At annual conference, FDA-Center for Drug Evaluation and Research communications director shares advice on public service careers | FIU News


Hundreds of students, alumni and career development professionals from the State University System of Florida, colleges and private universities convened at FIU last month to network and learn about employment opportunities with federal agencies at the 17th Annual Federal Government Statewide Conference.

The conference, hosted by FIU Career and Talent Development, featured representatives of nearly 30 federal agencies, including The White House, the US Office of Personnel Management, branches of the US military, the US Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Agency for International Development, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and more.

The agency representatives participated in panel discussions covering topics such as STEM and criminal justice careers in the federal government, dispelling myths about federal hiring practices, becoming a political appointmentee, and putting your law degree to work in the federal government. They also took part in a resource fair where they met and networked with attendees to share their agencies’ available hiring opportunities.

A group of students interested in federal government employment opportunities attends the 17th Annual Federal Government Statewide Conference at FIU

In recent years, FIU students and alumni have been hired for federal positions at the US Department of Health and Human Services; the US Department of Homeland Security; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Peace Corps; and the US Department of Agriculture as a direct result of the conference, according to a recent survey of participating organizations.

“FIU has so many students and alumni who are interested in federal employment. This conference is a valuable tool for them to gain insight into the federal hiring process, which differs in some ways from the hiring processes in the private sector,” said Nelly Leon, associate director of career services at the College of Engineering & Computing and this year’s conference planning committee chair. “On behalf of the planning, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to all who attended this year, and to the federal agency representatives who participated as panelists and keynote speakers and spoke to students at the resource fair.”

FIU has an ongoing partnership with the federal government to recruit talent into public service. In fact, FIU alumni have forged careers at all levels of the federal government in Washington, DC, and students are capturing the attention of recruiters and agencies as the intelligent, diverse representatives that the government needs.

Molly O’Halloran, program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion at USAID’s Latin American & Caribbean Bureau, said she was impressed by the caliber of Panthers she met at the conference.

“In every encounter, I was thoroughly impressed by the professionalism, depth of knowledge and vast life and world perspectives of the students brought to the table,” said O’Halloran, who also visited FIU when the university signed a landmark agreement to increase jobs, internships and research.

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James-Denton Wyllie ’08 speaks to students virtually from Washington, DC, about his career in public service

James-Denton Wyllie ’08
In a keynote speech, communication alumnus James-Denton Wyllie ’08 shared his perspective on a career in public service and advice for interested students and alumni. Wyllie is a US Army veteran and the director of communications for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the US Food & Drug Administration. In this position, he oversees public affairs, strategic planning, organizational marketing, digital communication operations, stakeholder outreach, media relations and crisis communications.

“In a career in public service, you have the opportunity to effect change in matters of great importance,” said Wyllie, adding that throughout his own career, there has not been a single year when he did not have the opportunity to work on a matter of national or global significance, from 9/11 and anti-terrorist operations to national food supply issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and more.

Before joining the CDER, Wyllie directed the Office of Communications at the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, served as deputy director for the US Navy Office of Information’s External Communications Division, and more. Wyllie is also a member of the Senior Executive Service.

Contrary to what some may believe, Wyllie said careers in public service also offer the opportunity to express oneself and explore work that inspires passion.

“There is no other type of work where you can be yourself more than in a career in public service. It offers a lifetime’s worth of opportunities and a lifetime’s worth of options.”

The key to success in public service? “Prioritization, not balance,” Wyllie said, adding that he believes there is no true sense of balance. One must learn to determine which priorities are most important at a given time and also have the ability to pivot gracefully and intentionally as priorities change – which in public service may happen in an instant.

Wyllie said getting his foot in the door at his first federal position after graduating FIU took patience and determination. “I applied to job after job after job. I made applying to jobs a job in and of itself, and I continued to refine and bolster my resume and cover letter. I made it a point to learn from [rejections] by asking how I could make myself a more attractive candidate for future opportunities.”

His best advice for new job candidates is to consider the types of risks they are willing to take for an opportunity to launch or advance their careers. Are they willing to move away from home? Are they willing to accept a certain salary or take a term position that may only last six months or a year? Are they willing to consider agencies or organizations that may not be their goal agency to accept a good offer elsewhere in their chosen field?

Above all, Wyllie encourages students to remember that “public service is ultimately about the people you are serving.”

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