Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 Lauren Jowell [Joel], class of 2004 is the chief of a monitoring and evaluation division in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the US Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.. Though she's appearing on this podcast in her personal capacity and her views are solely her own, her team is responsible for strategic planning, independent program evaluations, and collecting and reporting on performance data for executive congressional and inter-agency reporting requirements. Lauren shares her experiences at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, where she earned a BA in political science with honors and high distinction in 2004. She also shares her experiences in the Peace Corps earning master's in International Law and Politics from Georgetown, and using her social sciences background in several federal roles. Lauren provides great insights on navigating the job search for federal jobs and the distinction from a more traditional resume and application process and the purchase of living in Washington d c. You can read Lauren's full bio in a more detailed breakdown in the show notes on your podcast app. And with that, let's dive into our conversation with Lauren following the gong.
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Thank you so much for joining me here from D. C. We have Lauren Jowell. joining us. We have a unique intro piece. Normally we start with your Penn State story, but you are a federal employee, so we have to do some quick disclaimers at the beginning here just to make sure everything is on the up and up. Can you explain how you're appearing in your personal capacity and the importance of ethics rules for appearing on a show like this as a federal employee?
Lauren Jowell 00:02:22 Thanks so much for having me. Yes, I'm happy to discuss some of the ethics rules. So as a federal employee, I am sworn into office, and so I take an oath of office, and when I take that oath, I also have to abide by its ethics requirements. There are a lot of federal rules and regulations, and I have to take an annual ethics refresher course, so I never forget these rules, <laugh>, but the key is that I'm just talking about my personal experiences, my life story, and I'm not acting on behalf of the Department of Labor where I'm currently working. So just so you know that, uh, anything that I say is my own opinion and there are my own, uh, experiences and not reflective of the federal government.
Sean 00:03:00 Fortunately, the whole point of the show lines up very well with your ethics rules because we want to hear your story, your journey, your advice as a Penn State alumna, Lauren. So thank you for, for coming on here. Now that we've got that out of the way and have that disclaimer here. And just for those who are wondering maybe, I know I've seen some things in the news. Every guest on this show is a volunteer. We do not pay people to be on the show, nor do they pay to be on here. I know that's the thing that's growing in the podcast industry, but everyone volunteers their time to be on here, so thank you, Lauren. So let's start back at the beginning. Now, you shared in the questionnaire that you had kind of a reason that maybe some students might relate to for picking Penn State. We've had townies on here who pick it because they grow up here, they love state college. You have another re very relatable reason for picking Penn State. Can you share that?
Lauren 00:03:46 Yes. And it all centers around my car. Whenever I was thinking about college, I was so, so interested in going out of state. I wanted to go to Boston. I was obsessed with Boston. I don't know why. There was no good reason for it. And my mother's like, there is no degree that you'll get in Boston that you can't get here in Pennsylvania. So that had to like change my, my thinking very radically. So then I started, I'm like, I don't know how to choose a, a college in Pennsylvania. And so I also had 1994 Subaru that I was very, very much in love with and I didn't wanna, apart from. So I'm like, well, if I'm not leaving the state, I'm gonna make sure I take my car with me. So I started flipping through a magazine, the US News and World Report, like top 100 colleges.
Lauren 00:04:30 And as I'm scrolling through to the Pennsylvania section, I came across, uh, Penn State Behrend. It was listed there because it was one of the hot and trendy schools that year. It was the top hot and trendy school. And as I'm looking at the details, I'm like, oh, it's a Penn State School. Oh, you can take cars as a freshman. Oh, this is like in Erie, Pennsylvania. That's pretty far from my hometown of Johnstown. So all of these different pieces added up, and so I just became convinced that I wanted to see this school. I, I didn't know anything about it. I wasn't really familiar with Penn State since I grew up more in pit country. And so I was just like, I went, I checked it out and I fell in love. We were there over the summer. There weren't a lot of students around, but just the beautiful campus up in Erie, Pennsylvania near the lake. It was very green. There's a giant winter green gorge on campus, everything about it. I just fell in love and that was the only school that I applied to. And, uh, the rest is history.
Sean 00:05:28 As you just mentioned, you applied to Penn State, Erie, the Behrend College, and you are the first Behrend grad that we've had on the show here. So can you dive a little bit deeper into just what makes that campus really special? If you've ever talked to anybody who's either started at or graduated from Behrend, it's its own little thing up there. It's a very unique community and a very unique part of the Penn State family. So can you share a little bit about what it's like to be at Penn State Behrend? Yeah,
Lauren 00:05:54 So there were a lot of things about Penn State Behrend that really drew my interest. I think the fact that the class sizes were all very going to be small, the largest class size I think was 150, and that's for the, the major lecture hall. And I graduated with 98 students in my class. And so that even 150 students in a class seemed like a lot to me, and I couldn't imagine bigger class sizes than that. So the class sizes were very small. What was really cool was they had a two year honors program, so they're for the first and second year students, and it's not officially part of the Schreyer Honors College, but it was a particular honors program where you could take honors classes, you got to engage with a bunch of other students. There was a honors housing. For me that seemed like a really awesome opportunity to be in an honors program.
