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Congressional Fellows Program with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Last June, after Aaron Ampaw (MPA 2009) was finished with his interview for the Congressional Fellows Program with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), he was very unsure as to whether he would get the fellowship. He had written several essays and secured recommendations from faculty members to get this far in the process, but he knew it was “extremely competitive” and notes, “I had a very intense and challenging interview, and I originally thought that I was not going to be selected.” He describes Washington, DC as “very tough,” and states, “it can be difficult to get plugged into the policy arena here.” Moreover, Ampaw’s field of interest – Energy and Environment, is particularly tight knit. He explains that “there is a very small network of professionals in my field and it is very difficult to break through.”
But if there is one thing Ampaw learned outside of the classroom at Wagner, it was “networking, networking, networking,” he says. Since he understood how competitive the CBCF’s fellowship was, he “networked with current fellows at the time [he was applying] and current Wagner faculty who were familiar with the fellowship program," he explains. "It was imperative for me to gain some knowledge on how I could present myself and produce the best application possible for admission. I did a lot of homework,” he adds, “and luckily, it paid off.” Ampaw was selected as one of only three fellows out of a pool of over 100 applications.
The Congressional Fellows Program is designed to offer public policy training to young professionals by providing them with an opportunity to work on Capitol Hill. As a fellow, Ampaw has worked for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the House Committee on Science and Technology, and he recently became an agency detail with the Office of Management and Budget in its environment branch. “So far,” says Ampaw, the fellowship “has been an incredible and exciting learning opportunity for me, as well as others.” He has completed preparatory work for budget re-authorizations for the EPA and the Department of Energy and “played a role in drafting potential legislation that would enhance research and development of advanced low carbon energy technologies within the Department of Energy.” He is currently assisting on the President’s Executive Order to develop an inter-agency strategy that will improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as on related Clean Water Act Issues.
“I hope that my exposure in both branches will be an asset for any endeavors that I may undertake in the near future,” says Ampaw. “I feel very fortunate that I was admitted into the program and I am confident that I would not have had the breadth of experience otherwise.” Ampaw believes the program will provide the foundation he needs “to become a leader in my field.”
Determined to make the most of the opportunity the fellowship provides, Ampaw continues to build on his networking skills on a regular basis. “In Washington,” he says, “the unsaid currency is in conversing with people who are in your field. Many people are very willing to give you insight on how to navigate within your career, if they see that you are passionate about it. More chances than none, that passion is the same thing that led these experienced professionals to where they are today. Therefore,” he goes on, “it’s very important to establish a connection and convey to them that you want to learn and excel.”
Ampaw indeed does a lot of learning while on the job and his experience has provided many insights. He claims to love everything about his work, but if he had to pick one thing, “it would probably be the realization of how important my work is and the impact that I can have on a daily basis. I always wanted to do something substantial in my policy discipline, so any opportunity to do so gives me great pleasure,” he says. The job certainly keeps him on his toes, as “no two days are the same here,” he says. “I am constantly learning in my issue area. I wholeheartedly believe that learning never ceases, no matter what stage you are at in your career. I consider myself a perpetual student in that regard.” Ampaw says he draws on knowledge and skills he learned in Prof. Kersh’s Introduction to Policy class, as well as Prof. Shanna Roses’ class on State and Local Budgeting, among other courses. His relationships with faculty did not end upon his graduation. “I’m grateful for the faculty and Administration who have aided in my development,” he says.
Ampaw continues to develop perspectives on the challenges he sees for Congress and the Executive Branch. “I think the re-occurring overarching challenge that I have noticed is finding an optimal balance between rebuilding and strengthening our economy while increasing our nation’s responsibility in energy and environment,” says Ampaw. “This balance is attainable, but it will require policymakers to account for all concerns expressed by stakeholders. The caveat to this is that the relationship between energy, environment, and our economy is almost ubiquitous - which has been evident over the past few months.”
Nevertheless, Ampaw is optimistic. “I am confident that we can become stewards of the environment,” he says, “and I am driven to playing a role that will make us believe that this can happen despite classic perceived obstacles.” Thinking about the future of his career, Ampaw declares, “I yearn to be in a position where I can make crucial decisions that will have an impact on how our nation manages its approach in energy policy.”
“Another goal, for me personally,” Ampaw continues, “is to never settle or feel satisfied. In retrospect, I think I have come a long way but I do not want to say to myself “okay, I’ve done enough” ever in my career. As far as we can tell from the way things look, he is truly just getting started.
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