A cohort of graduate students from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas embarked on a transformative journey, blending academic rigor with hands-on policy apprenticeships in Washington DC. Hailing from different backgrounds, these scholars immersed themselves in a range of policy interests, from fragile democracies to technology, driven by an earnest commitment to making a lasting positive impact on the world.
The DC Concentration, a unique feature of the LBJ School MGPS and MPAff programs, provided them access to the epicenter of federal policy in Washington DC, fostering real-world practical skills and lifelong connections. The December graduates reflect on their time at LBJ with gratitude for a supportive community, impactful policy work, and a wealth of experiences that will undoubtedly shape their futures in public service.
Now, let's hear directly from them as they reflect on their journeys.
Will Barrett, MGPS-DC
Policy interests: Fragile democracies, rise of authoritarianism, international security
Policy Apprenticeship: Foreign Policy for America and European and Eurasian Affairs Bureau, U.S. Department of State
"I came into LBJ hoping to gain both a comprehensive education and a community defined by their commitment to making our country and the world a better place," Barrett said. "I found that and then some. I felt connected and supported by a network of professors, alumni, and, of course, fellow members of my cohort. There was this palpable and earnest energy in every class I was in to wrestle with important topics and current events and engage with the coursework. The courses were structured with professional training in mind, and I feel totally prepared to handle any policy challenge in my future career.
The DC Concentration gave me not only the opportunity to access the network and resources of the LBJ School but also to take part in policy apprenticeships that I would never have been able to do anywhere else. I could fully have the “DC Experience” all while learning and growing along with my cohort.
I was able to engage in the foreign policy advocacy space by advancing the subnational diplomacy goals for my first policy apprenticeship, Foreign Policy for America (FP4A). I felt lucky to be a part of an organization with a mission I so passionately believed in. My second policy apprenticeship at the Department of State’s European and Eurasian Bureau has been an enlightening experience in how the Federal government operates and responds to crises around the world. I am so incredibly grateful for the DC Concentration for giving me the opportunity to pursue these apprenticeships and experiences."
Brandon Bradley, MPAff-DC
Policy interests: Zero-emission electrification, incentivizing dense, transit-oriented development, regulating/leveraging emerging technologies
Policy Apprenticeship: Office of U.S. Representative Jasmine Crockett (D-TX)
"Learning from and working with my classmates and professors at the LBJ School has been everything I could have hoped for from a master’s program in public policy/administration," Bradley said. "I will always be grateful for the wide breadth of options we were given, with the school being able to accommodate my interests shifting from hyper-local city policy when I first applied, to graduating in the DC Concentration. What was even more rewarding for me as a student was the fact that all throughout this process, we had the opportunity to work on substantive projects in classes across these different domains that undoubtedly made me a better public policy practitioner. Whether it was turning research on affordable housing policy from UT Law faculty into concrete legislative proposals for the 88th Texas Legislature or developing recommendations for the next iteration of the President’s Management Agenda with a member of the Senior Executive Service at the Office of Management and Budget, I found the projects we worked on extremely rewarding, both from an intellectual and practical standpoint.
One of the things that I didn’t fully understand until being in the DC Concentration was just how impactful it has been to have a close-knit cohort with you in the program. Frankly, moving to a new city, particularly one like DC that has just as strong a penchant for churning through starry-eyed transplants as NYC or LA, can be a frightening proposition that deters most from even trying. But when you are going through those same trials and tribulations with a dozen close friends alongside you, it becomes not just manageable, but exciting. In addition, the faculty here in DC are truly incredible. They have opened so many doors for all of us and are always available to help get you connected with the right person to pursue your interests. In addition, the professors in the program are all practitioners here in DC at the top of their field. Not only were we able to learn from their wealth of knowledge, but they often bring in guest lecturers so that by the time you complete the program, you come away with a solid grasp on the myriad paths open to you as an LBJ graduate in DC. I will always look back fondly at my time at the LBJ school, grateful for all the ways it has empowered me to more effectively pursue my public policy goals."