Lauren 00:06:46 I had been an honors high school student to take classes right off the bat. You, I had a lot of very small classes my freshman year. Maybe some were 20, 25 students. So it was much more familiar for me. The culture, as you mentioned, <laugh> definitely feels very different, but it also feels very Penn State. We just all gathered around some of the older buildings that are on campus. The, the campus itself was, uh, home to the Mary Baron Estate, and they have, uh, original buildings like barns and farmhouses that are just like in the middle of campus that are actively used as classrooms and other theaters and other uses. So it just, it felt like a very cool vibe. And since it is nestled in kind of the little mountainous area or like hilly region, a lot of people were very into hiking and outdoors and doing a lot of just, uh, spending a lot of time just enjoying the, the natural environment around us. So it was a great experience.
Sean 00:07:50 And then of course, you entered the Honors college based on that honors program at Behrend. Can you talk about what it's like completing the Schreyer experience at Behrend? You know, your classes, your thesis, and I think you have a pretty funny story that you wanted to share about your thesis experience that could maybe help any student who's had a bit of a mortifying experience relate to somebody else who, you know, you're not alone in that <laugh>.
Lauren 00:08:13 Yeah, so when I was, uh, a first and second year, I was very eager to take a lot of honors classes, so I took almost as many as I could. So by the time I was a sophomore and junior, I had exhausted almost all of the honors classes that were available. So I spent a lot of time doing the option where you can make a course, an honors course. So I really got to work very closely with a number of different professors, doing a lot of in-depth research on different topics, uh, foreign relations. Uh, I wrote a number of papers on post-conflict in the post-Soviet Union conflict or, uh, other Eastern European affairs. So I really felt like I was getting more since I made a lot of my classes honors because I had taken so many my first two years, but there were not that many of us, I would say, that have gone from the honors program to the Schreyer Honors College.
Lauren 00:09:10 So it went from like having lots of people in my class and community to only maybe a handful of people that continued on with the, the SCHREYER program. So that meant that I got a lot more kind of one-on-one time with professors, especially with working on my thesis and coming up with different ways to really make sure that I was getting more rigor in research that I had wanted. The funny story that I wanted to share was, so not that often did, uh, representatives from the, uh, SCHREYER Scholar program come to Baron. So the honors program coordinator, Dr. Gamble, he was my thesis advisor, he had put together some of the, the best students who were writing thesis to give presentations about their, their thesis to the Honors College to kind of show off what Baron's students were doing. And I was a third year, so it was my first year of the honors program, and I was still kind of fleshing out my thesis and thinking a bit more about what I had wanted to write about.
Lauren 00:10:09 But I was asked to present and I was the only third year. Everyone else was, uh, in their fourth year and almost finished with their, their research. So the night before this presentation, I wanted to dye my hair. And so I asked some of my friends, you know, Hey, let's just do this. I got some box hair dye off the shelf. I was going for a little bit of like a reddish tinge. I'm a natural blonde, so I thought it was gonna look like really nice and cool, very natural, and it did not work out as I had planned. My hair came out hot pink, like it looked like, uh, Frenchy from Greece. I don't know if anyone has seen that musical, but like Easter egg pink, like super bright pink. And I couldn't get it out <laugh>. I washed my hair like three or four times.
Lauren 00:10:53 I could not get it out. And I'm like, okay, well this is my hair. Well, I was doing this, you know, while we were doing the hair dye, I had accidentally cut my hand. And so we put some liquid bandaid on it, and I had a reaction to the liquid bandaid. So my entire arm started turning gray and I started getting very, very nervous because I was representing the Baren <laugh>, the Baren Scholars. The next day talking about my thesis, I was supposed to show off, you know what great honor students we were, and I look like a hot mess, and that's okay. 'cause I still showed up and my thesis advisor, Dr. Gamble's, like, Lauren, are you doing okay? And I'm like, yes, I am just fine. And then I went on to present, uh, a little bit about my topic. I was researching Chinese multilateral treaties from 1948 till 2002. So I was looking at a very particular set of time and I just said, you know, unfortunately this happened, but I'm ready to go. And I gave the presentation.
Sean 00:11:56 That is fantastic. I think, you know, everyone has one of those moments where you're, you're very embarrassed. So thank you for sharing that, that experience. So hopefully if you're listening, you know, Lauren, you've gone on to a very successful career since. So, you know, we can all make little mistakes like that and, and move on from that. And it seems like you have a good, good spirit about it. So I think that's important.
Lauren 00:12:15 Absolutely. <laugh>, you never, you, sometimes you just have to, uh, rely on your own self-confidence to, to get you through situations like that.
Sean 00:12:23 There's no shortage of directions that you can pursue with social science degrees in humanities degrees. We've had lots of faults on the show where they majored in one thing that would fall under these and they're doing something completely different than what you think they might be doing. Can you talk about what your first role was after your time at Behrend?
Lauren 00:12:40 Yeah, so actually because of some classes at Behrend, I became interested in the Peace Corps and I was researching what a Peace Corps volunteer was. And in my, my fourth year, and I was like, this sounds really awesome. I had personally never been abroad. I had never lived abroad. And I had been studying international affairs in my political science degree. And I said to myself, Lauren, if you want to call yourself an expert in international affairs, you're gonna have to do something abroad to really get that expertise. And so I applied to the Peace Corps, I was accepted, and I served for two years in Ukraine. I was there from 2004 to 2006. So I was there for the Orange Revolution. So I got to see, uh, a revolution firsthand. I lived in a very small village in South Central Ukraine, not far from the Moldovan border, and I taught English for, for those two years.
