Donor-funded fellowship lets students serve Michigan’s senior representatives

December 21, 2017

Sam Geller (MPP '17) Sam Geller

For Sam Geller (MPP '17), the Riecker Michigan Delegation Fellowship offered an opportunity to see the full scope of Congressional responsibility.

Geller spent the first six months of this year in the Washington, DC office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters, Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management. Geller’s role: Assisting with inquiries into federal spending, ethical compliance, FEMA appropriations, federal flood insurance programs, and more.

"Congress has a much larger role than just passing appropriations and legislation," Geller says, looking back on the experience. "It’s also in charge of ensuring that government operations and processes are moral, ethical, and efficient."

For Myra Lee (MPP '16), who was the first to hold the title of Riecker Michigan Delegation Fellow, the fellowship demonstrated how legislators balance federal, state, and local interests.

In the office of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Lee helped with a range of projects, including supporting state of emergency efforts in the City of Flint.

Myra Lee (MPP '16) Myra Lee

As a native Detroiter with extensive experience in urban agriculture, nutrition, and community development issues, Lee focused on healthy food access and nutrition interventions to mitigate the harmful health impacts of lead.

The Riecker Michigan Delegation Fellowship, established with a generous planned gift from Margaret Ann (Ranny) Riecker (HLLD '05) and her husband, John Riecker (AB '52, JD '54), makes it possible for Ford School students to provide useful support to Michigan’s DC delegates while acquiring professional skills that will advance their own careers and interests.

In the fall of 2015, the Harry A. And Margaret D. Towsley Foundation of Midland, MI made a generous multi-year pledge that will allow the Ford School to expand the impact of this fellowship in the years ahead.

Myra Lee, who graduated from the Ford School this spring and is now working as district business outreach coordinator in the Southfield and Detroit offices of U.S. Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence, says the Riecker fellowship experience informs her work daily.

"I can talk policy all day, but how do I frame my briefing so, when [the congresswoman is] speaking to her constituency, they know what she’s advocating for and how she’s fighting for them?" Lee says the fellowship, which let her observe how staffers briefed the senator on the challenges and controversies in their issue areas, taught her to do that.

One of Sam Geller's main tasks was assisting with research related to the National Flood Insurance Program, which was up for reauthorization in September.

"Michigan has one of the largest per-capita flood insurance policy rates and the largest freshwater coastline in the country, so there are a lot of people who need to take advantage of this program at home," he says.

For both fellows, the experience was a value add—both personally and professionally. Not only was it "a unique time to be working in government," says Geller. "It was a great opportunity to join the work of governing at a time when people with an understanding of policy are needed most."

Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Fall 2017 State & Hill.