The work ethic that Holland Mack ’06 developed through Bison basketball has served him well as a New Jersey state trooper, currently assigned to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
Meet the Bucknellians who have dedicated their lives to public service
by Michael Agresta

photographs by Dustin Fenstermacher
Meet the Bucknellians who have dedicated their lives to public service
by Michael Agresta

photographs by Dustin Fenstermacher
The work ethic that Holland Mack ’06 developed through Bison basketball has served him well as a New Jersey state trooper, currently assigned to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

hey’re battlefield tour guides. They’re patent inspectors and geographers determining what we see on our maps. They are the difference between a thriving species and one that’s extinct.

A mere 220 Bucknellians self-identify as “public servants,” that curious term denoting someone working for a local, state or federal government. Nationally, they are among 22 million Americans — that’s 7 percent of the nation’s workforce — toiling for us to create a government by the people. Here’s why some Bucknell alumni do it.

Outfoxing Extinction
Bridget Fahey ’93 leads the Division of Classification and Conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. Having risen through the ranks of agency conservation work, she’s now at the top of her field, with a portfolio that includes overseeing which species are added and removed from the federal endangered species list. It’s a weighty responsibility, with the ever-present specter of extinction.

Fahey understood early on that conservation was her passion. As a junior anthropology and biology major, she spent time on a Kenya game ranch with the School for Field Studies. “I went from an insular life in northeastern and central Pennsylvania all the way to Africa with giraffes and wildebeests and all that exciting, big African wildlife,” Fahey says. “That really solidified that this was going to be my career path.”

Fahey considered the private sector, but chose government work because its impact was more immediate and profound. “It felt like I would have an opportunity to more directly work on conservation in a way that could make a meaningful difference,” she says.

Fahey’s career arc can be illustrated by the Channel Islands fox, a species she helped add to the endangered list early in her career, when she was based in a southern California Fish and Wildlife office. Thanks to her early efforts as a young field biologist, and the national-level coordination that is her job today, the fox was finally de-listed 12 years after her work started.

“It’s really gratifying to see that, when the right circumstances come together, the Endangered Species Act can make a difference in the conservation of a species that is in trouble,” Fahey says. “That was a result of great partnerships and conservation efforts by the National Park Service, the military, the Nature Conservancy and other nonprofits, all working together to make the situation better for the fox.”

From Hooper to Trooper
Bucknell basketball fans may remember Holland Mack ’06 from the legendary mid-2000s teams that twice reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Since then, he’s lost the orange but kept the blue for a career with the New Jersey State Police, currently in Bergen County at the Meadowlands.

Mack, a management major at Bucknell, looks back on his team’s success, which included beating Kansas and going undefeated in the Patriot League. Their success, he says, was the product of preparation and a selfless work ethic. “Those accomplishments happened because our team members relied on each other. We all understood what was at stake. It’s the same in state police — you understand what’s at stake. Our goal is not to win a game, but to save lives.”

Like several alumni interviewed for this article, Mack was a teacher — another invaluable public-service role — before switching to law enforcement. Both jobs reflect his desire to be a positive part of his native northern New Jersey community. “A big part of being a trooper is giving back, to serve my community and help others,” he says.

In summer 2017, Mack earned a certificate of commendation for stopping a daytime armed robbery while off-duty. Mack saw the crime take place in front of his own home: an elderly woman walking her dog, mugged at gunpoint by two suspects who had committed similar robberies earlier that day. Mack pursued the suspects in his car, called for backup from the local police department and, with the help of local cops, disarmed and arrested the suspects.

“That’s what it’s all about — making sure people are safe, able to walk their dog, go out and enjoy life,” Mack says. “I was just acting on what I knew to be right. That’s my community, where I grew up.”

Zenji Nakazawa ’89, at the FCC, helps warn citizens of impending emergencies.
Community Tele(com) Vision
Zenji Nakazawa ’89 learned the importance of community service from his father, who immigrated from Japan after the Korean War and never stopped giving back to his new country. “The Navy put him through medical school,” Nakazawa explains. “Instead of taking a lucrative position in a hospital, he decided to help low-income patients in Baltimore city.”

