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photo of Jennifer Franke '91

One week last winter, Jennifer Franke's temporary position took her to El Paso, Texas, to confer with officials about drug trafficking; to the Quantico Marine base in Virginia, where she donned night-vision goggles and ran an obstacle course; to the U.S. Supreme Court to attend the oral argument on a school vouchers case; to an international conference on school security, post-September 11; and to the Department of Education (DOE), where she helped hone the agency's five-year strategic plan. In the life of a White House Fellow, says Franke, "every day is one-of-a-kind."

Created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the White House Fellows program selects "gifted and highly motivated young Americans"--about a dozen of them annually, from among roughly a thousand applicants--and gives them a year's experience in government. Each is assigned to a federal agency (for Franke, it's DOE), and all are extended the inside view on a wide range of federal issues. Alumni include Secretary of State Colin Powell, three members of Congress, CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, and leaders of nonprofit groups. Franke started her fellowship on September 4 of last year. In January, she and the rest of the fellows met with President Bush in the White House for an off-the-record conversation.

Franke hadn't previously served in government, but she is a seasoned border crosser, having worked in both the business and nonprofit sectors. After college, she was a Jesuit volunteer, teaching abused children in Washington State. Then she directed a privately supported child-development center for low income families. In a field with maddening inefficiencies and few benchmarks for success, Franke says, "I realized I could help children more by having a solid understanding of business." She earned an MBA and went to work for Embark, Inc., a San Francisco-based online company that helps students apply to college. When her fellowship ends in August, Franke will spend a few more years in business and hopes eventually to "run a national nonprofit."

In the meantime, Franke will continue to divide her time among DOE, off-the-record lunches with such notables as National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, and local and out-of-town meetings and tours, including a trip to China.

Stephen Bates

Stephen Bates is literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly.

Photo: Robert Burke

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