Lauren 00:13:41 I taught grades five through 11, and I taught some English clubs. I worked at summer camps and helped to establish a library and judge some of their English language programs that they, they do around the states. It was a really awesome experience, and I know with all going on in Ukraine now, I'm still in contact with my host family that had supported me for those two years. So they're still living there. And my host sister, who was in fifth grade at the time and is now a <laugh> super rockstar in the IT sector is living in San Francisco. So we've been staying very, uh, much in close contact.
Sean 00:14:22 That's great to hear, and especially hoping that they're doing well given everything that's happened in 2022 in that part of the world. You can talk to this either hopefully in terms of the Peace Corps, but then also more broadly, what advice would you have for scholars that are looking to study abroad? I know you did, you didn't study abroad as a student, but who are looking to go abroad or even live and work abroad after graduation?
Lauren 00:14:43 Absolutely. I would say go anywhere, not in Europe. I think anywhere in Central or South America, I think anywhere in Africa or Asia that will get you some really great hands-on experience because the vast majority of jobs in the international affairs sector are working in development, and the development is taking place in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. So getting that experience in maybe a, a less traditional location is something that I, I highly, highly recommend. I looked into studying abroad while I was at Penn State, but uh, the timing just didn't seem to work out for me. So I think you have to, if you're interested, plan early to, to do a study abroad. And if timing doesn't work out, like it didn't for me, just look for other opportunities. There are various programs, things, not necessarily the Peace Corps, but opportunities that will get you abroad for even if a few months, uh, just to get you some of that experience. I think a lot of organizations are looking for students or, uh, young professionals to just be out in the field and to, to really try and, and lend a hand in a number of different ways.
Sean 00:15:56 And I would assume you might also throw Australia in with the Europe listing there.
Lauren 00:16:00 Yes, <laugh>, yes. I would definitely put Australia New Zealand into the, the Europe bucket <laugh>.
Sean 00:16:06 I've been there and it felt very similar. It's very different, but also very similar to the United States. So if you're looking for a different experience, I think, Lauren, you have some great advice there. Now I wanna call back to our upfront disclaimer at the beginning of our chat. So you can answer this as distinctly or as vaguely as you want based on said ethics roles. But can you talk through maybe a quick run up of the different jobs or types of jobs and departments you've worked in since your time in the Peace Corps, and any lessons that you learned along the way up to your current role, which is where I then want to talk about that field more broadly? So I,
Lauren 00:16:41 I'm very excited to, to talk about my path because I think it's, uh, one that is also a little untraditional. So I'd studied political science. I was very interested in international affairs. I was in the Peace Corps. I came back from the Peace Corps. I got a master's degree at Georgetown, and I was really excited to get back into the field in a, a paid position somewhere in Washington DC and in 2008, there was a very, very difficult job market, and I could not find any kind of job in international affairs at all. I interviewed here, there and everywhere. And, you know, despite having been abroad and now having a second language and a master's degree, I didn't have enough experience to work in international affairs. It was just very, very difficult for me to try and find a position. So fortunately there was, uh, an opportunity that came up in the federal government where they were looking for people with international experience, uh, people that were from with the social sciences, because we were great writers.
Lauren 00:17:47 We were really good at synthesizing, analyzing, and writing, and it was in an auditing field. I knew absolutely nothing about accounting. The only math class I had taken was my freshman year, <laugh> so many years ago. But my supervisor at the time said, you know, Lauren, I can give you the skills that you need to be an auditor. I cannot give you the skills to be a great writer. So he was really interested in somebody with great writing skills, and it turned out that I love the, the field. It was government oversight, and I just, I personally just loved it. And as I grew in my career, I was there for about five years. I then decided I, I wanted to try and pivot and see what else is out there. I took a job in a government budget office where I did a lot of strategic planning, and this is, uh, related to figuring out what the big goals are for the organization, what are the indicators, how are we going to measure the results?
Lauren 00:18:49 And you know, I had a very difficult relationship with my supervisor, so I didn't stay there very long. I was there only nine months before I left, but that gave me the opportunity to kind of really land my dream job, which is where I am at currently at the Department of Labor. So I found myself in the, the field of monitoring and evaluation, and that was able to combine my really great love of accountability and some of my analytical skills that I've picked up and my strategic planning skills that I've picked up along the way. So I, I found that this career field has just been exploding in the past few years. Um, two new federal laws have been put in place since 2016 that are requiring government agencies to evaluate and learn from their programming. So that just means that there are so many more opportunities now than maybe when I started in this field many, many years ago.
Lauren 00:19:46 It's very exciting because what we're doing is we're critically thinking about what's working, what doesn't work, and how do we really make those changes to ensure that the programs that we're funding our policies are, are the best that they can be this career field. Um, because of these federal laws, it's now being required across nonprofit organizations. Now you can see it in foundations, a lot of private sectors are looking at evaluations and how you can really ask those critical questions to be, how can we be more effective and efficient? So I've, I've been there for almost eight years now, and I think it has just been like the perfect fit. Getting here was a bit rocky because I had to rely a lot on different skills more so than knowledge. So I thought I was, you know, kind of an expert in, you know, various political systems or, you know, knowing a particular country or region.