Jacob Burks, MGPS-DC
Policy interests: Economic security, transnational threats, diplomacy, emerging technology, and government efficiency
Policy Apprenticeship: Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, U.S Government Accountability Office and Office of Investment Security, U.S. Department of Treasury
"The value of the DC Concentration is simple: access," said Burks. "Washington, DC is the epicenter of foreign policy and with the knowledge gained in Austin, you will be equipped to tackle our nation’s most pressing issues.
I knew that I wanted to pursue federal public service when I started at LBJ, I just did not know how I would get there. The DC Concentration was a late addition to my LBJ career, but one I would not trade for the world. I was able to get a jump start on my career in foreign policy and immediately start making an impact. The varied experiences I gained because of the DC Concentration helped narrow my interests and ultimately lead me to my dream career - foresight I did not enjoy before arriving in DC.
I will forever cherish the memories and friendships I have gained through LBJ and the DC Concentration. Those connections have formed the foundation off which I began this exciting new chapter."
Mauliola Harley Gonsalves, MPAff-DC
Policy interests: Social policy, public diplomacy, indigenous foreign policy
Policy Apprenticeship: Office of U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)
"As I approach the end of my academic journey at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the transformative and enriching experience as a member of the 2023 DC Concentration cohort," Gonsalves said. "The blend of time on-campus in Austin with the classrooms in Washington, D.C. has not only provided the academic rigor expected of The University of Texas at Austin but has also fostered a profound sense of belonging to the Longhorn Family.
As a policy student, there is no better place to be than in the city that remains the heart of U.S. policy making. The city has served as an extended classroom, especially through the opportunity to take on a policy apprenticeship. Interning for the office of the senior senator from my home state has been an incredible means to further explore the landscape of federal policy while serving the community that raised me. I have witnessed firsthand the dedication and passion with which the senator and his staff have advocated for the interests and well-being of Hawai’i, especially in response to the recent disaster that struck my home island of Maui. From the attention to constituent needs to participation in broader national conversations, the day-to-day experience on the Hill has further solidified my aspirations to pursue a career in public service."
Lauren Guillaume, MGPS-DC
Policy interests: Human security; intelligence; foreign affairs and diplomacy
Policy Apprenticeship: Razom for Ukraine
"I went to the McCombs Business School at UT for my undergraduate degree because of our motto, "What Starts Here Changes the World.” I came back for my graduate degree because the LBJ staff and faculty truly have changed the world," Guillaume said.
"Learning from our professors and meeting LBJ alumni in DC who are engaged in government has been an immense privilege. As I told Lynda Johnson Robb herself at LBJ's 115th birthday memorial celebration, it's an honor to now be a part of the community and legacy of LBJ.
Through my Policy Apprenticeship, I've had the opportunity to meet and discuss foreign policy with chairs of European parliamentary foreign affairs committees, heads of state, members of Congress, ambassadors, and beyond. It's one thing to discuss global policy in the classroom, but it is another to be in the room at the table. The DC concentration allowed me this opportunity.
I am excited to be a Semi-finalist for the Presidential Management Fellowship and continue working with Razom for Ukraine as it relates to U.S. national security. I look forward to building a career to protect and serve."
Destiny Herndon, MGPS-DC
Policy interests: Immigration policy reform, asylum policy, gender equity
Policy Apprenticeship: Professional Services Council and NVG
"I’ve always found endings to be bittersweet, and the same is true as I consider how my time at
LBJ ends," Herndon said. "The past 18 months in Austin and DC have been a period of great growth, teaching me about my strengths and desires, as well as opening doors that I didn’t even know existed."
"I’m grateful for the people who grew with me along the way and for the ways that we have supported each other both inside and outside the classroom.
I am also supremely grateful for the professional experiences I’ve had during my time as a UT student. Being exposed to the lobbying world has provided me with irreplaceable insights and skills that will be invaluable in my future professions. Most of all, I treasure all of the people who have been willing to take me under their wing as I venture out of the academic bubble and into the real world. The UT network has provided a home away from home with every coffee chat, phone call, and tailgate.
