The mundane faculty break room lit up with Ambassador Nancy Soderberg’s mention of her recent push to get two signed memorandums of understanding to the State Department. One of these documents gives three UNF students preferential treatment every semester to work at the State Department.
As the director and founder of UNF’s Public Service Leadership Program, Soderberg provides opportunities to students who need it the most. She works constantly with them to achieve their goals in the field of public service, so much that they had to use her office to work on a project during our interview, which led us to the break room across the floor.
Before politics and public service, Soderberg went to Vanderbilt University as a Marine Biology student with a focus on dolphins. After a change in field of study to developmental economics at Georgetown University, one of her professors encouraged her to get into politics.
This professor was actually Madeline Albright and she helped her get a job on Edward Kennedy’s Senate campaign, which was the start of her close work with the White House, the United Nations, and the senate for years to come.
Soderberg served as the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor for Kennedy before working on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign as the Foreign Policy Director.
Under the Clinton administration she was the Deputy National Security Advisor. Clinton then appointed her to serve as Alternative Representative to the United Nations as a presidential Appointee, with the rank of Ambassador in 1997, one of the many highlights in her political career.
Reminiscing about her experience in the White House she said, “It’s the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done…to be at the center of power is really quite an extraordinary experience.”
Ambassador Soderberg moved to Jacksonville in 2005 for family and started teaching at UNF in 2006 after people working here convinced her to do so.
“I like it because you can have an impact on the students,” she said. “I’ve taught at the Ivy leagues and those kids are very much on track, these students don’t realize that they can play on those leagues and so I help show them that they can.”
She teaches Global Issues in Contemporary Politics and Real Policy World, two courses on foreign policy.
Soderberg found that though many of the students here have the drive and work ethic, many do not have the money, citing students who have low income backgrounds that support their families. Though they were encouraged to intern, many of the internships were unpaid.
In response, she founded the Public Service Leadership Program in 2006 to build a better network of opportunities for UNF students to gain experience in the field through internships in the political arena, government, United Nations, national and international organizations.
“I’d like to get these students internships,” she remembers saying to UNF’s President John Delaney at the time, “I’m not just gonna do it for the rich kids, I have to have money to give them.”
Soderberg recalled one student that went to a school in New York for his Master’s program who was surprised to find that he’d been accepted to the school under the condition that he was the only person who applied from the Southeastern part of the United States. It emphasizes the lack of students who represent the location, and the potential opportunities that people from the Southeast have.
With the program continually growing, more services become available to students. In more recent ventures, there was an approval for a State Department Foreign Services Officer to serve as a diplomat in residence every Monday and Thursday in the Political Sciences department for people who want advice in a career in foreign services.
Ambassador Soderberg encourages anyone interested to join the Public Service Leadership Program. “You don’t know what you want to do unless you’ve tried it. Don’t worry about the money, we’ll help you find it,” she said while preparing herself for a meeting with another student. “Go for it.”
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