Lauren 00:20:44 And that had proven in my career to be less useful than having different skills such as writing skills, uh, now budgeting skills, planning skills, analytical skills. I've really capitalized on the skills more than the knowledge, and that is my biggest recommendation to any student who is in the social science, who's like maybe not interested so much in law school or, uh, going to, to work in a, a political office that think about the skills that you're getting from that program more so than like the, the knowledge and subject matter. And I think that will take, take students very far because it, it definitely helped me. So
Sean 00:21:24 What is a, like a day in the life, like for somebody who works in this program and evaluation monitoring field?
Lauren 00:21:32 Yeah, so it's, it's very variable. <laugh>, I guess is the best way to, to describe it. So what we do, and there are varying components to it. So one component is looking at, you know, a particular program and asking what is the logic behind this program? Why are we doing this program? What activities are we doing? What are the results of those activities? What is the impact that we're hoping to achieve? So really thinking through the logic behind what makes a program happen. So there's a lot of critical thinking involved in looking at the program and assessing, does this make sense? Are there assumptions that we're making about this program that maybe we are not realizing? Are there other actors that are associated with this program that should be consulted or involved? So after you think through the logic of a program, you then go into, well, how do we monitor how this program is doing?
Lauren 00:22:30 So coming up with performance measures and indicators, uh, it could be number of people trained, number of people that have engaged with particular program, number of people that have increased knowledge, number of people that are now using a program. So you're really trying to measure what is happening within the program. So those are the first two steps. And then later on in the process, these don't all happen within the same day or week. This is over time you're starting to ask those questions, well, is our program working? We had this logic, we were thinking, okay, if we train people on how to be safer in their workplaces, so if we, if we train people to wear helmets when they're mining or to wear gloves, if they're doing carpentry work, will that lead to less accidents later on? So those are kind of like the, the questions that you're asking.
Lauren 00:23:23 And then an evaluation will come in, it's independent, it's conducted by analyst, and they'll ask those questions. They'll conduct interviews, they'll with workers, they'll conduct reviews of the the program. They're, they're gonna look at the data that you've been collecting. Okay, you trained this many people, these met, this number of people had started wearing helmets. Uh, this number of people did not start wearing helmets and start comparing. Did people that wear helmets, are they safer than people that have not worn those helmets or people that wore, uh, safety gloves? Are they safer and have less injuries than people that didn't wear the gloves? And asking those questions and doing some analyses to make a determination. Yes, people that wore gloves, uh, when they're doing carpentry are less likely to have injuries and therefore, you know, wearing gloves is a good safety practice and should be encouraged and replicated in programs.
Lauren 00:24:19 So that's kind of the point of what we do <laugh> and a little bit how we do it day to day. There's a lot of collaboration and discussion with people because, you know, it's not that easy to decide and define what a program is doing or what it should do or what you want it to do. So you have to get a lot of people in agreement around that. So it's a lot of consultation and facilitation. There's a lot of reviewing documents, a lot of critical thinking. And I've, uh, recently told some colleagues, I'm like, we get paid to think because that's what we're doing. We're doing a lot of critical thinking and a lot of reviewing and asking tough questions. And then a lot of just really analysis. It could be in the form of statistics or surveys, it could be in the form of interviews or focus group discussions or listening sessions. Lots of different ways to gather information and data. So it's, it's a really cool field for people that are curious.
Sean 00:25:15 That's awesome. And it really sounds like it could be a good fit for Schreyer Scholars because it sounds like it's a lot of applied research if, if I'm interpreting this correctly.
Lauren 00:25:24 Absolutely. So the evaluation field uses a lot of the social science mechanisms and research methods. There are, unfortunately, a lot of university programs do not have a specific evaluation focus, but people will come out of political science fields, psych, uh, psychology fields, sociology fields, because that's where they're getting those, those skills on conducting focus group discussions, conducting interviews, gathering firsthand data, designing surveys, things like that. Those are taking place in a lot of the social science field. So it's a really cool opportunity to use those skills, but maybe not produce a research you're, you're trying to produce and answer different questions. Research is looking what else is out there. And evaluation is asking what is happening with my particular program.
Sean 00:26:17 Well, you partly answered the next question I wanted to ask too, Lauren, which is, what kinds of majors or backgrounds do you and your team typically have and find that can be really helpful for, for folks who are doing this work? I
Lauren 00:26:30 Find that, as I mentioned, psychology, sociology, political science to some degrees, uh, people that are really interested in statistics, but not necessarily, there's, uh, kind of a divide in the evaluation field between people that like quantitative data versus people that like qualitative data. I myself, like the qualitative, the narratives, the stories, the discussions with people versus the, the numbers, the hard facts, the <laugh>, different ways of, of gathering numerical data. But there's definitely room in the field for both and need for both. There's also, I'm finding a lot of people with background in data visualization or interest in data visualization economists, people that, uh, really like using economic data or people that are, are very good with kind of dealing with, uh, accounting and numbers. So it's varying, uh, there is no one size fits all. We, the evaluation field welcomes everyone that is interested. I mean, there's also a lot of people with international relations background because the international development field was one of the first fields to adopt evaluation and monitoring and evaluation back in the 1990s. The program evaluation really started in the US in the 1970s with education and then psychology and then international development. So that's why you'll see people with those backgrounds generally entering the monitoring and evaluation, uh, field.