On “daddy day-care” afternoons spent at his father’s medical office, the young Nakazawa saw up close the privation suffered by communities facing serious social problems. Today, his work is focused on helping similar communities — specifically, those affected by natural disasters. “To my parents’ disappointment, I did not go into medicine, but became a lawyer,” says Nakazawa, who majored in Japanese studies and economics at Bucknell. “In my current role, I see myself as, hopefully, fighting the good fight, using my knowledge to help communities.”

Nakazawa has made a career with the Federal Communications Commission, where he is adviser to the chairman on issues including public safety, consumer protection and homeland security. His proudest contribution has been working with government, industry and local stakeholders in the aftermath of recent major hurricanes, including Maria, Harvey and Michael, to ensure that telecommunication services are restored quickly.

Nakazawa also helped develop mobile telephone alert systems that warn people of dangerous storms, wildfires or other disasters. His work makes these systems more effective by improving geographical precision, so that every alert is relevant to recipients.

“Some people say it’s a nuisance,” Nakazawa says. “Well, fire alarms are nuisances. But if people get an alert, they’ll know they need to act. We are now working with communities to make these so targeted that, if [a threat] hits the Bucknell campus, it stays on the Bucknell campus. That builds trust.”

Patented Success
Though it may be an unusual aim for an electrical engineer, Emily Terrell ’10 knew from her early Bucknell days that she wanted to work in government. She spent one college summer interning at NASA and another at the Department of Energy. “I just fell in love with the kinds of people that work for the government and their dedication to service,” she says. “They seem to really have a motivation and drive to make the world better.”

When the time came to choose a specific path in public service, Terrell chose the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, partly because her uncle is a patent attorney who introduced her to the field. She credits Bucknell with developing strong writing skills that help her thrive in a job requiring a lot of technical explanations for people with varying levels of expertise in electrical engineering and the patent process.

Terrell sees her work as helping American and foreign inventors, while also strengthening the economy and building stable trade relations among nations. She’s worked on awarding patents for inventions ranging from Google Glass and Nest thermostats to a device to assist the blind that was designed by a fourth-grader.

For other recent alums considering a career in public service, Terrell says, “you have to be willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to make a difference, and you’ll see a lot come back to you.”

Emily Terrell ’10 uses her electrical engineering background to review inventions for the U.S. government.
Human(itarian) Geography
Few public servants claim a title as rarefied as that of Lee Schwartz ’76, geographer of the United States: His State Department office is responsible for deciding how boundaries and place names appear on maps created by U.S. agencies. In reality, Schwartz says, he tends to leave that task to talented colleagues in his office so he can focus on his passion: the intersection of humanitarian work and geography.

Schwartz shares much with his fellow Bucknellians in public service. Like Mack, Schwartz started in teaching — he was a professor at American University; like Nakazawa, he was mentored by legendary Bucknell geography professor, Richard Peterec; and like Fahey, his path was shaped by his college study-abroad experience (in Schwartz’s case, in Communist-era Romania and Moldavia). At the State Department, his path was shaped by the Balkan Wars, which began soon after he left academia for government service.

“I got into the humanitarian-response and human-rights fields,” Schwartz says. “That became my passion. I discovered that I could make a difference in those areas.”

“You have to be willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to make a difference, and you’ll see a lot come back to you.”
Emily Terrell ’10
For example, in 2004, he led a satellite imagery- and map-based field study of Darfur war crimes that led then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to declare that genocide was occurring there. He later worked with South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, to help establish its census bureau, set international boundaries with Sudan and repatriate millions of refugees — before ethnic warfare surged again.

“That work brought me a great deal of satisfaction but also pain, watching the world’s newest country revert back to civil war,” he adds. “It made me realize how temporary some of these conditions can be, how they require constant attention to make sure they don’t get off track.”

