Saginaw Valley State University alumnus Joshua Fleming will attend the University of Michigan's prestigious Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy this fall on a full scholarship.
“I've always been driven by public service,” said Fleming, who graduated from SVSU in May 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science and public administration. “Everything I've ever listed on a résumé is somewhat related to the idea of public service and giving back to the community.”
The Gerald R. Ford School, named after the former U.S. president who attended the University of Michigan, is a consensus top 10 public policy program.
“I'm looking forward to challenging myself intellectually,” Fleming said. “I will be going to class with some of the best students in the world, who already have a lot of real world experience. I'm looking forward to working with them.”
The Bay City native hopes to turn the experience into a career, shaping public policy related to health care. Fleming became interested in the subject during the national debate that preceded President Barack Obama signing into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - often called “Obamacare” - in 2010.
Fleming will pursue his graduate degree having earned the University of Michigan’s Rackham Fellowship, which provides for Fleming's full tuition, health insurance and a $38,000 living stipend. He credited his experience at SVSU in part for preparing him for success with the program.
“Attending SVSU allowed me to work intimately with members of the administration, faculty and my fellow students,” he said. “Not only did those working relationships create many opportunities for professional training and advancement, but the mentorships and friendships that culminated from those experiences constantly provided me advice and clarity when I applied to the Ford School and, I’m sure, will continue to do so during my graduate career and throughout the rest of my life.”
Fleming said he was accepted at several notable public policy schools but chose the University of Michigan based on a number of factors. Those include an alumni base with contacts in local and state government; a 10-week internship program that tasks students with seeking solutions to social issues for nonprofit organizations, municipalities and private practices; and an academic program that focuses on practical experience.
“They bring in policy experts to talk about different issues,” he said. “The fact that I'll be working with people in the field was a major draw.”
The 2009 John Glenn High School graduate has practical experience of his own when it comes to both public policy and service. Some of his initial experience happened at SVSU, where he served on the Student Association (SVSU's student government) during his entire 4-year undergraduate stay.
Upon graduating, Fleming served in the Peace Corps, which sent him to Swaziland, a nation near the horn of Africa that is comparable in size to Connecticut.
Beginning in June 2013, he lived there for 18 months in a 2-bedroom hut with no plumbing and, initially, no electricity. He was sent to teach residents about HIV and AIDS, but after realizing they already had access to helpful resources relating to such subjects, Fleming instead focused on helping citizens with financial planning.
"I worked with them to help them keep records,” he said. “Everything was on paper, and there was no office, so we met under a tree and I taught my lessons using a flipchart.”
Fleming said the experience allowed for plenty of time for introspection. It was in Swaziland where he decided to apply for public policy colleges upon his return home.
Since last February, Fleming has worked as an outreach and enrollment specialist at Saginaw's Health Delivery Inc., a nonprofit organization providing medical and dental care to underserved individuals across the Great Lakes Bay Region. He also has served as a field organizer with the Michigan Democratic Party and as an intern with the 2010 campaign that helped current Rep. Charles Brunner's election to office in the Michigan House of Representatives 96th District, which covers a large portion of Bay County.
With his mid-August Ann Arbor move-in date approaching, Fleming said he is anxious to begin the next chapter in his life.
“I have a countdown calendar on my laptop, for the days left until classes start,” he said. “I'm very much excited.”