Sean 00:27:58 So obviously scholars do a thesis like both of us did, and that's probably a great experience for going into this line of work. But are there any other experiences that scholars could be looking to get in college that could help them? You talked about gaining particular skills. What should they be focusing on, if this is of interest?
Lauren 00:28:14 Yeah, I I think that if you engage with, um, professors that might be doing research programs, things like literature reviews, looking at if they're, they're doing any kind of survey work, if you're, if they need help coding different survey reports or coding data, I think that would be a really great opportunity. We have one professional organization for the field. It's called the American Evaluation Association. And they love student members. They have a lot of opportunities. Uh, they post a lot of opportunities for students. Recently they had, uh, something they called Evaluation Without Borders, where people could get more experience doing evaluations and helping small nonprofit organizations. They may not have the funds or, or people to do this type of work, but have volunteers come and help them put together an evaluation plan or help them think about a logic model. And you work as a team, so it's not you yourself having to do this for an organization.
Lauren 00:29:18 You get to work with other professionals, people that are also looking to get this experience. So that is, uh, an area of opportunity that the, the organization has been creating for, for students to try and get more hands-on opportunities, uh, in this field. There are other ways that I think that you can really capitalize on this. A a lot of our, our program is about writing. So I know as, as scholars, we do a lot of writing for our thesis, but if you're, if you're not writing as many papers for, for some of your classes, you may wanna focus on how you can get some more writing skills, because that's a, a key part of it. You may wanna think about how you can get some more public speaking or presentation skills, whether it's in classes or if you're, you wanna join like a club.
Lauren 00:30:06 When I was at Penn State Behrend, I was part of an improv group called the Matchbox Players. And I am just always impressed by how often I rely on some of those kind of games and things that I had learned there to then bring to my, my current career. And just a, a quick story. So I, I was leading a, a group, a focus group where we're just getting people around the table for the first time. They don't really know each other. It's like people get nervous, they don't wanna talk. And so I brought out one of those games that I had played during my improv when I was part of an improv club where I asked everyone, say your name and do kind of a funny gesture. And, uh, it just loosened people up. It made them smile. It kind of broke down some of the, kind of the scariness of, of being in a group with people that you weren't as familiar with. So even things like participating in clubs, you just never know when you're gonna rely on some of those skills for a future use. That's
Sean 00:31:07 Great. I think that's the kind of thing that folks might judge and be like, why are you in an improv group? But it's actually some useful skills that you're developing there. Now since you're at the Department of Labor, I'm assuming a lot of your work probably relates to job site safety. You referenced helmets and, and gloves and, and things like that. Are you able to share any initiatives or enhancements that you've brought to bear in your office for the department, for anything else as an example of the kind of work that you're, that you're doing?
Lauren 00:31:33 Yeah, so a lot of the evaluations that we do, they're available on the website. One of the biggest things that we try to do is make our information publicly available. So any of the evaluation reports that we have done, uh, or have supported or funded, they're all available online. A lot of our programming is around things like trying to end child labor, trying to end human trafficking, trying to end forced labor around the world. We're looking for ways to improve workers' rights. A lot of countries may not allow workers to, to gather or to form groups or be part of civil society. We work to try to address different types of other labor abuses, uh, and improve the occupational safety and health at work. So that's what our programming does. And all of our programming is available kind of on the website more broadly. Things that we have done as kind of like a monitoring and evaluation group.
Lauren 00:32:36 We have really worked to bring about some improvements. We are now trying to make sure that our programming is way more sustainable. So we've been looking at ways to cra increase the sustainability of our, our programming, and that's been a big focus of the monitoring and evaluation team, and not just at the Department of Labor, but more broadly in the, the career field. International development is really trying to increase sustainability. We're also looking to improve the capacity of local evaluators. Since the evaluation field is growing significantly. It's not just here in the United States, it's around the world. So we're looking for ways to work with people that are international and build their capacity to do evaluations. There are a variety of ways that we're, we're just thinking about programmings, trying to make them stronger, better, and more sustainable, for sure, <laugh>,
Sean 00:33:30 That's great. And part of your role as well, in addition to all these programs that you have to evaluate, you also have team members that you need to evaluate because you have hiring and supervisory responsibilities. So for students who are looking at jobs in DC with the federal government or all the numerous government contractors and other industries that are reliant on the federal government for jobs, any general advice on that process and what they could be doing to prepare for internships or full-time roles in, in DC or other places that the, the federal government or even state governments have, uh, a reach in the
Lauren 00:34:04 Hiring process, uh, across the government is very different from what you would find in probably the private sector or even the nonprofit sector. So, uh, be prepared to take a long time for hiring. Most of the jobs are available on U S A jobs, uh, federal agencies, uh, and even some federal adjacent agencies are required to, to publicly post them. And so there is that one OneStop location of U s A jobs to find opportunities. I know for federal contractors that fed biz ops, it sounds kind of weird, but that is another one-stop place for finding those types of opportunities. It really does take a long time, uh, your resume. I know in <laugh> every other industry, they say no more than a page, maybe a page and a half or two pages maximum if you have tons and tons of experience. The federal government, I think also with, um, state governments are, are going to be in a similar boat and I imagine contract, uh, for federal contracts as well.
