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The Call to Public Service

Students and faculty at Public Policy Professor Martha Crunkleton's lunch-time address "The World is Calling You: The Power of Public Service” on March 19. (Photo by Natalie Meier)
Students and faculty at Public Policy Professor Martha Crunkleton’s lunch-time address “The World is Calling You: The Power of Public Service” on March 19. (Photo by Natalie Meier)

While the career prospects of public service don’t necessarily include the six-figure income that some college students dream of being offered once they graduate, Mills College Public Policy Professor Martha Crunkleton assured students and faculty during a lunch-time address on March 19 that the other rewards are endless.

In her speech titled “The World is Calling You: The Power of Public Service,” Crunkleton focused on promoting the Fulbright Scholars program, an initiative established in 1946 to allow students and faculty to study and teach abroad. The day before this address, Mills held an informational session to encourage students to apply for a Fulbright scholarship, featuring two Mills alumna and 2012 Fulbright Scholars, Grace Osborne and Vajra Alaya-Maitreya. Crunkleton said she hoped people attended the informational and are planning on taking advantage of the opportunity to apply. 

“You see how with a small, modest investment from the U.S. paying for the graduate studies of one Fulbright Scholar, you’ll get an extraordinary return,” Crunkleton said. “That is long-term thinking, and thinking about the long-term to understand what kinds of investments we should make is not only one of the characteristics of an adult, but also a characteristic of a rich, mature country like the U.S.”

Last year Crunkleton was awarded Mills’ prestigious title of Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair in Women’s Leadership for her work abroad as a U.S. diplomat in Mexico, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Indonesia. Her role as Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair entails mentoring students, teaching public policy courses at Mills and providing insight to the campus on prominent policy issues both at home and abroad.

One by one, Crunkleton laid out what she views as the current top five global needs that public servants should be working on: addressing global warming, reducing nuclear weapons, providing clean water, emphasizing education (especially for young girls) and encouraging an enlightenment of the Muslim world.

“In the rich history of Islamic thought, there have so far been two sustained attempts to create a Muslim enlightenment and each time, for a variety of reasons, the progress is lost,” Crunkleton said. “It’s in the world’s interest, and in our interest as a country, that we learn about these thinkers and that we support these thinkers.”

Crunkleton then listed the current needs of our own country, pointing out that the needs are mostly the same with the additional necessity for protecting sea lanes, reorganizing the country’s infrastructure to open the door for more class mobility and, again, highlighting education.

“When girls stop attending school, the world slides backwards,” Crunkleton said. “We need to improve our system of education not so we have a system of no child left untested, but so we have a system of every child educated.”

Crunkleton speaking. (Photo by Natalie Meier)
Crunkleton speaking. (Photo by Natalie Meier)

One of Crunkleton’s final pushes for getting involved with public service was an anecdote from her time in Afghanistan from 2009-2010. She said the only question young Afghans had for her was how they could study in the U.S. She explained to an audience shaking their heads in wonder that these people did not know how to apply, how to pay for school or even what studying in the U.S. actually symbolized; they were simply determined to get to the U.S. to study because they truly believed that it would give them access to a brighter future. Crunkleton then spoke directly to the students currently studying at Mills, encouraging them to use the opportunities in front of them as students studying in the U.S. and help others.

“I ask you to hear the call of the world to public service and the call of your citizens for a better future in this country and the world,” Crunkleton said to students and faculty. “I ask you to answer that call and use your gifts to help. Both the U.S. and the world will improve if you make that choice.”

Following Crunkleton’s presentation, Provost Kimberly L. Phillips inquired about students who are concerned about the lack of financial promise public service holds given the tough economy. Crunkleton’s answer was a simple one, continuing to emphasize that public service is a noble aspiration, making truckloads of money or not.

“I personally don’t have any problem with making seven figures a year if [you] use [your] wealth and insights to help others,” Crunkleton said. “If you have an offer when you graduate to make six figures a year doing something, focus on what you can learn rather than the salary and ask if what you learn can be put to good use when you leave that job.”