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SPIA: Launching Virginia's next leaders

Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech partner to train the next generation of public service leaders

State leaders welcome the first class of Virginia Management Fellows at the capital. Seated (left-to-right): Deputy Secretary of Finance June Jennings, (Ret.) Secretary of Finance Ric Brown, former Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Leisha LaRiviere, Director of the VMF and Associate Director of SPIA – Richmond Campus. Standing: The 11 new VMF fellows and their agency mentors.

 By Barbara Micale

Virginia Management Fellows (VMF), an initiative developed by the Commonwealth of Virginia with Virginia Tech to meet the state’s needs for future public service leaders, is now underway.

The first cohort of 11 fellows was welcomed at the state capital in January by state leaders including former Governor Terry McAuliffe and Leisha LaRiviere, director of the VMF program and associate director of the School of Public and International Affairs’ Richmond campus.

“Virginia is fortunate to have these talented and dedicated fellows serve in continuance of our success building the new Virginia economy,” said McAuliffe. “I look forward to seeing this first class of fellows work with their agencies, mentors, and professors to grow into leaders who will share their talents and new skills to help ensure Virginia’s strong future.”

VMF fellows learn state operations in eight-month rotations with three state agencies. Recent undergraduate, master’s, or Ph.D.-level graduates who are dedicated to serving the residents of Virginia are eligible. Fellows receive salary and full benefits, as well as access to Virginia Retirement System programs.

Through research, study, seminars, and lectures specifically designed, tested, and implemented by faculty from the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) in Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, fellows learn to understand public administration theories and processes.

State agency commissioners and directors developed VMF job descriptions specifically to meet the succession planning goals of the commonwealth. These rotations are supported by mentors selected by participating agencies to support and advise the fellows’ work. At the end of their rotations, the fellows can apply for agency openings.

According to recent data from the commonwealth, 42 percent of general managers, 39 percent of financial managers, and 30 percent of compliance and safety officers will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. The VMF program addresses these more critical employment vacancies as well as longer-term succession planning needs.

“Mission-critical coursework includes four Commonwealth of Virginia core areas: customer service; operations; legislation, regulation, and compliance; and analytics,” LaRiviere said. “Fellows learn about these functional areas through 64 instructional seat hours and self-directed readings of journals and government reports and by completing targeted agency projects. Each project is centered around trouble-shooting of a long-term or ‘wicked’ problem, or around a transformative project to help increase efficiency and/or effectiveness.”

Each fellow also benefits from the support and guidance of a mentor-leader for each project. Both fellows and mentors participate in the Virginia Public Sector Leader program, which emphasizes a variety of leadership and management competencies, such as theory-to-practice skill application, self-management, team development, cultural competency, policy and cost-benefit analysis, strategic processes, and project management tactics.

John “Jordan” Burns is a 2014 Virginia Tech graduate now in the first class of Virginia Management Fellows.

John “Jordan” Burns of Gasburg, Virginia, is one of the 11 inaugural fellows. He received a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations from Virginia Tech in 2014, and a master’s degree in political science with a concentration in European Union Policy Studies from James Madison University in 2016. Prior to starting the cohort in January, Burns worked for a Washington, D.C., federal contractor for the Department of Justice.

“The VMF program seemed like the perfect way to start a career in public service in Virginia,” Burns said. “At the state government level, you can see the results of your work more clearly because you are more likely to interact with public schools, police departments, emergency services, etc., in your everyday life.”

Burns was also attracted to the idea of rotating through three state agencies over two years.

“It provides a unique opportunity to understand the inner workings of a broader spectrum of state agencies. I expect this to be valuable experience in future management roles,” said Burns.

His first rotation is in the Division of Finance and Administration with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. There, Burns said, he has already learned a lot about budgeting within the state and this specific agency and has worked on several projects geared toward making the division operate more effectively.

“My manager and coworkers are always asking for my feedback on how to improve our processes. Having a fresh eye on a project can be helpful, and this is one of the many reasons for having a program like VMF,” said Burns. “I am very honored and excited to be a part of the inaugural cohort.”

Other participating agencies include the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission; Virginia Department of Health; House Appropriations Committee; Department of Human Resources Management; Department of Motor Vehicles; Department of Planning and Budget; Senate Finance Committee; State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; State Corporation Commission; Virginia Retirement System; Department of Taxation; and Department of the Treasury.

“The School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech is excited to be a partner in this innovative program to develop public service leadership for the commonwealth through hands-on learning, coursework, mentoring, outstanding faculty, and more,” said Anne Khademian, director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.

Learn more about the fellows program here or by contacting Leisha LaRiviere at llariviere@vt.edu