As I begin to step into the next stage of my life, I look forward to carrying the skills, experiences, and friendships I’ve gained with me. LBJ has solidified my dedication to advocacy work, especially in supporting the most vulnerable populations within our community. I hope that the path I take makes my mentors proud and that I am one day able to give back to this community the same kindness they gave me. Hook ‘Em forever!"
Ian Jones, MPAff-DC
Policy interests: International diplomacy, US-China relations, US-China economics, Taiwan
Policy Apprenticeship: Institute for the Study of War
"My LBJ experience has helped me grow academically, professionally, and personally," Jones said. "After living overseas for several years, the DC Concentration program allowed me to move (closer) to home, experience life and work in the nation’s capital, and sharpen my skills in public policy."
"Aside from the various work experiences available, the DC concentration’s greatest strength is its cohort model. My peers in the DC concentration are amazingly talented individuals who have acted as a support network and have become lifelong friends.
One project from my PA [policy apprenticeship] that I am particularly proud of is a timeline and analysis of Chinese military responses to Taiwanese official transits. I did not think much of it until a senior fellow at ISW [Institute for the Study of War] mentioned to me that senior officials at the Pentagon and within INDOPACOM [United States Indo-Pacific Command] used it to help inform their decisions surrounding Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te’s August 2023 transit through the US."
Cassidy Lee, MGPS-DC
Policy interests: Gender and sexuality, inclusive and accessible education, immigration and integration resources
Policy Apprenticeship: Center for Presidential Transition, Partnership for Public Service
"As my time completing my master’s degree at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and as a member of the DC Concentration comes to a close, I am extremely grateful for the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and for my incredible support system of loved ones," Lee said. "Through a whirlwind 18 months, I’ve grown academically, professionally, and personally. While in Austin, I honed my policy writing skills with the assistance of Dr. Lorinc Redei’s course at LBJ and explored the history and power of social movements from Dr. Michael Young in the Sociology department."
"The DC Concentration afforded me an adventure unlike any other. During my time in DC, I worked with the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service. Throughout my apprenticeship, I strengthened my research and analysis skills, organized and participated in conversations with government and nonprofit stakeholders, and advocated for process reforms that improve government efficiency. One project from my apprenticeship that I am particularly proud of is my contribution to the 2024 Agency Transition Guide. Completing coursework and an apprenticeship in the nation’s capital granted unique exposure to the heart of America’s policy-making landscape—a valuable experience for any future policy professional. Amongst the close-knit group of friends in my cohort, I explored all the museums, historic neighborhoods, and activities that DC offers.
As I move forward in my professional journey, I know the lessons, relationships, and memories I’ve made during my time at LBJ will remain. Whatever the future may bring, I hope to make the LBJ School proud as a member of the alumni community. Thank you, LBJ School, and Hook ‘Em horns!"
Madelyn Faith Lucas, MPAff-DC
Policy interests: Higher education for first-generation students, gender inequity, poverty, alternatives to higher education
Policy Apprenticeship: U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce (Democratic Staff) and Excelencia in Education
"When applying to grad school, I imagined I would have to make some amount of compromise," Lucas said. "Whether it be in proximity to home, internship opportunities, or quantitative skill building, I didn’t think I could really have everything I wanted in a graduate school experience. I was proven wrong after making the decision to attend the LBJ School through the DC Concentration."
"I came to the LBJ School with an interest in helping students succeed on their journeys through postsecondary education, and this passion has only grown, particularly through my two Policy Apprenticeships in Washington, DC. During the summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Committee on Education and the Workforce for the U.S. House of Representatives, researching federal education policy, both in K-12 and higher education. I attended briefings and hearings while learning how the committee’s staff worked behind the scenes to serve constituents. This fall, I was fortunate to have worked as a Policy Fellow with Excelencia in Education, supporting the research and policy portfolios and the National Policy Forum while gaining a better understanding of policies that accelerate Latino student success. The quantitative skills that I gained from the LBJ School in Austin - from Dr. Mary Evans’ environmental economics class to Dr. Todd Olmstead’s management science class - set the stage for building policy practices based on evidence when I arrived in DC. My coursework in DC strengthened my knowledge of federal policy, giving me the opportunity to learn about the federal budget and Congressional procedure.
