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Interviews with 2021 VA Government Fellows

Last year, five William & Mary alums were selected to participate in the 2021 Governor’s Fellows Program. The Department of Government at W&M had the pleasure of speaking with three of the five alums to discuss their experiences in the Fellowship program this past summer.

The W&M 2021 VA Governor’s Fellows from left to right: Randall Joseph Riffle ‘21, Grace Poreda ‘21, Nadiah Cooper ‘21, Mary Olivia Rentner ‘21, and Michael Jerakis ‘21

Nadiah Cooper ‘21


What was your motivation to apply to the VA Governor’s Fellow Program? 
I was encouraged to apply to the Fellow Program by my former professor and research advisor Christine Nemacheck.

What division did you work in during your time in the Governor’s Fellowship?
I worked in the Office of Communications.

What special projects did you work on during your Fellowship?
I worked on event staffing for bill signings as well as social media campaigns.

How did your time at William & Mary prepare you for this summer experience?
William & Mary provided me with the Government framework and diverse knowledge-set that allowed me to be a contributing member to the Governor’s team.

What was the most valuable takeaway from your experience in the VA Governor’s Fellowship?
The most valuable takeaway from the Fellow Program was the professional development I was able to learn.

What surprised you the most about your Fellowship this summer?
I was the most surprised by the close relationships I made throughout the Fellowship.

In what department or position have you been rehired?
I was rehired in the Policy Office of the Governor as the Policy Assistant.

What are you most excited about in this new role?
I am most excited to participate in the legislative process as we prepare for the next legislative session.

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Randy Riffle ‘21


What was your motivation to apply to the VA Governor’s Fellow Program?
My motivation came from my previous involvement and internships in the Virginia state government. I heard about the Fellowship during my first year at William & Mary at the Road to Richmond day trip and made it one of my goals to apply.

What division did you work in during your time in the Governor’s Fellowship?
During the Governor’s Fellowship, I was placed in the Office of the Secretary of Finance.

What special projects did you work on during your Fellowship?
I had the opportunity to work closely with the Virginia state budget and the allocation of American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government to localities.

How did your time at William & Mary prepare you for this summer experience?
My time at William & Mary allowed me to pursue my interest in state government while still developing an array of workplace skills fit for the Office of the Governor. So when it came to doing research, drafting a write-up for a state agency, or creating a presentation, I was ready.

What was the most valuable takeaway from your experience in the VA Governor’s Fellowship?
Almost every day, we had a Brown Bag lunch with a member of Governor Northam’s Administration or Cabinet telling us their stories and letting us ask them questions.

What surprised you the most about your Fellowship this summer?
I was surprised by the number of field trips and places we visited. We went to places you would expect when you think of state government such as state agencies and parks, but we also got a chance to visit a State Correctional Center and cannabis distillery. This was something that made the program and experience and allowed us Fellows to gain perspective.

In what department or position have you been rehired?
The office of Delegate Mike Mullin – Legislative Assistant

What are you most excited about in this new role?
I am most excited to work with Delegate Mullin in the 93rd District and in Richmond on criminal justice reform, supporting our educators and workers.

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Grace Poreda ‘21


Grace Poreda is a Public Policy major and Economics minor at William & Mary, and a Massachusetts native. Grace is drawn to public policy because she believes in the power of government to improve the everyday lives of people, and she is excited to pursue work opportunities in DC after she graduates this December. Outside of her studies in Chancellor’s Hall, Grace is a member of Orchesis Modern Dance Company at William & Mary, as well as Delta Gamma. Grace is also an apprentice in Leah Glenn Dance Theatre and has recently become obsessed with the everything bagels at Bake Shop in Williamsburg.

What was your motivation to apply to the VA Governor’s Fellow Program?
After taking the fall 2020 semester off to work as a Field Organizer on the Virginia 2020 Democratic Coordinated Campaign, I was looking to expand my horizons and pursue summer opportunities on the official side of governing. I spoke with Rachel Becker, W&M ‘19, a former Governor’s Fellow and current Policy & Communications Advisor to the Secretary of Health and Human Resources of Virginia, and she strongly encouraged me to apply! I certainly wouldn’t have felt so empowered to pursue this opportunity without Rachel’s support.

What division did you work in during your time in the Governor’s Fellowship?
I served as a Fellow in the Office of the Governor’s Chief Workforce Advisor, Dr. Megan Healy. During my time as a Fellow, Dr. Healy’s office became a full Secretariat, and she officially became Virginia’s first Secretary of Labor as of July 1. It was very exciting to witness this transition firsthand and assist the Secretary’s office during the first weeks of formal oversight of three state agencies.

What special projects did you work on during your Fellowship?
One exciting project I worked on was the launch of the Governor’s G3 Community College Tuition Assistance program. Prior to her time in state government, Secretary Healy was a community college professor for six years. Through my research about the G3 Program and my time with the Secretary, I gained a better understanding of the power of community college as a workforce development tool in the Commonwealth, and the meaningful impact that community college enrollment can have on the lives of Virginians.

How did your time at William & Mary prepare you for this summer experience?
William & Mary has given me the tools to succeed in the fast-paced, high-workload environment of the Governor’s Office. Because of the rigor of my coursework at W&M, I was able to step into this environment with the research and critical thinking skills necessary to manage a variety of tasks at one time, while also considering the nuances of the policy environment in which the Secretary operates.

What was the most valuable takeaway from your experience in the VA Governor’s Fellowship?
My time as a Governor’s Fellow has given me the professional skills and confidence I need to pursue a career in public service. As someone who did not come to W&M with have family or friends who pursued careers in government, I struggled to understand what it might look like for me if I chose this path. My team in the Governor’s office has been nothing but encouraging and inclusive, and my time with them has afforded me the knowledge and experience I need to pursue this career path further.

What surprised you the most about your Fellowship this summer?
I was surprised at how close I became with my peers in the Fellowship. It was great to connect with my fellow W&M students and alumni and make new friends from other Virginia colleges and universities. Our Fellows class got to attend a variety of field trips across the state to learn more about various sectors of Virginia’s economy, public health campaigns, and historical and environmental preservation efforts. I like to joke that some days, I felt like I was “studying abroad” in Virginia!

In what department or position have you been rehired?
I have been rehired as a Special Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Labor. I am so excited to be back on the same team I worked with over the summer.

What are you most excited about in this new role?
It’s a really interesting time in the labor market, as the economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. I am excited to see how our office continues to shape Virginia’s economic recovery process and even more excited to play a part in making the labor force work for everyone in Virginia.

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