Lauren 00:35:08 You need to be as detailed as possible <laugh> in your resume. So, uh, my resume is something like 13 pages and I've spelled out everything, you know, from, I have enhanced communication skills because I am able to write reports and emails and synthesize information in a written format, <laugh>. So like all kinds of bizarre things to explain that I'm able to communicate to people something that you may not need to do in a, a nonprofit or a private sector industry. You really do need to take your time and look at the job announcement, see what they're asking for, look at the specialized experience, see if what they're asking for, and be honest, you know, you have to attest to the honesty of your application. So try try to be as honest as you can and answering a lot of the questions and just explaining your experience. So while you do have to go into a lot of detail, don't I, I do not recommend making stuff up to fill that space.
Sean 00:36:13 I was laughing as you were talking about that because I typically ask guests to share their resume. Many do when I'm preparing to interview them. And normally it's like a page or two for the academics, you know, they have their CV with all their publications, and then I got yours, <laugh> Lauren. And it was, it was very lengthy and very detailed, and I was like, wow, where do I even start trying to write questions based on this? But hey, if you know, you gotta know how to play the game, right? And, and if you're interested in those roles, go back and listen again to what Lauren just shared about applying for federal and contract work, because it sounds like it's entirely different than your advice you're typically used to getting for literally just about anything else. So thank you for sharing that. Lauren.
Lauren 00:36:52 One thing that I, that I've done with my resume that I, I think in addition to all the detail that has been helpful, and I've heard from other people that had looked at my resume in the federal government, they said, oh, I'd like your one page summary <laugh>. So I have like a one page overall summary of just kind of hilarious job titles and experience. And then I go into and I lay out my resume by skills and not necessarily by job. So I do have the job that I've worked in, but then I put, you know, the skills and what I think are some of my, my biggest skills, which are always like critical thinking analysis, program evaluation, strategic planning, and then I try and write as much detail as I can under those skillset. So that's just a kind of a strategy that I've used. It's been pretty successful for me. So again, this kind of goes back to my earlier comment that in our career field in monitoring and evaluation, it really is about the skills that you have, <laugh> not so much the knowledge. So writing a federal resume, just kind of keep a focus on those skills.
Sean 00:37:59 And it sounds like it is a still unto itself. I learned something here. I hope you did too, if that's of interest to you. Now, obviously you don't work all the time. You live in dc you're involved outside of work, and you volunteer with both the Honors College. So thank you. I know you've done mentoring, you've participated in Connect and you've done our missions interviews, so I really appreciate that. But you're also involved in a very unique Penn State group that I think only exists in dc. Can you talk about that? Because that may be of interest for you scholars, if you're even just doing an internship or as you look to move there after graduation. We
Lauren 00:38:33 Have the Penn State Professional Women's Network of Washington d c and it's not just limited to women, so I just wanna make that clear. But what we do is we do a and focus on a lot of professional development activities. So we do things like resume reviews, we will have guest speakers, we've done professional headshots, we've done book clubs, we've done, I'm trying to think, networking events, uh, happy hours, all kinds of various ways to meet other people. Meet Penn Staters, non Penn staters, women, men, anyone who, any gender in between. Uh, so it's, it's really open. We're, we're fairly small. We have about 60 active members in any, you know, given year. But we really do try and broaden our reach and we reach out to the, the Penn State Network. You know, whenever we're doing big events, uh, annually we host an ice cream social with Burke Creamery ice cream that we bring down <laugh> from State College.
Lauren 00:39:37 And it's actually geared to, uh, interns and students who are in town for the summer. So we're trying to help students and interns make connections with people, young alumni and alumni that have been here and just wanna eat some ice cream. I've been involved in this group for almost a decade, and the organization in this particular alumni group has been around for more than 25 years. So it is a long standing and pretty cool way just to meet people. So if you're slightly more introverted like myself and are kind of intimidated by some of the alumni groups that have big football watch parties or big other events, this is a nice way that you would get to meet some people than on a smaller scale.
Sean 00:40:20 I think that's really cool. Obviously, advice we're always gonna give you as grads is find your local chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association. Whenever you're going out into the world or interning somewhere else in Pennsylvania, they're typically by county and the rest of the country, it's typically by big city and metro regions, or even by state for the, the areas where there's fewer of us. But in DC you have a very special opportunity there. So if you are looking to intern there, be sure to check out that group. I think that's a great resource for you. Now, Lauren, obviously you have to find some time to relax. I'm sure focusing on continuous improvement can probably be pretty tiring if you're always trying to better yourself and the work of the federal government on behalf of all of us as citizens and taxpayers, how do you find work-life balance? Yeah,
Lauren 00:41:04 I really do try. And, you know, whenever I go home at the end of the day, I turn off my phone, I turn off my computer, and I leave work at work. And <laugh>, you know, I I am very familiar that it will always be there. And one of the things that I have really come to appreciate is that while the work that I do is important, it is not, you know, a life threatening field. Like I am not putting out literal fires, or I am not <laugh>, you know, I am not saving, you know, lives. I'm not in that kind of environment. So I really do try to make sure that I take time to relax and, you know, read random books that <laugh> I can find. You know, I've been really enjoying book talk on TikTok because I've found authors that I had never even heard of or would probably have considered before.
