Get to Know the 2017 Presidential Administrative Fellows

Cohort of five seniors selected for their commitment to service, scholarship and leadership.

The 2017-2019 PAFS (left to right): Matthew Basista, Gabriela Madrid, Emily Somberg, Ian Tang and Helen Christy Powell. (William Atkins/GW Today)
May 15, 2017

By Ruth Steinhardt

The George Washington University announced the five graduating seniors selected for the 2017-19 cohort of the Presidential Administrative Fellowship (PAF) program: Matthew Basista, Gabrielle (Gaby) Madrid, Helen Christy Powell, Emily Somberg and Ian Tang.

Entering its 28th year, the two-year fellowship program awards participants up to 42 academic credits for the GW master’s degree of their choice and a graduate salary and stipend while they gain professional experience through an administrative placement in a GW school or department. Fellows are selected for their academic achievement, demonstrated leadership qualities, professional promise and commitment to serving their communities and the university, all of which are pillars of the PAF program.

Division of Student Affairs Executive Director of Planning and Outreach Robert Snyder, who oversees the fellowship as PAF program director, said he looks forward to working with the PAF Advising Team to guide and support the new cohort. More than 63 percent of the 129 PAF alumni were engaged with the program and the university this year, from helping with PAF selection to mentoring current PAFs or volunteering for university leadership roles such as the GW Board of Trustees.

“This is an all-time record for PAF alumni engagement and far exceeds the 50 percent goal set by the PAFs during the program’s 25th anniversary year in 2014-15,” Mr. Snyder said.  “We are deeply grateful to the current PAFs and the PAF alumni for their continued engagement with GW.”

Nearly 40 percent of PAF program alumni also made philanthropic gifts to GW this year in support of Making History: The Campaign for GW.

“Many of these generous donations supported the PAF Professional and Academic Development Fund, which enabled current PAFs to pursue academic and career enrichment opportunities including study abroad in South Africa, France, South Korea, China and Japan,” Mr. Snyder said.

“This cohort will be a bridge between GW’s presidential administrations,” Mr. Snyder said. “As we say farewell and thank you to President Knapp for his sustained support of the PAF program—including by hosting a PAF in his office as student liaison throughout his entire presidency—we look forward to welcoming President-elect LeBlanc to GW and working with him to identify opportunities for the PAF program to support and advance his vision.”

The 2017-19 cohort includes a military veteran, a former congressional intern, a researcher on ISIS recruitment, an assistant to Human Rights Watch and the founder of an organization bringing together first-generation college students:

Matthew Basista, B.A., international affairs

Master’s in security policy studies

Dream job: Professor of practice at the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Public Service Academy if we establish one.

Role model: Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who served as force commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) from 1993 to 1994. Gen. Dallaire disobeyed a direct order from the secretary general of the United Nations to withdraw UNAMIR. At great risk to himself and the roughly 450 military peacekeepers under his command, he defied the UN Security Council’s mandate and intervened to establish a series of safe zones to shelter any Rwandan that sought refuge. His actions are credited with saving the lives of some 32,000 Rwandans. He still advocates on behalf of veterans’ mental health, genocide intervention and ending the use of children as weapons of war.

Most surprising part of your GW experience: For me, it was the size of the military-affiliated population at GW and its official recognition as a community. There are more than 1,850 military-affiliated students—ROTC, veterans, active duty, reservists and family members—enrolled at GW. The staff and student leaders that I have met through this community are an infinite source of inspiration, gratitude and support.

Gabriela (Gaby) Madrid, B.A., public health

Master’s in public health

Goals as a PAF: I hope to continue my legacy of building a community for first-generation college students through my role as a PAF.

Words to live by: “Ubuntu.” I learned this word when I traveled to South Africa 10 years ago for a leadership program. One of the translations is "I am who I am because of who we all are."

Role model: My mom is my role model. She did not attend college, but she knew the importance of a higher education. She has always put her children before herself by working long hours to ensure that we have what we need. She is the one who inspires me to work hard for what I want and to not lose sight of caring for those around me.

Helen Christy Powell, B.A., international affairs

Master’s in security policy

Dream job: I’m really interested in the nexus between security and diplomacy, so my dream job would be as a political or military affairs officer at the State Department.

Role model: I’ve always been really inspired by Hillary Clinton, even since the primaries in 2008. Watching how she handles adversity with grace and determination—it really brings home the lesson that not everyone is going to love you, and that’s OK, so do what you think is right.

Most surprising part of your GW experience: The most surprising thing is how much I’ve come to love the city. I’m from a really small town in western North Carolina, toward the mountains, so I was a little overwhelmed when I first got here. But now I love the city, and I’m not sure I want to leave.

Emily Somberg, B.A., double major in international affairs and French language and literature

Master’s in anthropology

Dream job: My dream job (hang in there, it's going to be a wild ride) is to be an urban anthropologist and art museum curator. I would love to also be a joint coffee and bookshop owner, and perhaps a novelist on the side.

Role model: Jane Austen. She did what she knew was impactful and important (writing). Contrary to the popular belief that all her books are simply about marriage and women, they're actually phenomenal insights into and critiques of society. She demanded the listening ear of a reluctant audience, and for this she is my hero.

Words to live by: This is from one of my favorite poems, “the freedom in fear,” by Nayyirah Waheed. It challenges me.

when i am afraid to speak
is when i speak
that is when it is most important.

Ian Tang, B.A., international affairs

Master’s in public policy

Words to live by: My mantra is “stay hungry, stay foolish.” It’s something Steve Jobs quoted in a commencement speech at Stanford University. That resonates with me—I want to stay driven, but I also want to stay excited by life. I want to always be learning, but not take life too seriously.

Dream job: I’m super into tech policy, especially as it relates to human rights and U.S.–China relations. So my dream job would be a human rights officer or public policy director at Google.

Role model: Taylor Swift! I remember when her album “1989” came out, I went to a concert of hers where she played “Shake It Off” and told us, “Tonight, dance like no one’s watching.” Two months later, I was studying abroad, and I was at this party with a lot of people I didn’t know. There was a dance floor, but no one was on it, everyone was just watching. Then that Taylor Swift song came on. I thought “I’m not going to waste this moment and not dance to my favorite song.” I started dancing, and other people joined in, and from that moment, I gained a lot of comfort with being who I am and not worrying what other people think about it.

Student Life


Introducing the 2016 Presidential Administrative Fellows

May 11, 2016
A cohort of five undergraduate students selected for their commitment to scholarship, leadership and service.

Six High-Achieving Seniors Named 2015 Presidential Administrative Fellows

May 13, 2015

Fellows pursue GW graduate degree of their choice while gaining professional experience in a university department.