The PMF Program is the federal government’s flagship leadership development program for advanced degree holders who have a clear passion for public service. As described on the program’s website, its mission is to “recruit and develop a cadre of future government leaders drawn from all segments of society.”
The fellowship finalists — Greg Johnson, a third-year doctoral student, and Daniel Morris, a second-year master’s student — work with Kelly Dunning, assistant professor of conservation governance, within the CFWE Conservation Governance Lab. “The college and especially our lab is proud of these students’ success in earning this prestigious fellowship.”
Before Johnson and Morris were selected, there had not been any PMF finalists from Auburn University since 2018. In February 2022, Dunning invited employees of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an online seminar for the lab to discuss ways in which students could help with projects within the Ecological Services Office in Daphne, Alabama.
“One of the Fish and Wildlife employees was an Air Force veteran, like me, and he shared a few different opportunities to work in Fish and Wildlife, which included the Directorate Fellows Program and the PMF Program,” Morris said. “I let Greg know about the PMF Program, and we kept tabs on the website to learn more about the opportunity, eventually submitting applications in September.”
Johnson had been looking for an opportunity exactly like the PMF Program.
“It was an opportunity to work in policy and influence positive change, all while getting leadership development from senior government officials in natural resource management,” Johnson said.
The fellowship is open to students completing a graduate degree or higher and entails a two-year commitment to a full-time, paid fellowship with a federal agency.
Before coming to Auburn University to pursue a doctorate in natural resource management, Johnson received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Indiana University. He served in the National Guard for 13 years, completing rigorous leadership training and a deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to serve with North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, partners.
His research on water quality and its impacts to human and ecological communities in the Gulf of Mexico is funded by a grant from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
“As a PMF, I’d like to learn more about policy analysis and policy formulation in real-time,” Johnson said. “So far, all my policy knowledge has come from research, has been more theoretical and has looked back in time after something has already taken place. Being involved in the policymaking process sounds amazing.”
He also looks forward to mentorship and leadership development opportunities with senior leaders in the federal government and connecting with the vast network of current and alumni fellows.
Morris earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn and then served in the Air Force for 10 years, including advising the Afghan military in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, or NTM-A.
“I have always been drawn to serving the public, and during my time in the U.S. Air Force, I learned of the opportunities and benefits that working for the federal government provides,” Morris said. “Once my service ended, I decided I wanted to return to federal service as a civilian working in a position related to the amazing natural resources our country has to offer.”
He returned to Auburn on the GI Bill initially to earn a second bachelor’s degree. During this time, he volunteered weekly to code qualitative data for then master’s student Sabine Bailey’s research in the Conservation Governance Lab. Morris’ hard work was recognized, and he changed course to earning a master’s in natural resource management.
Morris’ research, funded by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, centers on how the National Marine Sanctuaries system is adapting to climate change through examining user groups including anglers, divers, boaters and senior leadership in state and federal government.
“Once I found out about the fellowship and how it would allow me to continue learning and developing as a leader, while working towards a permanent position in one of the resource management agencies, I thought it would be a perfect fit,” said Morris. “As a PMF I hope to continue serving the people of the United States as a public servant while working in a field that I am passionate about.”
(Written by Avanelle Elmore)