Recent BA graduate joins a growing cohort of Ford School Presidential Fellows

June 18, 2013

Madelynne Wager (BA '13) spent her senior year at the Ford School participating in a program that—of the many thousands of undergraduates in the United States—only 71 other undergrads took part in this year.

She was named a Presidential Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress (CSPC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to create innovative solutions to current policy challenges and promote leadership in American government. Up to 75 students nationwide are invited to take part in the prestigious Presidential Fellows Program, a unique leadership seminar that meets in Washington, DC, for three-day conferences each fall and spring.

At the conferences, Program Fellows have the opportunity to discuss the most pressing national issues with prominent figures in American politics, business, academia, and media. Recent program speakers have included Tom Ridge, former congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Vint Cerf, widely recognized as a co-inventor of the Internet. At the 2013 spring conference, Madelynne had a lively and thought-provoking exchange with featured speaker, journalist Jane Hall.

"She came in to have a conversation with the fellows in order to understand what we had taken away from our experience with CSPC," explains Madelynne. "We were eager to share our thoughts on issues facing young people and the nation."

Support for outstanding research and scholarship is a key component of the program. Each Program Fellow spends the year working on an original research paper exploring some aspect of the Presidency or Congress. Madelynne examined U.S. presidential engagement in Africa since World War II, but found that interacting with—and learning from—so many other exceptional, policy-interested students made it hard for her to whittle down her research topic.

Presidential Fellows Program alum Elle Beard (BA '09) had a similar experience. "I wanted to explore so many aspects of policy and leadership," she explains, "that I had a hard time picking just one topic." Elle, who currently runs her own consulting firm and previously worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of International and Tribal Affairs, eventually figured out her research direction. Working with both a mentor in D.C. and a sponsor at the Ford School—criteria for all Fellows—she says, "I was able to narrow down my focus to examine the success and failure of pushing for long-term budgeting in foreign assistance programming."

Both Madelynne and Elle cite as the greatest benefit the enduring relationships they have been able to form with rising young leaders from universities nationwide. For the most recent class of Fellows, 64 "participating" universities have nominated CSPC Presidential Fellows, and, in addition to Madelynne and Elle, three other students have represented the Ford School as Presidential Fellows since 2009: David Leapheart (BA '10), Brian Wanglin (BA '11), and Mary Grace Pellegrini (BA '12).

"We appreciate the opportunity for our students to participate in the Fellows program," says Beth Soboleski, interim director of Student and Academic Services at the Ford School. "Meeting with policy leaders and interacting with exceptional students from across the country enriches their educational experience. But It also shows just how incredibly talented our Ford School BA students are."

"The students selected from universities around the nation were an incredible and invigorating group to be around," says Madelynne.

At the Ford School, Madelynne focused on economic globalization and development. "I'm interested in understanding the international political economy and its consequences for human development," she says. She will continue research on African development issues with the Brenthurst Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, as the Machel-Mandela intern.

[See video below for a glimpse of Madelynne's exchange with Jane Hall at the 2013 Presidential Spring Fellows spring conference.]