One difference the Bucknell geography major says he made is bringing the principles of human geography — learning about local peoples and allowing them to contribute knowledge of their surroundings to high-level studies — “into the mainstream of how geography is viewed in the U.S. government,” he says.

A Helpful Voice
Marion Steadman ’79 didn’t set out to spend her career fielding angry phone calls from people whose Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims had been denied. A recently graduated studio art and English major when she took the job, Steadman thought it’d just be for a couple of years. Now retired, Steadman says she stuck with the job for 35 years, because it was interesting, she was good at it and, most of all, because she knew she was helping people.

Although Steadman worked on appeals and gathering case information, the heart of her work revolved around the initial denial — the moment when a sick or injured person received a letter saying that the government refused to take care of them.

“People can be very upset when they get their decision,” Steadman says. “You have to be willing to stop and explain to them that if they do not like a decision, there are levels of appeal, and it’s to their interest to use all of those levels.”

While many grievances were not valid, others described doctors who withheld important information due to lack of payment or who refused to handle SSDI claims. Some callers just needed a sympathetic ear.

“I had a large number of people who would call me back years later, when they were having problems with other agencies,” Steadman says. “I remember saying to somebody, ‘Why are you calling me? I gave you a no.’ The person said to me, ‘I know you gave me a no. But out of all the public agencies I’ve had to deal with, you are the nicest person I’ve ever dealt with. You treated me with respect. You treated me with care. You listened.’ ”

Property Wars
Alexis Lasselle Ross ’01 knew she wanted to work in government long before she targeted a specific field. She picked Bucknell partly because of its strong alumni network in Washington, D.C. As a student volunteer for alumni events such as Homecoming, the international relations major says, “I learned how to present myself with maturity and professionalism. Being able to build your network, or, once you’re at an event, being able to communicate effectively and succinctly, build contacts, leads — were skills I really honed at Bucknell.”

After several years as a staffer on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Ross is now deputy assistant secretary for strategy and acquisition reform at the Army. This civilian role reflects her interest in how military technologies are acquired by the government from private contractors such as Boeing or Lockheed-Martin. Both the Pentagon and private entities prefer to control the intellectual property of these expensive, high-tech systems after acquisition. As Ross puts it, this is a “sore spot” between private industry and the government.

While with the HASC in 2017, Ross worked with stakeholders in the military and industry to hammer out a compromise agreement on intellectual property that eventually became law. Now at the Army, she’s part of institutionalizing this new arrangement. “It’s great, because I get to see it at the high level of law and the low level of implementation,” Ross says. “Seeing a policy change through to the end is something you don’t usually get to do, because you’re not usually sitting in both places.”

A Historical Address
James Pangburn ’84 is not technically a government employee, but as a licensed battlefield guide he works hand-in-hand with the National Park Service at Gettysburg National Military Park, where Abraham Lincoln made his famous address, proclaiming, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Pangburn, who majored in English, made a mid-career switch to public service, leaving a job in the newspaper industry to follow his passion for history. He says his favorite time of year at the park is fall, when the battlefield foliage is beautiful, the days are less hectic and many of the tourists are seniors with deep interest in the Civil War history still alive at the park. But he also recognizes that the lifeblood of the park is families and schoolchildren. He’s hopeful that turning youngsters on to history will pay off for the park and the country in decades to come in terms of civic understanding and engagement with our national legacy.

Pangburn and his colleagues developed a method to ensure that Gettysburg history is engaging to young children. The trick is to let them off the bus frequently to run around, climb the observation towers and re-enact the charging of the cannons. “The thinking is, if you can entertain them, they’re going to associate Gettysburg with something positive, so when they get older they’ll come back,” Pangburn explains.

It’s our hope that reading about these Bucknellians renews your faith in the nobility and importance of public service — those careers demanding the best of workers and attracting those most compelled to do good in ways that private markets alone cannot. The next time you meet someone working in public service, ask what they do, and thank them. After all, they work for you.