FOR NICK SIMMONS MPP 2019, participating in the Transition Term (T-Term) program was not only a unique experience; it launched his civil service career.

Transition Term was created in the fall of 2018 as an experiential learning program to provide HKS students with a paid fellowship during January break to support newly elected governors, mayors, and county executives as they assumed office. Launched and run by the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, the program was actually first proposed by students eager for an opportunity to work in government.

Simmons (below with Governor Ned Lamont) was in the first T-Term cohort, along with Yasmin Inam MPP 2020 and Lillie Carroll MPA 2019. A native of Connecticut, he was eager to work with the state’s newly elected governor, Ned Lamont. “I wasn’t really thinking about getting a job in government when I started T-Term,” Simmons says, “but I was really excited about the team there, about the governor’s leadership and his vision.”

Nick Simmons with Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and 2 other colleagues and the Connecticut state house cupola

“It was a very rewarding outcome to be able to help the governor and his team bring to life the plan that my classmates and I had created during T-Term.”

Nick Simmons MPP 2019

Rafael Carbonell, executive director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and an adjunct professor at HKS, oversees the program as part of the center’s portfolio of student-facing initiatives. He knows firsthand how fast and furious those early weeks in office can be from his time in Boston during the city’s mayoral transition from Tom Menino to Marty Walsh. “Transitions have incredibly high energy,” he says. “It’s a frenetic, sometimes chaotic time.”

Simmons’ experience echoed that. Although Lamont had a core transition team ready to go, it had much to do in very little time. “There are so many agency commissioners to select and a cabinet to build out,” says Simmons. “Staffing happens simultaneously with policy building, which is very unusual. But it’s also one of the most entrepreneurial times, because everything is on the table in terms of bold vision.”

He and two T-Term teammates created a plan to launch the governor’s workforce development bill, an important campaign plank. “We did a deep-dive analysis of the workforce system in Connecticut, the governance structure, and the ecosystem across the state,” Simmons says. “We then came up with some recommendations for how to improve that system in Lamont’s first term.”

Shortly after graduating, Simmons received a call from the governor’s chief of staff with a job offer: “They asked me if I wanted to join the administration and help implement the plan we created and help build a new office of workforce strategy,” he says. He came on as director of strategic initiatives. “It was a very rewarding outcome to be able to help the governor and his team bring to life the plan that my classmates and I had created during T-Term,” he says. He later joined the Biden administration as senior advisor to the secretary of education, and just recently returned to Governor Lamont’s team as deputy chief of staff.

Jeff Leibman teaching a class at HKS and a view of the HKS campus

“I knew that the Kennedy School had this history of being the place to go for transitions, and the idea of being able to rekindle that really excited me.”

Jeff Liebman

The T-Term program can boast many similar stories from the five years since it was launched. Statistics from the program are impressive: It has seen 152 student fellows participate in 51 state and local government administrations, and in 2023, the year with the largest number of participants to date, the program placed 54 students with six governors, one county executive, and 10 mayors throughout the country. Starting in 2022, the Taubman Center connected with the National Governors Association to help place students with incoming gubernatorial administrations. But the story of T-Term isn’t just about successful outcomes. It is also about student ingenuity, institutional support, and community investment.

“In 2018, three students came to see me with an idea for the January break in the Kennedy School schedule,” says Jeff Liebman, the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Social Policy and director of the Taubman Center. The three students—Alison Dorsey Eden MC/MPA 2019, Daniel Goetzel MC/MPA 2019, and Sam Birnbaum MPP 2020—drew from their own career experiences for the idea. Dorsey Eden and Goetzel had worked in newly elected administrations and knew that the pace was fast and the staffs were spare. They saw transitions as a great way for students considering a career in public service to get involved.

“The students knew that newly elected administrations of mayors and governors didn’t yet have their teams set up or were understaffed,” Liebman recalls. “They wondered, ‘Why not send Kennedy School students to help staff these administrations during their transitions?’ When I heard this idea, I immediately knew it was a good one.”

Liebman recognized the value of actually engaging students in state and local government work. “As soon as someone has those experiences, they’re hooked for life,” he says. But he also had another, more personal reason to think that the program would fit into the core strategy of HKS. “My family knew Dick Neustadt, one of the founding professors at the Kennedy School,” he says. “He famously wrote the memo for President Kennedy about how to plan his transition into the White House. After that, each administration called on Professor Neustadt for transition advice. I knew that the Kennedy School had this history of being the place to go for transitions, and the idea of being able to rekindle that really excited me.”

Liebman had worked on a presidential transition team himself. “Whether it’s at the federal level or at the state and local level, these periods are so important because of all the decisions that get made for an entire two- or four-year term,” he says. “Many get made within the first few weeks. Being able to make good decisions and get a team off to the right start and build momentum has a big impact that lasts well beyond those first few weeks.”

