By Malini Valliath
At Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the arrival of spring doesn’t just mean longer, warmer days for its class of graduating seniors—it means sharp suits, new shoes, grad school acceptance letters, investment bank interviews and sparkling sign-on bonuses. But while many students are preparing for medical school or for their new positions at top finance companies, there’s another, smaller group of students headed for a different sort of life: a career in public service.
This past March, employees from local service corps and non-profit organizations visited the Homewood Campus as panelists for the Center for Social Concern’s (CSC) first Public Speaker Series event. Their goal? To woo upperclassmen into pursuing careers in public service.
The Center for Social Concern, within the department of Academic Services, strives to create a better community in and around JHU through community service and civic engagement. The goal of its Public Speakers Series is to educate students on the value of public service.
Abby Neyenhouse, assistant director at the CSC, stressed the importance of exposing students to leaders within the local public service industry.
“I’m really excited because I think one thing that we’re missing [on campus] is [a] strong Baltimore connection,” she told me. “There are so many innovative leaders and thinkers in Baltimore City.”
She explained that her goal was to bridge that gap by having these leaders come onto campus and have students learn from them.
More than a dozen students turned out to the CSC’s first panel to hear speakers from local agencies such as Baltimore Corps, Baltimore Education Fellows, Greater Homewood Community Corporation, Americorps, and Impact. Each panelist brought something different to the table, representing programs that work on connecting students to public service projects, education reform, neighborhood and community building, public health issues, and global advocacy projects. While each of these organizations focuses on different aspects of public service, they share a similar purpose: to create stronger and better communities.
While many students are preparing for medical school or for their new positions at top finance companies, there’s another, smaller group of students headed for a different sort of life: a career in public service.
“Programs like this are important,” panelist and Impact Campaign Organizer Matthew Wellington said. “Who’s representing regular people’s interests? We work on issues to represent the public.”
But seeing and responding to Baltimore’s needs is not the only reason these panelists were drawn to careers in public service. According to Malachy Duffy, a Baltimore Education Fellows Scholarship recipient, it’s something more personal.
“I think we’re all up here because we all want to make a change and do things we’re passionate about,” he said.
Wellington explained he became involved with public service out of a desire to protect America’s natural landscapes. He described growing up around abandoned farms and woodlands – and when these beautiful, natural spaces started to be consumed by developments, Wellington couldn’t stand idly by: he joined Impact to work on and eventually lead environmental protection campaigns.
“When I think of public service, mostly I look at it [through] a lens of people getting involved politically with issues that involve them directly,” he said.
Tyson Garith, Director of Partnerships and Business Services at the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, said he was drawn to a career in public service for more humorous reasons.
“I always feel awkward at these things because my story is so different from everyone else’s,” he said. “I got into service because of Fergie’s 2006 album, [The Dutchess].”
Garith explained how he was frustrated with the singer’s use of the adjective “Fergalicious,” in the song by the same name, and that the general prevalence and acceptance of such narcissism made him want to do something different: to focus on others.
The panelists stressed that what their organizations really need is not attention, funding or resources, but people.
“We want to make sure these organizations are getting the best talents, the best individuals,” said Liz Gomez, of Baltimore Corps.
Baltimore Corps co-founder and CEO Fagan Harris explained that their problem was that many of Baltimore’s college students leave after graduation.
“Who do you hire when 75 percent of your college graduates leave after they graduate? It makes it very hard,” he said, which is why his organization is actively trying to recruit JHU students.
“You’re badly needed,” Harris said. “You’ve got the brains, you’ve got the passion, you’ve got the talent.”
The panelists echoed one another on how public service is a unique opportunity for students to serve Baltimore in a tangible and in-depth way.
“[Public service] gives Hopkins graduates the opportunity to share the wealth of their knowledge with the rest of the world,” Duffy explained.
The panelists described how working for public service organizations has not only helped them to learn about their community and use their skills for its greater good, but it has also allowed them to quickly rise to positions of leadership. Harris explained that because there are a limited number of public service workers, there are many opportunities to be placed into positions of leadership and responsibility.
Wellington explained that participating in such projects could give you training and experience to prep you for whatever else you want to do. It is evident that whether future JHU graduates serve a lifetime or just for a year in the public service industry, they will not only improve Baltimore, but also emerge better leaders.
So to the public health majors and pre-med students who want to serve their community instead of an institution, or to the mechanical engineering students who want to put their critical thinking skills to use outside of the lab, or to the Economics majors who want to stay away from the shine of Wall Street – print out another copy of your resume.
“Baltimore Corps,” Gomez said, “is now recruiting its newest class of movers and shakers.”