Meredith Sells never guessed she'd get a job working for the government, let alone in the imposing D.C. headquarters of the U.S. Department of Interior.
"It's built like a labyrinth," Sells said of the structure, located a few blocks from the White House. When she begins work in April at the headquarters, she imagines getting lost among the wide corridors.
Sells will find her way quickly. She has too much to accomplish, too much to make of this "World-is-your-oyster opportunity," she said.
"I have this natural curiosity and desire to have an impact," said Sells, who just earned her master's degree in Policy, Planning and Management from USM's Muskie School of Public Service. And she earned her job.
In January, Sells became this year’s only Mainer and one of USM’s first Presidential Management Fellows, joining the top 9% in a roster of recent ivy league graduates promoted as among the country’s best young leaders. The 42-year-old program works to highlight extraordinary young people for roles within the federal government. This year’s 351 finalists were culled from more than 4,000 applicants.
In essence, all finalists are winners. Federal agencies woo them and, with some initiative from the finalists themselves, they receive jobs among the government's decision makers.
For Sells, that meant joining the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
"It's really fascinating because it's a younger, less established agency that is collaborating with NASA and NOAA and the Coast Guard," she said. Soon after she begins in Washington, she expects to travel to field offices in New Orleans and elsewhere where she can see policies enacted first hand. "I will be having an impact on policy development for worker safety, oil spill prevention and environmental enforcement."
As a new graduate of the school named for Edmund Muskie -- a father of environmental policy and legislation in America -- the role feels right to her.
"I am excited about following the legacy of Ed Muskie and the Muskie School," she said. It will help guide her as she begins work in a bureaucracy whose goal is stewardship.
"It's a place full of smart and interesting people trying to make a difference in the world," she said. "They are trying to set policy solutions that will lead us towards a sustainable place."
It's far from where she started.
Sells grew up in Cape Elizabeth, earned her bachelor’s degree in Marketing at the University of Delaware and went to work on Wall Street for four years.
After helping people improve their investments, she sought something more and enrolled in the Muskie school.
The interdisciplinary work and the broad focus on policy, planning and management prepared her for a wide array of roles. It hit home as she examined the fellowship program and the people who applied. Few graduate schools prepare students as broadly, she said.
"I thought, 'Wow. I have the background and the skills and the tools to be able to apply to this range of areas,'" she said. "That was huge."
At the same time, she began to realize that her own horizons were far wider than she guessed. "Too often, students think too narrowly, limiting themselves before they before they get started by not filling out an application or investigating all of the career choices they will have with their new degrees."
"You never know what's going to happen," she said. "Cast a wide net."