Alison Dorsey Eden and the North Carolina statehouse cupola

“We’re so glad the program has been institutionalized, because our vision was that graduates would go into government and then continue supporting this opportunity for the next generation of students coming in.”

Alison Dorsey Eden MC/MPA 2019

Liebman also points to the collaboration around HKS that helped launch the program and keep it going for the past five years. “In the first year, we cobbled together resources from the Taubman Center, from contributions from other centers, and from the HKS Alumni Fund,” he says. “Then, when we expanded in the second year, Dean Elmendorf was very generous in helping fund the expansion. It’s not just the funding that was important, but the dean’s commitment to state and local government and to experiential learning.” Since then, the program has received funding support from the Taubman Center’s Advisory Board members and has expanded through a partnership with the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. Ten U.S. mayors taking part in the Bloomberg Center for Cities and the Institute of Politics’ Program for New Mayors hosted transition fellows in January 2023, following their on-campus sessions.

“We’re so glad the program has been institutionalized,” says Dorsey Eden. “Our vision was that students would be inspired by their transition experience and go on to serve in state and local government after graduation. Then they could continue building the pipeline of talent by providing this opportunity for the next generation of students coming in.”

Dorsey Eden previously worked for the State of North Carolina Department of Commerce and currently works as a consultant in government innovation, philanthropy, and community development in North Carolina. She sees the longevity of the program as proof of student interest in public service. She says, “We saw a big opportunity for students to contribute during some of the most exciting and high-paced moments in a new administration, the very first days, when so many key decisions are being made, and when the new administration is in need of more capacity. We also hoped that the transition moment would help students see their own path into public service. We are thrilled to see that it has.”

Daniel Goetzel and the capitol building dome in Washington D.C.

“We had more than 120 students apply for a brand-new program. …People were excited on all sides of the project.”

Daniel Goetzel MC/MPA 2019

Goetzel, who works in the Biden administration on regional economic development and innovation at the National Science Foundation, a government research funding agency, remembers that the two biggest unknowns for the program—would students be interested, and would newly elected governors take cold calls from grad students?—turned out not to be problems at all. “We had more than 120 students apply for a brand-new program,” he says. And the elected governors and their senior teams embraced the idea. “They said, ‘We have a skeleton staff working on our top priorities (during the transition period), and you’re telling me that you’re going to bring in smart, passionate Harvard grad students to work full-time for three weeks on the projects that we value the most?’ So we got really lucky. People were excited on all sides of the project.”

For Birnbaum, the big lesson was seeing how much interpersonal dynamics and connections mattered. He now works for Settlement Housing Fund, Inc., a nonprofit that builds and rehabilitates affordable housing in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. “For me, the most valuable thing was less the subject matter stuff,” he says. “It was literally seeing the people interact. Any time the governor was in the room, 30 people would be following him, trying to advocate for their pet project or idea. It was impressive to watch a newly elected official deal with everyone having a priority, listening to them, making them feel heard, sifting through them, mapping the ideas onto his own priorities, and coming up with a decision. I’m not someone who remembers the nitty-gritty policy minutiae, but I remember the interactions, and that was the most valuable to me, because you can’t replicate that in a classroom.”

Sam Birnbaum and New York City Hall cupola

“I’m not someone who remembers the nitty-gritty policy minutiae, but I remember the interactions, and that was most valuable to me, because you can’t replicate that in a classroom.”

Sam Birnbaum MPP 2020

Carbonell agrees. “Those meaningful connections that happen through this work really paint a much richer and more holistic picture for our students of what it means to serve in state and local government,” he says. “And it brings in the human element that we want to make sure is core to their experience.”

He points out that those connections help generate interest in other HKS opportunities. “When the administrations have a great experience with our students,” he says, they often ask, ‘How else can you be of service?’ We are then able to offer other opportunities to work with HKS, like hosting students doing summer fellowships through the Dukakis Summer Fellowship Program. HKS also has the Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) for all second-year MPP students. We’ve had a team of students work on their PAE with Governor Cox in Utah and with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava after they had hosted a team of T-Term students.”

Carbonell says that one of the most exciting developments for the T-Term program was the collaboration in 2023 with the National Governors Association (NGA). “It’s impossible to overstate just how important a strong transition period is to a successful governorship,” says Bill McBride, executive director of the NGA, a bipartisan organization representing the leaders of 55 states, commonwealths, and territories. “Programs like Transition Term and NGA’s Seminar for New Governors provide valuable opportunities for newly elected governors to gain insights to ensure a successful transition and lay the groundwork for an effective tenure delivering solutions for their states.”

Rafael Carbonell

“Those meaningful connections that happen through this work really paint a much richer and more holistic picture for our students of what it means to serve in state and local government.”

