RECAP: Federal careers alumni panel

October 6, 2022

GSPIA is always grateful when alumni return to campus and offer their advice to current students. Recently, three alums took part in a virtual panel to talk to current students about their federal careers. Maria Soledad Calvino (MPIA ’14), Kiersten Edwards (MPPM ’16), and Jacob Garcia (MPA ’19) provided insights on their current positions, shared their thoughts on GSPIA’s role in getting them to where they are today, and voiced advice to current students looking to work in the federal sector. 

Maria Soledad Calvino - Public Affairs Specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) 

FSIS is the food safety regulatory agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible for ensuring that domestic and imported meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and properly labeled and packaged. 

On a day-to-day basis, Calvino mostly works on communication plans for future Agency announcements. “We also get a lot of media inquiries from reporters all over the country and even overseas. I work with the different offices at FSIS to make sure we are providing timely and accurate information to reporters and the public. It is very fast-paced, and no two days are the same,” said Calvino. “I love that I work with extremely talented people and that I learn something new every day!” 

Calvino believes that GSPIA has prepared her in a multitude of ways for her career in public service. Something that she loved to do when she was a student at GSPIA was attending panels, like this one, to hear from alumni and people working at federal agencies.  

Something that she believes helped her get her foot in the door was learning how to curate a federal resume for the private sector instead of a regular resume. She also stated, “In addition, all the critical thinking and writing skills that I gained during my time at GSPIA have been invaluable, as well as the debate skills I acquired during conversations in classes.” 

Calvino interned at the Organization of American States (OAS), her first time living and working in D.C. Being able to network with people across that organization and connect with other young professionals at various federal agencies helped solidify her passion for public service. 

Jacob Garcia - Program Analyst in Congressional Affairs with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 

Garcia works in NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research (OAR), where he speaks science into policy and policy into science by assisting senior scientists and executives translate climate, ocean, and weather science for Congressional audiences and policymakers.  

His day-to-day is never the same; one day he could be responding to legislation, and on another, he could be booked with Congressional briefings. Throughout his work, he gets to create and maintain personal relationships across the government.  

Garcia achieved his current role by applying to NOAA’s Honor Program as a Budget Analyst, which is something he had no background in--a challenge that helped him sharpen his skills. “Unlocking the potential of yourself starts with the day-to-day behaviors of navigating a complex world. Spurring a formless and flowing creative vision on what a career can mean that every experience, whether negative or positive, informs a greater vision of yourself and what you can do with your life,” said Garcia. 

Garcia is passionate about helping the public. When he was sworn in to protect the Constitution, he realized he was starting to work for a bigger purpose. “It is the NOAA civil servants who fulfill their mission every day for the American taxpayer that makes the job special.” 

GSPIA helped Garcia learn about the importance of group dynamics and conflict management. He also stated, “I cannot mention GSPIA without giving kudos to Dr. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran, Dr. Jeremy Weber, and Elaine Linn of Global Studies who all gave me the confidence to think differently and critically approach complex problems with passion.” 

Kiersten Edwards - Decision Review Officer with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 

Edwards’s office is a part of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). She has worked for the Quality Review Team for 10 years, and her job involves ensuring the VBA’s decisions meet the Code of Federal Regulations. 

Edwards’s typical workday is that there is no typical workday. But one of her favorite parts of her job is mentoring others through rapid changes produced by new legislation, court decisions, and policy. 

According to Edwards, GSPIA helped her improve her ability to research online, work well within small groups, present material orally, and handle conflict as a professional. Acquiring these skills led her to her current job , where she has five colleagues who she works with on a regular basis. Compared to the rest of her colleagues within the VA, Edwards has quite a different background. While she was an Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Panama, many of her colleagues are veterans who served in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

“My workspace has been enriched by their dedication to unit, loyalty to the mission, respect for chain of command, and ability to adapt in rapidly changing environments,” said Edwards. "They inspire me every day to power through obstacles to reach the target.”