Master of Public Administration

Alum lands job at Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

icon of a calendarNovember 15, 2019

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Alum lands job at State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Benjamin Olsen
Recent MPA grad Benjamin Olsen works as a program coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Upon graduating from Oakland University’s Master of Public Administration program last April, Benjamin Olsen’s career in public service was already taking shape. He recently started a job as program coordinator at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in Washington, D.C.  

Part of the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau’s mission is to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. In the following interview, Olsen describes the path to his current role, and how his OU experiences helped him along the way. 

How did you land the job?

While I was working on my Oakland MPA, I applied to the State Department's Pathways internship program. The program is designed to offer college students the opportunity to gain practical experience within the federal government and possibly land a job after graduation. I was accepted to the program and, after waiting a considerable period of time to receive a security clearance, was able to begin as a federal intern. This was in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, whose focus is assisting American citizens. As my internship was drawing to a close, I interviewed for my current position and was fortunate enough to be selected.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I always appreciate the chance to welcome official visitors to the United States in general and the State Department in particular. These visitors are often leaders in their respective fields, including government, religion, education and business. They bring unique perspectives and approaches to some of the world's most pressing issues. One of the Bureau’s goals is to give them an unvarnished glimpse into the challenges and successes of this country. Interaction between Americans and visitors affords both groups a chance to better understand each other and has the potential to foster greater cooperation in the future.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

Before participating in the Pathways program, I had been a Communications Intern for Global Ties Detroit. That organization hosts international visitors from across the globe in the metro-Detroit area, connecting them with local leaders and experts through short-term professional exchange programs. These programs are administered by the U.S Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Because of my work with Global Ties Detroit, I knew first-hand the value of these programs and the impact they have on both Americans and visitors. I wanted to continue to be a part of that work, and joining the Bureau gave me an ideal opportunity to do so.

How did your OU experience help you achieve your goals? 

My time at Oakland contributed immensely to where I am today, from internships to advice, training to network-building. My first public sector internship was offered to me by one of my Oakland professors. My first paid government position was found through the Political Science Department. I even learned of the internship opportunity at Global Ties Detroit through OU. Additionally, throughout the entire Pathways experience, I received tremendous support from the MPA program. Faculty and staff members from multiple departments have been extremely influential to me over the course of my education. I was also able to participate in the Political Science Department's formal mentoring program in which I had the opportunity to meet regularly with one of the community's senior local government figures.

What advice would you give to students interested in this type of career? 

I strongly encourage any student who may be interested in a career with the federal government to apply to the Pathways program. You don't even necessarily need to move to D.C.; many opportunities are available throughout the country. Also, find ways to get involved. One of the many highlights of my time as an OU student was the chance to be a part of student organizations and events. I was elected to the Oakland University Student Congress and served on the Judiciary Committee with former Student Body President Ryan Fox. I also served as Treasurer of PRAd, the Public Relations and Advertising Club at Oakland University. Additionally, I had the privilege of being inducted into the Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science) and Pi Alpha Alpha (Public Administration) honor societies while at OU. Lastly, take every chance you can to expand your network, talk to people whose work you find interesting, ask questions of leaders in your field and don’t doubt your ability to achieve goals through careful planning and perseverance.

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