Rafael Carbonell

“I think we could standardize this as part of the NGA resources we provide in other collaborations,” he continues. “There is such a short window from Election Day to swearing in, and the first few weeks of an administration are very critical, so the more helpful resources that NGA and others can provide, the better.”

As for what’s ahead for the T-Term program, Liebman remembers what excited him in the first place: making HKS the go-to source for successful transitions for newly elected officials. “Now that we have this history, we’re starting to see common patterns that can improve the training we give to our students before they go out into the field,” he says. “But we’re also seeing things that we think new administrations should know even during their campaigns to have a successful transition.”

As the Transition Term program turns 5, we offered HKS students the opportunity to share their experiences from the various cohorts throughout the years.

Affordable Housing in Cincinnati

FOLLOWING HER EXPERIENCE with Transition Term, ANEESA ANDRABI MPP 2023 rejoined HKS as a Government Innovation Fellow at the Government Performance Lab at the Taubman Center. She said, “I’m excited to be working hand-in-hand with local governments to test and implement evidence-based, innovative changes to reform housing and homelessness systems across the U.S. As I reflect on how I got to this dream job, a combination of applied research and policy reform, I realize the professional and personal growth and the connections I made through both participating in and facilitating the Transition Term program is one of the main reasons why I will always be grateful for it.”

Aneesa Anrabi

Read about Andrabi’s experience in her own words:

For me, Transition Term was the highlight of my graduate experience at HKS.

I had never spent time in the Midwest prior to my placement and was slightly apprehensive to spend my January in cold, windy Cincinnati. Not only did I arrive to the warmest team in the mayor’s office of Cincinnati, but I quickly found myself growing rapidly professionally and personally with my team, which comprised of one dual-degree GSD/HKS student and one mid-career student. It was a joy to watch Mayor Aftab Pureval take on his new job with a spirit his community was clearly drawn to, grit and dedication. While I had worked in the mayor’s office in Los Angeles on infrastructure policy, I had never gotten to see how the first few weeks of this difficult position rolled out, in such an up-close and personal way.

I had the opportunity to work on a project on a policy area new to me: affordable housing. It was a really great applied practice of all I was learning in my leadership and policy design courses at HKS. Beyond professionally learning how politics and policy works in a new city, I grew personally, learning to speak confidently in meetings and practicing trusting my own instincts and learned experience. This mostly came about because of Mayor Pureval’s trust in us as fellows and investment in us as individual people with something to offer.

The fifth iteration of this program was special because it would include both governors and mayors due to the timing of the election cycle. As staffers for gubernatorial and mayoral candidates were busily campaigning across the country, I helped set up calls with each of them, asking them about their pressing priorities. As fall came, we received a larger number of applications from HKS graduate students to participate in the program than ever before. The process to create the right group of students, paired with the right elected official, was the most challenging part of the work.

Connecting Experience to Action

YASMIN SERRATO-MUÑOZ MPA 2021 was in the 2021 Transition Term cohort that traveled to Puerto Rico. “I was in the transition term for Governor Pedro Pierluisi,” she said. “It was amazing to be there, seeing a new administration come in, especially in a place like Puerto Rico, a territory, not a full state. That’s a very unique experience, to learn about the culture, the migration shift and the way that a territory functions.”

Serrato-Muñoz was there in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where much of the population left the island. In fact, it was because she had experienced the hurricane herself in her hometown of Orlando, Florida, and witnessed the growth of the Puerto Rican population there, that she decided to apply for this T-Term cohort. “I remember reading in the news that these families from Puerto Rico were arriving and didn’t have anywhere to live. You have families, three or four families, living in a two-bedroom apartment, which for me, was something close to home, because when I was growing up, my family also suffered from housing instability, where we had to live with multiple family members in one house,” she said. “I saw that Puerto Rico was also connected to my experience in Orlando, and I wanted to see what our governments do to respond to these crises.”

Yasmin Serrato-Muñoz

“In Puerto Rico, we worked on school reconstruction efforts for the public schools that were either deemed unsafe because of the hurricane or were no longer needed due to the population migration. There were a lot of school buildings that were either vacant, underutilized, or just unsafe. My cohort helped to figure out what do we do with these buildings. Was it better to try to repair them, or better for the administration to use them in other ways?”

Serrato-Muñoz also served as a research assistant (RA) for another T-Term cohort, Mayor Kim Janey’s transition in Boston later that same year. RAs provide considerable support to the cohort teams on the ground. “It was very different in the sense that, when I was in Puerto Rico, I was dealing mostly with Puerto Rican agencies, established there, it was an experience where we had people who were in the administration, and we also had local community members participate. For the Janey transition, there was a group of private developers coming together with housing experts from nonprofits and government employees.”

Both experiences proved invaluable to her. “For me, it really was a transition. A transition into federal, state, territory, and local government.”

