As a high school student in rural Virginia, Clare Ribando Seelke volunteered her time teaching English to Latino migrant workers, a life-changing experience that set her on the path to her current job as a congressional expert on Mexico and Latin American affairs.
"I was always fascinated with this community. From the age of 16, I knew I wanted to help Latinos in the U.S. or abroad and never thought of anything else," said Seelke.
As a specialist on Mexico, Bolivia, and El Salvador at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the research arm of the Library of Congress, Seelke today provides policy analysis to House and Senate members and the congressional committees. She also drafts confidential memos for members who meet with foreign leaders, and writes reports to assist Congress in its oversight, funding and legislative decisions.
For the past two years, Seelke has concentrated on U.S.-Mexican relations and issues that have included narcotics trafficking, migration and human rights. She also has written reports for Congress on gang violence in Central America, human trafficking in Latin America, and drug trafficking in the region.
"Clare is our lead analyst on Mexico as well as our work on drug trafficking and gangs in Central America," said Vince Morelli, research manager for CRS' Europe and America section. "Clare is very strong, timely and coordinated in responding to requests with information to Congress.'
In responding to the confidential requests of Congress, Seelke has assessed the possible outcomes of various policy options as well as sources and information to help the members make informed decisions. Seelke said she formulates her answers by using a variety of research methods, working with contacts located within foreign governments or at embassies, traveling to the countries in question and consulting with many of her colleagues.
"CRS is like a university in a way, which makes it a very unique agency. You are surrounded by world-renowned colleagues who are experts in their fields so you are always learning from others. It's like being a professor without teaching," said Seelke.
Seelke's federal experience began as a summer intern during graduate school working in El Salvador for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and then at the Office of Migrant Education in the U.S. Department of Education.
After completing her graduate studies in 2003, Seelke came to CRS as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) ¿ a two year federal leadership program that permits rotating assignments. In her case, this included working with the State Department in the Dominican Republic and with the USAID in Washington before converting to a full time position at CRS.
In her role at CRS, Seelke said it's important that she "maintains objectivity and balance when dealing with these politically sensitive issues in a partisan environment, which when covering a country like Mexico, can be hard."
Even with these challenges, Seelke said, it has been "fascinating and fun to see how you can help inform policy decisions through good writing and research."
"You really feel that sense of service through your work for Congress," she added.
**This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and The Washington Post. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.