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A Public Policy Pivot: Colleen McRann MPP ’24 finds a new career path at SPP

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Graduation Pictures of 2024 Robertson Fellows

“My experience at the School of Public Policy has changed the trajectory of my career,” reflects Colleen McRann MPP ’24. 

Before attending SPP, McRann earned a Political Science degree from the College of Holy Cross in 2013. As a student, she participated in a D.C. semester program interning with Senator John Kerry, then-senate foreign relations committee chairman. Igniting a passion for D.C., she relocated to the area and began a career in advocacy and communications.  She supported grassroots advocacy efforts, advocated for the International Affairs Budget and served as the Network Engagement Director for The Harwood Institute. 

While McRann developed valuable skills in communications, she wanted to pursue a career more directly involved in public policy and international affairs. “I knew graduate school was the next right step to make this career shift,” McRann explained. She explored graduate schools in the D.C. area and chose to pursue her studies at SPP after meaningful conversations with professors and alums. McRann was also selected for the Robertson Foundation for Government Fellowship.

While at SPP, McRann worked as a graduate research assistant for Alec Worsnop, an assistant professor and research fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Maryland. She analyzed the political-military balance of global insurgent groups and took courses within the International Security and Economic Policy (ISEP) Specialization. Worsnop’s PLCY699K class on Civil Conflict and Josh Shifrinson’s PLCY720 International Security Policy class were especially impactful.  

McRann leveraged her graduate studies to secure a yearlong Pathways internship with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM). The Pathways Program supports current students and recent graduates interested in pursuing a career within the federal government. Completing the internship may result in conversion to a permanent civil service position. 

During the Fall 2023 Semester, McRann was interning at PM while taking Nancy Gallagher’s class on Cooperative Security, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation Policy. She used the classroom to explore complex topics she encountered during her internship. For example, McRann worked on civilian harm mitigation at PM and used her coursework to analyze the 2022 Political Declaration on the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA). 

“The classes at SPP have taught me the hard skills in policy analysis, which I use all the time in my internship at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs,” McRann explains. “I’ve gotten to apply lessons from the classroom in real policy situations.” 

McRann also partnered with the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) for her MPP capstone project. Through experiential learning opportunities like capstone projects, SPP students partner with professional clients to apply their knowledge gained through SPP coursework to a real-world public policy issue. McRann analyzed the dynamics of harmful speech on social media and identified preventive approaches to mitigate its impact.

“For students just coming into the program, know that there are so many opportunities for you here,” McRann advises. “Whether it’s connecting with professors who share your research interests, going to CISSM events, or engaging with the Career Center, you’ll find the support you’re looking for. But also be open to opportunities that present themselves. The faculty are so supportive and I’ve met amazing friends at SPP.” 

McRann was selected as a finalist for the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) and is excited to pursue a career in international affairs. She hopes to secure a PMF position at the State Department, USAID or the Department of Defense. “I wouldn’t have gotten this State Department internship let alone the PMF without going to grad school at UMD,” McRann said. “It was definitely the right decision for me and I’m excited to see what’s next!”

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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