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Going Public: Serving the American People from Birmingham to Kyiv

  • October 02, 2014
While the world watches news headlines on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, UAB alumna Rachel Hicks is getting a much closer view — as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) on assignment at the United States Embassy in the capital of Kyiv.
While the world watches news headlines on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, UAB alumna Rachel Hicks is getting a much closer view — as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) on assignment at the United States Embassy in the capital of Kyiv. (“Kyiv,” she explains, reflects the Ukrainian spelling, rather than the Russian “Kiev.”)

The two-year fellowship, designed for recent graduates looking to land a job with the federal government, is quite prestigious: Out of more than 12,000 applicants, approximately 660 were selected as PMF finalists, with only about half receiving an appointed position with a federal agency.

The Boston-based Hicks credits UAB, where she received a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree in 2013 and two bachelor’s degrees — in communication studies and philosophy — two years earlier, for her win. During her undergraduate years, she explored subjects and activities ranging from film to choir to student government. “UAB gave me a lot of diverse experiences that help with the adaptability required in this program,” Hicks says.
Rachel Hicks (at right) with Senator John McCain during his visit to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. Rachel Hicks (at right) with Senator John McCain during his visit to the US Embassy in Ukraine.

Understanding the Sacrifices

At the beginning of her fellowship, Hicks worked closely with the deputy network director at the VISN1 Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System in Massachusetts. In the system’s regional management office, she assisted with business, finance, contracting, public affairs, and human resources, among other areas. She later specialized in public affairs because “this was an opportunity to blend my skills in public administration and communications,” she says. Hicks helped the chief public affairs officer with major projects, including a comprehensive communications plan for corresponding with US congressional representatives and stakeholders and university affiliates that included Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth.

Hicks enjoyed applying her knowledge to support veterans, strengthening a connection that began at birth. “Both of my parents were in the Navy,” she says. “I understand the sacrifices that veterans make.” Born on a base in South Carolina, Hicks has lived in places including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she and her family resided for four years. As a UAB undergraduate student, Hicks worked in the business office of the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “I enjoyed the day-to-day interaction with the veterans,” Hicks says. “I knew I had a commitment to public service.” She returned to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a graduate student.

Passion for the Public Sector

In Kyiv, Hicks is fulfilling a four- to six-month rotational assignment — a PMF requirement that provides an opportunity for fellows to receive broader experience within the federal government and increased professional development by serving in a different bureau, office, program, or agency. In Hicks’s case, she is working with the US Department of State.

At the embassy, Hicks relies on the education she received in UAB’s MPA program, which “gave me the technical skills necessary to work in government at any level.” Her portfolio includes public affairs, media monitoring, human rights reporting, and public diplomacy. She will work in the embassy’s political and public affairs sections, and she will assist in writing the first draft of the Annual Human Rights Report for Ukraine, to be published in 2014 for Congress and the international public.

“Ultimately, I care about people,” Hicks says, adding that her passion for working in the public sector comes down to values — giving back, having integrity, and setting an example by being a good leader and doing the right thing. “Every sector of society needs those values.”

By Javacia Harris Bowser