Think that the only way to serve your country is to enlist? Think again! In 2012 President Obama created the Presidential Innovation Fellowship program, which brings the nation’s best and brightest technical talent to Washington DC for six to twelve month “tours of duty.” Instead of being on the frontlines of combat, the fellows are on the frontlines of innovation, embedded in various government agencies helping them push their programs into the digital age.
Kara DeFrias, who currently works on the User Experience team at TurboTax, recently concluded a six month tour of duty as a Presidential Innovation Fellow. In this video we speak to Kara about what inspired her to become an Innovation Fellow and hear her three tips for anyone who wants to throw their hat in the ring.
DeFrias says she was inspired to apply for the fellowship after seeing the Dalai Lama speak.
“I went and saw the Dalai Lama and I was really stressed out…he was very serene, very calm and what I took from that is what am I not doing enough of that I am not as calm and serene as him? And as I thought about this for the next couple of weeks I realized its not what am I not doing enough of, what it was is am I doing it at the right level?”
When she learned about the President’s Innovation Fellowship program she thought, yes, “that is the right level, having an impact on the national level.”
As a fellow, Kara worked on the MyUSA project whose goal is to make accessing government services more user friendly to the average American.
But the most impactful work came when Superstorm Sandy hit. On the night of the storm Kara was embedded in the FEMA headquarters helping aggregate data about gas availability and school closures. “To actually be in the command center, to see them working, to see the passion, the dedication, the intensity, it was really surprising and touching. And to know that we could help…it was a really inspiring day.”
Apply to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow
Applications are due March 17th. Apply now.
You don’t have to be a developer, as Kara mentioned “I’m not a coder! And I got it!”
The program is looking for fellows with a wide range of skillsets from business strategy, project management, user experience design, web design, coding, or just a passion for figuring out how to use the technology to make America a better place.
This year there is also an exciting change to the program: fellows won’t be required to live in DC for their entire tour of duty. That means that if you have a family or other life circumstance that prevents you from being able to up and move to DC for six to twelve months, don’t worry! You can still apply!
Kara’s Application Tips:
1. Think long and hard about why you want to be an Innovation Fellow
2. Be genuine, be yourself. Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear.
3. Assemble your team of avengers, those people who can help you put together your application, help you practice your interviewing, and most important, cheer you on!
For more information: whitehouse.gov/innovationfellows
To apply: innovationfellows.usa.gov/apply