Public Service Primer

JAMIE MITTELMAN MPA 2022 perceived an opportunity with Transition Term that went beyond academics. “I saw in my personal and professional life friendships being cut off, working relationships being blocked, because people were on different sides of the political aisle,” says Mittelman, who founded Flame Bearers, the first global storytelling platform illuminating the unsung stories of resilient women Olympians & Paralympians. “Transition Term was an opportunity to engage with someone who thought very differently than I.”

Mittelman, a Democrat, specifically requested to be placed in a Republican administration. And though she got what she asked for—her team joined the newly elected governor of Utah, Spencer Cox—she never imagined how powerful that placement would be. Her first day with the Cox transition team was January 6, 2021: the day of the insurrection at the Capitol. It was a key learning moment for her.

Jamie Mittelman

“I think Governor Cox and I disagree on pretty much every policy,” she says, “but I was blown away by him as a leader and I was really, really impressed by him as he was coming in. I think he leads with a compassion and integrity that I have not usually seen in Washington, to be honest. And I really admired how he led in that difficult moment.”

Mittelman’s team had two projects. One was to survey all state employees on their satisfaction with human resource issues. That would be for the governor’s internal staff. The other was to create a dashboard to track the governor’s actions during the first 100 days in office. “This was an externally facing dashboard to go on his website that basically tracked his campaign promises and would show his constituents the progress he was making,” Mittelman says. “I loved that, because it showed his commitment to transparency and his commitment to following up on his promises, which I think is something that not a lot of politicians do.” The dashboard is still on the governor’s website today.

Mittelman found his team supportive and with a sense of urgency during the transition period. She always felt welcome and that her contributions were helpful and substantive. “In the real world, you’re going to have managers who have other priorities; you’re not always going to be at the top of the list. I think it’s an important skill set to be able to adapt.”

Mittelman found T-Term an excellent primer for public service. “Being in on the ground floor allowed me to see how much of governing is not creating policy, how much of it is just everyday work that needs to be done by someone,” she says. She also found a mentor in Governor Cox. “As I think about my political future, I hold him up as a role model for someone on the opposite side of the aisle who I would love to emulate in terms of his ability to hold true to his values.”

Hometown Team

NITHIN VENKATRAMAN MPP/JD 2025 and AYANNA WARRINGTON MPA 2023 wanted a specific placement with their 2023 cohort: the office of Maryland’s newly elected governor Wes Moore.

“I worked in the Maryland general assembly for two and a half years,” Venkatraman says. “I was in Annapolis, but on the legislative side of all the policy the state was doing. For me, T-Term was an opportunity to go home, because my family is there.”

Warrington agrees. “I knew that T-Term likes to place a mix of students in both an area where they have some kind of connection and other areas where they have no connection at all,” she says, “so I was really hopeful I would get placed with Governor Moore, our country’s third Black governor and Maryland’s first Black governor. I really am moved by a lot of what he stands for.”

Warrington, who will focus on workforce development after commencement, worked on a team that helped provide support as the new administration placed people in leadership roles on boards and commissions throughout the state. “Governor Moore’s philosophy was that the government is really of the people, and all kinds of backgrounds should be considered for these roles, and they should know that these roles are available,” she explains. She worked on a web-based application tool available to all Maryland’s residents where they could see a complete list of available positions.

Nithin Venkatraman and Ayanna Warrington

“Growing up, my idea of government was federal service,” she says. “That’s what I saw all my classmates interning in and going into full-time. And I got this horrible impression that government is super slow, super bureaucratic, and you must know someone to get in.” T-Term quickly changed her thinking. “I was impressed,” she says. “I was only there for three weeks. Everything was super fast-paced. The team was incredibly nimble. When I showed up, there was no tool. When I left, there was a tool that had been launched to everyone in the state.”

Venkatraman plans to return to Maryland after graduation. For him, T-Term provided an opportunity to scope out future service. “I really love state and local government,” he says. “I think that’s where, as a policymaker, you get to be close to the communities that you serve.”

During Transition Term he was placed in the chief counsel’s office. “It was just me and her,” he says. “That’s what it’s like in a transition. I got to do work that was very different from other work that I’ve done in the past in the legal profession. Last year, I was at a nonprofit doing mainly litigation stuff. And here I am helping provide support to an executive who is working on implementing change.”

Then Venkatraman pointed out the one thing that perhaps ties all the T-Term experiences together. When his team arrived at the Maryland State House, they were met by the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jonny Dorsey MPA 2014. As Venkatraman began to introduce the HKS group, Dorsey stopped him. “I know who you are,” he said. “My sister [Alison Dorsey Eden] helped to start this program at the Kennedy School. I’m so happy you are here.”

Illustration by Daniel Hertzberg and Ken Orvidas. Classroom photo by Kayana Szymczak. Portraits courtesy of the subjects.

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