Ten of Virginia’s best and brightest are poised to climb the commonwealth’s leadership ladder.

They are the members of the Virginia Management Fellows 2021-23 cohort, and on June 9, they participated in a pinning ceremony that marked their completion of the two-year competitive program that prepares graduates for careers in state government.

The program, a collaboration between Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs and Virginia’s Department of Human Resource Management, was founded in 2017 with the support of then Gov. Terry McAuliffe. It aims to serve as Virginia’s management and leadership succession planning pipeline and was created in anticipation of the large percentage of Virginia’s state agency leaders who will be retiring in coming years.

The current Virginia governor is responsible for announcing each new cohort. Applicants who are chosen for the fellowship receive a full-time salary and benefits as they navigate the program, which typically includes three rotations at any of the 36 participating state agencies, mentorships with state agency leaders, learning modules, and lectures and seminars held at the school’s Richmond campus. Following the program, fellows typically apply to and often land jobs with state government.

Andrew Sharp, the Virginia Management Fellows program manager, said cohorts are made up of fellows with a range of educational backgrounds.

This year, about 50 people applied for the program from universities across the commonwealth. People with undergraduate or graduate degrees are eligible for the fellowship. Those chosen for the 2023-25 cohort will be announced in August.

The 2021-23 cohort included three Virginia Tech graduates.

“We try to, as much as we can, diversify the pool in terms of talent, skills, majors, and backgrounds,” Sharp said. “That just makes for a stronger cohort.”

One of the recent cohort’s Hokies was Conrad Faett, a 2021 graduate. He said he was unsure what he wanted to do with his political science degree as he approached graduation. The program provided an ideal transition from school to a professional setting, Faett said, while still providing ample learning resources.

He spent his first rotation at the Virginia Department of Elections, learning the inner workings of voter processing and election result tracking. After his second rotation with the Virginia Department of Health, the Department of Elections offered him a job as an elections and registration specialist, which he accepted but continued the program as a “hybrid” fellow — meaning he completed the program’s requirements, but not a third rotation.

“It’s given me opportunities that I didn’t know were possible,” Faett said of the fellowship. “The networking and shared passion for public service has been really cool to experience. This is definitely a lifelong connection that we’ll have as a group. We’ll always remember this experience because it was so unique.”

Fellows also participate in the Virginia Public Sector Leader program, one of the school’s leadership certificate programs, and are eligible to receive three hours of Virginia Tech graduate credits for a budgeting course. In addition to their work, the fellows fund, design, and implement a public-private partnership with a local organization or nonprofit that benefits an underserved community each year.

One of this year’s fellows, Madelyn Lent, graduated from the University of Richmond in 2021 with a degree in philosophy, politics, economics, and law. During her first rotation, Lent was assigned to the Department of General Services’ communications team.

After her second rotation with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, she accepted a job offer to become the department’s policy manager. Like Faett, she stayed with her cohort as a hybrid fellow.

Lent said she feels as though she is exactly where she is meant to be.

“I had been intentional about coming to the agency,” Lent said. “I have a younger sibling with autism and Down syndrome. I grew familiar with the developmental disability community and was interested in that policy area. I knew I wanted to go into one of the agencies that touched the world.”

She said her favorite part of the fellowship was the seminars given by seasoned professionals as well as the relationships she built with her mentors. She said she also appreciates that the variety of rotations gave fellows opportunities to explore career paths before committing.

“I think it gives you a lot more autonomy to make informed decisions about how you want your career to move forward,” Lent said. “It gives you the information and then the autonomy to act.”

Speakers at this year’s pinning ceremony included Margaret “Lyn” McDermid, the secretary of administration in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office, and Janet Lawson, director of Virginia’s Department of Human Resource Management.