Public Service From Home: A 2020 Experience

Hello! My name is Dylan Sloat and I am one of the two 2020 Keefe Congressional Fellows! I am from Cranberry Township, PA (about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh) and have lived my entire life within the greater Pittsburgh area. I grew up as a huge Pittsburgh sports fan and have always loved the city so being able to have the chance to go to school in the city I love and pursue opportunities within Pittsburgh has been a dream come true.  

I am going into my senior year in the fall and am finishing up my political science and economics majors and my history minor to graduate after the upcoming fall semester. I have spent the last handful of years working in various government offices to gain experience in policy and government. I started working on local campaigns when I was 17 and for my high school senior project I was able to job shadow my local county commissioner, which gave me my first experience helping to assist with real policy and allowed me a window to see how it was able to help the lives of real people in my county.

That early professional experience and my interest in political and economic history was what led me to decide to study political science, economics, and history at Pitt in the hope of gaining further knowledge in those fields that I could apply to my professional endeavors. While at Pitt I have been able to intern for the office of Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, the office of Senator Bob Casey, and three campaigns. Through my internships in City Council and Senator Casey’s office, I was able to complete research that was used to help write more informed policies to help people in our communities.  As part of my work I was able to interact with constituents from all over the city and state. My campaign experience gave me the opportunity to go door-to-door and meet people from all walks of life that all had stories that would impact me and my approaches to crucial issues forever. All of these internships allowed me to gain more political and legislative experience at different levels of government and more confidence in my convictions of how to best serve the people of the communities of which I was a part.

In addition to these internships, I have had the privilege of holding three on-campus positions at Pitt as a First Year Mentor in the office of New Student Programs, a member of the Student Civic Engagement Council in the office of PittServes, and as a Dietrich School Ambassador for the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. As a First Year Mentor I was able to assist incoming freshman during their transition to college and within that responsibility I was able to advocate for incoming student populations that were not well-served by traditional programs, such as commuter students, transfer students, and international students. As a Dietrich Ambassador I was able to represent the Dietrich School during tours and large events for prospective students, where I could share my love for Pitt with prospective future Pitt students and their parents. As a member of Student Civic Engagement Council (SCEC) I was able to help create volunteer programs to best serve areas of the city that could benefit from Pitt’s vast resources and large pool of student volunteers. As a member of SCEC I was also tasked with creating a Do-It-Yourself service kit, which led me to create a box student groups could check out that sustainably used leftover t-shirts to create headwraps for cancer patients in the area, a subject near to my heart as my mom began cancer treatment. Additionally, I was a founding member of the Student United Way, which was a student group that extends the advocacy goals of the United Way to Pitt’s campus and allowed us to tackle community issues such as childhood literacy by events such as book drives.

All of these experiences and the skills and knowledge that they taught me have all led me to where I am in the summer of 2020, where I have the privilege to say that I am a Keefe Congressional Fellow. I have found that some of the most important things that I have learned up to this point, and some of the things that ultimately allowed me to reach this position as an awardee, were the little things that you cannot be taught in a classroom. Things like understanding how to connect and empathize with people of all different backgrounds, learning how to best lead as a member of a group without a leadership role, and most importantly learning little lessons from all the people you come across which will apply to all aspects of your own life when you least expect it. The other thing about working as an advocate and “public servant” that you never learn until you do it is that you will gain as much or more from the people you serve as they gain from you if you are open to learn from them. Those relationships you build are what makes every next day rewarding and why I have chosen to pursue a career in public service.

With one semester of college remaining , my professional goals are to help develop federal policy in Washington D.C.. Then once I have gained valuable work experience, I hope to go to graduate school to pursue a degree in law or public policy, allowing me to seek a higher level position in the government. As I have learned from my experiences thus far, and especially during a global pandemic,  these goals are subject to change and will certainly grow and change in the years to come, but no matter what form it may take I will continue to pursue a life in public service.

With these goals in mind and funding from the Keefe fellowship, I looked excitedly towards a potential summer internship working for the office of a Congressman or a Senator in our nation’s capital. This was all until COVID-19 threw a wrench into these plans and led many offices to cancel their internship programs or only hire a very small number from their state. Once I had exhausted my hopes of a summer internship on the hill this summer, I was still left trying to find an internship in late May. However, in the time of uncertainty I was able to ground myself and get to work trying to find an internship. Ultimately I was able to use my connections from past Pittsburgh based internships to land me an exciting internship position with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The URA is a government organization under the purview of the Pittsburgh city government that is charge of the large task of overseeing economic development projects and maintaining equitable standards of development for all those who live and do business in the city. I will be interning for the Office of Strategic Policy and Communications at the URA, where I will be assisting in various projects that mainly hinge on using data to create more transparent and straight-forward ways to represent the realities of housing and development trends in Pittsburgh. These will then be used to create policy and resources that will better serve the Pittsburgh public and will give Pittsburghers easier access to data regarding housing policies and procedures.

This internship will allow me to gain more specific knowledge of economic and developmental policy on the city level and grant me further opportunities to learn from professionals whose expertise positively impact peoples’ lives every day. I am excited to be able to get started and to do my small part to help create a city that continues to approach develop in an equitable way that best serves its diverse population and I know that I will learn some lessons that I can apply directly and indirectly towards all of my future goals. All in all, COVID-19 may have changed the placement and format of how we assist our neighbors and our communities, but the challenges that we face together are more pressing than ever, even while we are all kept apart, so I’m excited to get to work.

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