George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason's two Governor's Fellows get a behind-the-scenes education

August 28, 2018   /   by Damian Cristodero

As a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., and as a member of the Peace Corps during a two-year period in Ukraine, Ted Webne said he saw plenty of policy in action.

“But I never had a chance to see that policy being made,” he said.

As a student at George Mason University, Rebecca Dooley said her involvement with the campus chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a bipartisan student think tank, pushed her toward a career in public policy.

“But it’s tough to find entry-level positions in policy,” she said. “Oftentimes, it’s research and sitting behind a desk all day.”

For both—Webne, who is working toward his master’s degree in public administration at Mason, and Dooley, who graduated in May 2018 with a degree in government and international politics—the Governor’s Fellows Program was exactly what they were looking for.

As Governor's Fellows, 2018 graduate Rebecca Dooley and master's student Ted Webne helped Virginia's policy process. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Started in 1982, the competitive program is a chance for graduate students, rising seniors and graduating seniors to work for two summer months in 1 of 15 Virginia state government departments in Richmond.

Participants (there were 22 this year) gain hands-on experience working on specific projects, and the networking is great for career building, said Mark Smith, Mason’s executive director of state government relations.

“Just an incredible program,” Smith said. “They get to see things from the inside. They get to witness confidential activities and programs they are putting together. What they are doing today, they read about in the paper tomorrow.”

For Webne, 33, who worked in the state finance office under Secretary Aubrey Lane, that meant examining the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act for places where reforms taken from other acts might apply.

Dooley, who was in Gov. Ralph Northam’s policy office, spent plenty of time researching programs Northam proposed during his campaign.

“What’s really great about the policy office is I get to see how all the different secretaries are all interconnected,” Dooley said. “I hear the conversations and understand how negotiations are made between departments to implement the governor’s policies.”

The program offers other opportunities, as well. There are brown bag lunches with different state officials who give overviews of their responsibilities, and field trips to places such as the Port of Virginia on the James River.

Bottom line, though, “The main objective of the program is to learn,” Webne said.

And there is no denying the program’s value, he and Dooley said.

“It’s given me a good lens in the different things I could do with policy in terms of a government job, as well as seeing how different organizations outside the government, advisory groups [and so on] influence policy,” Dooley said.

“I’ve done a lot of work on the ground,” Webne said of his time as a teacher and in the Peace Corps. “I think I have an ability to help in the policy process and maybe affect things to a greater degree.”