Lauren 00:42:02 DC is really awesome for green space. So if you are very active or just like being around trees and mountains or rivers, there are so many opportunities to just get outside. We are about an hour from the Chesapeake Bay where you can go boating or crabbing or paddle boarding or kayaking. We're about two hours from the Shenandoah Mountains, so you can go hiking and camping and exploring. And even within DC for people that don't have cars, like there are so many opportunities that within the district to, you know, the Potomac River has really been cleaned up over the past two decades. And so it's safe to paddle board and kayak there. There are bike trails, there are historic bike paths going from DC up almost to Pittsburgh, continuous on, on trails. So like, there are just really awesome outdoor opportunities, and that is what I try and spend my time doing when I'm away from work, is exploring all of those,
Sean 00:43:07 And especially for getting around the district, from my experience, one of the better public transit systems in the East coast, for sure. To be able to get around on the metro. And it's seems like that's expanding to give you more opportunities to get around as well, especially if you don't have a car. Yeah,
Lauren 00:43:20 The, the metro is great. Um, and I recently found out that if you are interested in camping, there's metro accessible campsite. So like, you don't even need a car to go camping from Washington dc which you would never think, but DC just has a lot of amazing parks in and around the, the city and we're, you know, obviously close to Maryland and Virginia. So, uh, and the metro extends into those areas as well. So the park systems around here are just phenomenal. And the, they've put in a lot of bicycle lanes and they keep expanding those to make it safer for people that wanna commute via bicycle. And DC is a very active running community. I, myself am part of it, and I was never a runner before in my life, but Washington DC kind of <laugh> changed my view on running. So yeah, th this is just a very great way to explore kind of the environment and history and culture.
Sean 00:44:19 Love it. Now we're gonna pivot to the back end of our conversation here, Lauren. What would you say is your biggest success to date as you reflect on your career so far?
Lauren 00:44:28 That's hard. I think, um, one of the things that I am just very proud of are a lot of the reports that I had been able to, not co-author, but even just contribute to. I have been able to participate in a lot of really great reviews of the programs and policies of the federal government and, you know, have been able to make some changes during my auditing career. We were able to help, you know, really strengthen policies and programs at the F B I specifically. The, the reports were all available for those audits online. We also, I've been able to really look and ask questions about, you know, are our child labor forced labor programs working, and, you know, how can we do better? So I just think that kind of the, the mission that I've been working on, just for me is one of my biggest, most proud accomplishment because I really do feel like I am supporting the taxpayers in, in the work that I do, uh, and making sure that we're not wasting federal funds well,
Sean 00:45:35 On behalf of myself and everybody listening, who's ever paid any federal taxes. Thank you, <laugh>. Um, now on the flip side, what would you say is the biggest learning moment that you've had some kind of mistake other than dyeing your hair pink the night before thesis presentation that you, you had and that you learned from in your career?
Lauren 00:45:52 You know, um, I, I feel like, um, 'cause, uh, part of my job really does involve like, engaging with a lot of people, really making sure that I am responsive to individual way of communicating. And so, you know, I've, I've had more than a fair share of mishaps where I'm a very straightforward person and I am going to say what is on my mind? And sometimes that does not come across very well or, uh, <laugh> it needs to be, you know, worded slightly differently or thought through a bit more. So, um, there have been more than a fair share of times when I may have said exactly what was on my mind and I probably not, I should not have, or I maybe should have, you know, rephrased it to be something a like a little more positive or <laugh> something a little more like, Hey, you should consider this instead of, this really is terrible.
Lauren 00:46:51 So, uh, I've definitely had those kind of, uh, stepping on other people's toes with my, my, uh, straightforward <laugh> personality a few times. But I have learned from that. Um, I've definitely taken a number of, uh, communication classes, <laugh> and courses and like, you know, professional development trainings. And I've, I've definitely tried to be more of an active listener than maybe a, a reactionary person that I think I naturally tend to be, you know, uh, I do recognize that that is kind of a weakness that I have and <laugh> that is something that I have to continually work on.
Sean 00:47:27 I think that's a great, still for you, the scholar listening to think about how you communicate with others and knowing that some folks respond very well to Lauren, your natural style of being very direct and other folks, you really have to think through and massage how you communicate. So learning your audience, I think that's a really helpful thing that you brought up there. How do you approach mentorship? I'm sure you've had plenty of mentors in your career, and you're also at a point where you can be a mentor to others and give advice back to, you know, your younger staff, your interns. How do you go about that and how do you suggest that students approach mentorship? I used
Lauren 00:48:02 To think it had to be this kind of very formal mentor mentee relationship, but I, I realized that it's just a, you know, having conversations with people and treating it more like you just wanna get to know somebody and you don't realize what information you're going to get from that person. So, uh, a lot of times instead of, you know, like, okay, I'm gonna bestow whatever knowledge and advice that I have upon you, it's really just like, well, what are you like asking questions and being curious about what the other person is interested in, and listening and trying to think about, you know, if you have relatable stories or advice. So I really have been taking kind of the approach of, one, getting to understand what people's interests are, where they wanna go, and then asking them, well, what do you need from me? Like, how can I help support you?