I’m leaving this experience with no regrets. I’ve created lifelong friendships, building a community of common passion for making the public sector work better for the people it serves; I’ve grown a deep admiration for two new cities and will forever cherish the memories made in both, from cheering on the Longhorns and hearing live music in Austin, to exploring the beauty and charm of the DMV. To do all of this while learning what it means to make policy is something that I would recommend to anyone interested in exploring a career in public service."
Rylee Pluta, MPAff-DC
Policy interests: Elimination of school-to-prison pipeline, civil rights advocacy, equitable resource accessibility
Policy Apprenticeship: Office of Planning and Analytics, U.S. Department of Transportation and Public Strategies Washington
"I decided to pursue graduate school because I wanted to challenge myself to find a career that I would find impactful, not only for myself but also for my community," Pluta said. "I stumbled upon the LBJ School and knew immediately it was the program for me. The LBJ-DC Public Affairs Program offers a unique academic structure which combines classroom studies, with practical application. I feel deeply that the LBJ School specifically curated this hybrid learning experience for students like me seeking real world practical skills. I sought a program that would expose me to diverse perspectives, robust and fulfilling relationships, and most importantly peers and curriculum that would challenge my own unique personal perspectives and experiences."
"My time in Austin, TX was invaluable. I formed life-long friendships curated from the strong bonds of like-minded, passionate, professionals putting their heads together to develop equitable policy solutions for an array of diverse policy areas. Being surrounded by other professionals passionate about developing policy and affecting change is an experience I believe could not be achieved in any other environment. In addition to the opportunities to participate in real world simulation exercises, the LBJ School prioritizes networking strategies and events in order to connect students with alumni, and career professionals across a myriad of public policy issues. One of my favorite past times while at the LBJ School was attending these networking events and making long lasting meaningful connections and meeting people with different passions.
Moving to DC with 9 of my peers opened my eyes to a new realm of possibilities. Coursework prepared me to take on the unique challenges of working and living in DC. But it also taught me how to be successful in a fast paced, competitive space. My policy apprenticeships at the Department of Transportation and Public Strategies Washington exposed me to new policy areas diversifying my policy portfolio. I am especially proud of my membership acceptance to the Petey Greene Program’s National Advisory Board Network, and my involvement in their D.C. Regional Advisory Board working collaboratively on regional criminal justice reform issues, and promoting educational justice. I had an incredible opportunity to participate in a Reentry Simulation for pre-sentencing officers across the country hosted by the Federal Judicial Center and the CEO of the Petey Greene Program in D.C. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Philadelphia to attend the non-profit's first annual Going Greene fundraising gala to raise awareness for educational justice. This was a pinnacle moment for me and has inspired me to pursue criminal justice reform more passionately than before.
After two semesters in DC, I have broadened my policy interests to include education, energy, environment, and transportation policy. I have a newfound passion for community engagement strategies and human security policies as it relates to resource accessibility across housing, education, and workforce sectors. The DC Program has taught me many lessons and has helped me grow as an individual by giving me the freedom to discover and explore new pathways and opportunities. One of the lessons I learned, in a moment of self-reflection, is that I found the best purpose for my particular policy interests are best suited at the local level. I ambitiously romanticized a career fighting for federal criminal justice policy reform in Washington DC. After my time here in DC, I have come to realize that at some point I lost sight of my intent to find the most impactful career for me. Like many things, the word "impactful" is relative and is defined differently, unique to each person. Coming full circle, I realized that combatting injustices in my own community is what resonates as the most impactful to me."