Meet the nonprofit easing the transition from campus to capital for civic-minded graduates

Govern for America has a network of over 60 recruiting partners in government and higher education for its first class of fellows.

State governments are notoriously complex and bureaucratic structures , but many believe the universities charged with training the politicians and policymakers of tomorrow aren’t doing a good job of leading college graduates to state legislatures and agencies.

That disconnect — between university campuses and state capitals — is where Govern for America, a new national civic nonprofit, comes in.

The group, founded nine months ago by 26-year-old Octavia Abell and 27-year-old Kyleigh Russ, is targeting college students interested in building a career in public service — specifically state government — but who are unsure of where to start.

The program does not have a direct focus on technology, but Abell previously worked in digital government for the state of Rhode Island. Govern for America’s top adviser is Richard Culatta, who also serves as CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).


Abell and Russ say they’ve partnered with more than 60 different networks across the country, including universities and state government agencies, to usher in the first cohort of Govern for America fellows, who will receive a jumpstart into state government and, hopefully, clear a path for better integration of college graduates into government roles.

Russ, who studied education policy at Harvard, said she anticipated a more streamlined route into public policy than reality presented.

“I was really surprised to learn that it’s hard for people to get into policy roles,” Russ said. “This isn’t just a Harvard thing — now that I’ve been talking to tons of career service offices around the country, it’s really hard for them to navigate the political and state and local government scenes.”

Russ realized that if it’s difficult to get connected at Harvard, it’s even more difficult for schools without a vast and well-funded network of alumni. That’s why she and Abell aren’t just recruiting the biggest universities into the fellowship program — they’re also recruiting lesser-known schools across all the states in which Govern for America currently has a presence.

The co-founders said the feedback from states has surrounded the retention question, which is how to keep college graduates from leaving for the private sector or other states’ agencies. In order to combat the brain drain, Abell and Russ insist that states “deeply embed” fellows under existing job titles in state government and offer mentorship services for their fellows from diverse state government officials.


For more details about Govern for America, read StateScoop’s story by Colin Wood.

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