportunity, but that moment made me realize the reality of the work being done by the administration.”

Rico, Frijas, and Pillion are among 25 recipients selected for the program. They draft policy memos and reports; assist with research, communications, and correspondence; and attend events such as bill-signings, ribbon-cuttings ceremonies, and meetings with policymakers.

“The first-class liberal arts education our department provides to students readies them to be selected for the Governor’s Fellows Program,” said Timothy Luke, University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “This program presents students with a wide range of opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. Not only do they excel, but their individual efforts also have a positive effect on many areas across the commonwealth.”

Story by Leslie King


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