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Longwood grad chosen for fellowship

Education is an issue that is near and dear to Javion Peterson, who will begin his first full-time teaching job at Goochland High School this fall. But before entering the classroom, Peterson is getting a hands-on opportunity to learn about education policy from the commonwealth’s top leaders.

Javion Peterson

He has spent his summer as a fellow in the office of Virginia’s secretary of education, an assignment that is the result of Peterson’s selection for the prestigious Governor’s Fellows Program. The program gives rising college seniors, graduating seniors and graduate students from across Virginia the opportunity to gain valuable, firsthand experience working under cabinet secretaries and alongside staff in the governor’s office.

During his fellowship in the office of Education Secretary Atif Qarni, Peterson has met with high-ranking state government officials and attended various Virginia Department of Education meetings.

“This opportunity really allows me to research and dive into topics I am passionate about,” Peterson, who graduated in May with a degree in liberal studies and a minor in special education, said. “I have gotten great resources and insight into the effort to try to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce in Virginia. I also received the chance to help a task force focused on culturally inclusive meals and calendars.”

Governor’s Fellows sharpen their leadership skills and gain a deeper understanding of the work and decision making at the highest level of Virginia’s executive branch through a variety of projects. Peterson is among the 25 participants selected for the summer program, which runs through the end of July. For the first time in the program’s history, this year all participants are receiving a stipend of $3,600.

“Our commonwealth is fortunate to have these talented young Virginians serving in state government, and I look forward to their contributions as we continue working to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive Virginia,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.

Peterson said one of the most memorable experiences during his fellowship was attending the bill signing for legislation that established the Virginia Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Board. This group is tasked with creating a unified vision regarding STEM education initiatives, language and measures of success to promote a culture of collaboration for STEM programming in the commonwealth.

“It was a cool experience because Virginia’s first lady, who is an advocate for STEM in education, hosted a reception at the Executive Mansion prior to the signing,” Peterson said.

Established in 1982 by then-Gov. Charles S. Robb, the fellows program brings exceptional students from colleges and universities across the commonwealth to Richmond for two months to work in state government. By working daily alongside policymakers, the students get to experience governance firsthand. The fellows take on a variety of tasks and projects — becoming valuable members of the team and tackling real problems. They also learn from special guest speakers from the administration and take field trips across the commonwealth. The program is open to students from Virginia universities or Virginia residents attending college outside the commonwealth.

The fellowship has inspired Peterson to consider exploring more opportunities for working within state government.

“This experience has allowed me to grow and become a better public servant,” he said. “I’ve strengthened my communication, leadership and management skills, and expanded my network. I love connecting with people from all across the state.”