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Gardner public service fellowships entering second decade

STANFORD -- This year, three graduating seniors selected as John Gardner Public Service Fellows will see the program out of its first decade. Established in 1984, the program has now dipped 60 young people into the public service pool to test the waters.

The fellowship program annually selects three Stanford and three Berkeley seniors to spend 11 months working in the public sector under a mentor. Students are matched to an institution compatible with their background.

Professor John Gardner, for whom the fellowships are named, said he feels "honored" by the success of the program.

"The fellows - both at Berkeley and at Stanford - are extraordinarily well selected," he said. "I'm impressed by their human qualities."

Gardner is obviously committed to the program's future - recently, he put off a scheduled trip to the White House so that he could attend a fund-raising luncheon in Berkeley for the fellowships.

Next year's fellows will be announced within the month.

Stanford's most recent recipients of the Gardner Fellowships (for 1993-94) are Dominique Blom, Tracy Clay and Steven McCarroll. Blom and McCarroll are currently finishing up their fellowships in Washington, D.C., and Clay is in nearby Baltimore.

Fellowship 'opens doors' for activist

Blom, 23, majored in anthropology and Latin American studies. She is working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. She described it as "the civil rights division of HUD."

Blom is involved with a technical assistance initiative to get low-income residents of HUD-assisted neighborhoods working on HUD projects. Helping minority and/or low-income individuals living in HUD- assisted neighborhoods with job training, employment and other economic opportunities is legally required as part of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968.

"The law has not been enforced vigorously since 1968," Blom said. "I'm trying to help direct jobs, training and economic opportunities to low-income neighborhoods."

Her mentors are Maxine Cunningham, director of the Office of Economic Opportunities, and Roberta Achtenberg, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, and former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Blom said she has gained a great deal from working with Achtenberg and Cunningham, and from the fellowship in general.

"The Gardner Fellowship is one of the best opportunities I've had through Stanford - it opens up a lot of doors," she said. "Since we are here for a year, there's enough time to become attached to projects and people.

"The fellowship makes sure that fellows work with important and influential people, and I have a lot more responsibility now," Blom said. "A year ago, I saw myself as an academic; now I'm helping people directly. Instead of thinking about ideas in a Ph.D. program, I'm seeing ideas implemented. This has changed my priorities - about what I can do, what I want to do."

Putting public policy into practice

Clay, 22, majored in public policy and served as director of Students Offering Alternative Realities (SOAR), an after-school program for East Palo Alto youth, while an undergraduate. She is now working at Baltimore's Community Building in Partnership Inc., as assistant to the director, Barbara Bostic-Hunt.

Community Building in Partnership aims at a grassroots, multi-layer transformation of neighborhoods.

"We attack all the problems in a neighborhood," Clay said. "We do everything. The issues include employment, health, youth education and housing. My role is connecting all of these things."

Clay aggressively pursued the Gardner Fellowship.

"I was offered an Echoing Green fellowship, to run SOAR as an entrepreneurial non-profit; but the Gardner fellowship was very important to me," she said.

"It has been a phenomenal experience, and not necessarily a fun one," Clay said of her nearly ended fellowship. "It was challenging and even sometimes painful. But I highly recommend it. You are an 11-month 'gift' to these organizations, and you can really get involved with issues."

Clay has been offered a job with Community Building in Partnership, supervising a staff of 17 other people, but has not made up her mind whether to take the job or go to graduate school.

"The best thing I've discovered here is that there are people making real changes in the way homelessness, health issues, even welfare reform is perceived and is treated," Clay said. "These people are not in the public sector, and not private sector, but somewhere in between - and that's where I want to be."

'Fighting the good fight'

McCarroll, 23, was an economics major who studied extensively in the fields of public policy, mathematics and American history. That combination of interests led him to the Clinton White House, working in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

That office, McCarroll said, is currently developing an overall environmental strategy for the administration. McCarroll also is working to organize and devise a strategy for a research and development program.

"We're working on strategic principles, across the board," he said, "especially the role of social science research in government.

"One great thing about the Gardner Fellowship is that it helps you fight the good fight," McCarroll said. "Public institutions are not always as good as they should be at recognizing the ability of people just out of college. This program is good at placing people in positions where they are working for a cause they believe in and are doing interesting and challenging work."

McCarroll said he plans to remain involved with public service as well as scholarship and teaching. He also is keenly interested in environmental issues, "especially scientific environmental issues."

One of first fellows looks back

What can the current fellows expect when they reflect on their experiences in the year 2004?

Jerry Cacciotti, a Gardner Fellow in 1984-85, is now one of the Friends of the Gardner Fellows, a committee raising money for the program. He described his experience as a fellow as "challenging and formative."

Cacciotti worked with Rep. Lee Hamilton during his fellowship, then continued on Hamilton's staff for two years, as press secretary, at the time when the congressman was heading the committee investigating the Iran-Contra arms affair.

"The program is a wonderful opportunity for young people early in their public service career to work with a seasoned senior public affairs person," he said. "The fellow receives the benefit of the mentor's accumulated wisdom, 20 to 30 years' experience, and [the mentor] is a role model - either positive or negative - for the fellow. This mentoring relationship is unique."

Another first-year recipient was Peter Sidebottom. A public policy major, he worked for Henry Cisneros, then mayor of San Antonio.

Until recently, he worked for Stanford's Office of Public Affairs; currently he is at McKinsey and Co., a San Francisco international management and consulting firm, and working in India.

"Community service [has] taught me that I have as much to learn and be given as I have to give and teach," Sidebottom wrote.

The program provides a $15,000 stipend for the graduate and places him or her with a mentor in an appropriate field. The institution where the young scholar works receives this assistance for 11 months gratis.

Another development of the program has been an informal support and resource system among the current fellows, which was strengthened this past year.

"Since five out of the six fellows are in D.C.," Blom said, "we have a good support system; we have dinner and talk a lot."

Jeannie Hallack, program administrator since the fellowships' inception, agreed that while every year the program provides various seminars and meetings with White House Fellows, "this year, the group meshed together particularly well. They meet as a group, and with former fellows as well."

Gardner is the Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professor of Public Service. The fellowship program "honors the remarkable contributions of [a] distinguished public servant and social innovator."

Gardner is a former secretary of health, education and welfare, and founder of Common Cause. The author of seven books, Gardner has recently published On Leadership, in 1990. He was the 1964 recipient of the Medal of Freedom.


This story was written by Iolande Bloxsom, a writing intern with the Stanford News Service.


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