Lauren 00:48:59 So giving people the power to say, well, you know, I just need, you know, I just need to bounce ideas off somebody or, you know, I don't know where to go and look for things that are, might be an international development, like where do I find those? So asking people what they are looking for as opposed to assuming they need this or I can only give them, this has been, uh, the approach that I've been taking. And I love to just keep it fairly informal. I sometimes just send an email to somebody that was a mentor for me, or I have mentored and just told them where I am right now. Like, Hey, by the way, I'm, I'm still at the Department of Labor. I'm still working in <laugh> monitoring and evaluation. And even if I don't have anything to ask of them, just giving them an update and letting them know that I'm thinking of them, I think goes a long way.
Lauren 00:49:52 And I truly appreciate when people that I have worked with just send me that kind of update. And even if they don't need to ask me any questions or need advice or, you know, are looking for something, just kind of keeping me in mind, I think has been really helpful to like, keep that relationship going over the years. So it's been a really cool process. I have had a number of mentors and I'm trying to make, you know, I, I wouldn't say like partnerships or make connections, uh, with some of the, the staff that I have, just like pointing them to people that I think that they would be interested in speaking with and not saying like, I think this person will be your mentor, but just say like, Hey, you should talk to so and so. I think they'd be interested in, you know, in like, you'd be interested in what they're working on and just trying to make those connections so people can like, ask their own questions and find everyone else's path. So it's being a good connection and resource to people listening and just kind of keeping, keeping old mentors or past mentors in mind, um, I think is some of the kind of advice that I would give.
Sean 00:50:54 That's excellent. And I like that you also include a bit of advocacy in there too, and helping people make those other connections as well and saying, Hey, I might not be able to help you right now, but this person can mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I think that's a key part of, of being a mentor. Now you mentioned people, and I know you, you, you mentioned the honors coordinator at Behrend at the time a little bit earlier, but are there any professors or friends from your days at Behrend that you want to give a shout out to there
Lauren 00:51:17 <laugh>? I have, I actually keep in touch with so many people from Penn State, Behrend <laugh>, I don't wanna take the rest of the time to shout out to everyone, but Dr. Gamble, Dr. Spiel, Dr. Vbr, he was my band instructor at Behrend. Those are, are definitely some professors that I keep in contact with. Kristin Comstock Perry, those are, are people that I work at Penn State Behrend that I had gone to school with. And ironically, um, somebody who I had worked with, well, somebody I currently work with now also is a, a Penn State Behrend alumni, also a scholar, but was probably graduated a few years after me. I had gone back and spoken to one of my former professors classes and then met this person in Washington DC when, when they, uh, came and I, I spoke to some classes that were here in DC from, from Baron, but we ended up working together in the same office. So Mauricio Cortez <laugh>, he is also a Penn State alum who small world, we've managed to end up in the same little niche office at the Department of Labor. <laugh>, you
Sean 00:52:32 Gotta love when those Penn State connections pop up. I think that's what really makes this community special. What also makes it special is the advice that you've given throughout the conversation and paying it forward to our current scholars. Is there any last piece of advice that you wanted to give to students about their time at Penn State in the Honors college, whether at University Park Behrend, or across the Commonwealth and just didn't come up in our conversation so far?
Lauren 00:52:55 I think the only other advice I would give to students is always say yes to whatever opportunities come your way. Um, some of the, the best memories that I have from Penn State are when, you know, random people have asked like, Hey, do you wanna go grab a, a light, a late night bite at a restaurant? And then you end up talking for hours about, you know, different classes and what you've been doing, and then, you know, 20 years later you're still friends because you said yes to a random person saying, Hey, do you wanna grab a bite to eat <laugh>? Uh, or even just like for research opportunities, I, I had a, a professor who was creating a, a database of multilateral treaties. I didn't know what those were, and I thought that sounded cool. And, you know, I ended up, you know, working on it and then writing my thesis based on it. So, you know, you just never know what kind of random opportunities come up. So I just encourage you to try and say yes,
Sean 00:53:55 If a scholar wanted to reach out to you and connect with you and take this conversation a little bit further, learn more about program and evaluation, monitoring, learn about life in DC life at Penn State Behrend, how can they connect with you?
Lauren 00:54:08 Yeah, I am available on LinkedIn. Uh, my, uh, I don't quite know what my handle is, but my name is Lauren Pierra, Joel <laugh>. So I, I keep a public profile, so you can definitely find me there, and that would probably be the easiest way to try and <laugh> reach out to me.
Sean 00:54:26 Excellent. And finally, I hope you were able to get this at least periodically up at Behrend's though, with the amount of snow you probably had. I don't know how often you would want ice cream, but if you were a flavor of Burke Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as a scholar alumna, most importantly, why would you be that flavor?
Lauren 00:54:42 I would probably be, uh, death by chocolate. That's my favorite flavor, <laugh>. Um, and I think the reason why is just because it is, uh, a little over the top. It's a little bold. And who doesn't love chocolate? <laugh>.
Sean 00:55:00 That is a great choice. Lauren, Joel of the Department of Labor. I hope I can put that out there. You're, that's where you're at. You'll see that on her LinkedIn where she told you to connect with, with her. If you are interested in taking this further, thank you so much for coming on following the Gone Today and sharing your experiences at Penn State Behrend in the Peace Corps in DC for our scholars. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Lauren 00:55:22 Thank you for having me.
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Sean 00:55:30 Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
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