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By: Leila Ugincius

Lisa Gagliano and Rochelle Upshur were separated by a year in their recent MBA studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and they are pursuing different fields of expertise. But supporting each other, they now share a rare distinction: the honor of being named Presidential Management Fellows.

The PMF Program is the federal government’s top leadership development program for advanced degree holders. Dating to 1977, the program recruits professionals from varied academic disciplines who have a commitment to public service, and the paid two-year fellowships include challenging assignments, training and mentoring that foster new generations of government leaders.

From 2010 through 2024, there have been 157 applicants from VCU, and Gagliano and Upshur are only the ninth and 10th VCU graduates to achieve prestigious appointments as Presidential Management Fellows, according to the program.

“Lisa and Rochelle demonstrated remarkable academic records, strong leadership experience and dedication to serving the public interest,” said Helene Bumbalo, associate director of graduate professional development at VCU Business Career Services, who supported Gagliano and Upshur during the lengthy and rigorous application process. “Thousands of applicants vie for the roughly 400 to 600 spots awarded each year, so competition is fierce.”

Gagliano earned her Master of Business Administration degree from the School of Business in 2022, pursuing her studies while working as a grants administrator for the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She is part of the 2023 PMF class, and since September, she has worked as a budget analyst for the Department of Energy in its Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations.

“It’s large-scale infrastructure to help combat climate change. I’m doing the administration and fiscal support that lets that work be possible,” said Gagliano, whose previous experience in environmental realms ranges from grants and budget work at the renowned Field Museum in Chicago to serving as a scuba instructor along the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

“We just celebrated our two-year anniversary, so it’s like working for a startup in where everybody is new,” Gagliano said of her office. “Setting up a brand-new office is always a challenge, so it’s very rewarding in that there’s constantly things to do and I’ve been given a lot of responsibility.”

Upshur earned her MBA in 2023 and recently learned that she is part of the 2024 PMF class. She has been working as a building operations manager at Bon Secours and can now apply for federal positions that are tagged for Presidential Management Fellows.

Upshur has notable roots in the field. When she started her MBA studies, she was working as an assistant director for facilities and operations at VCU. During her undergraduate years at the University of Virginia, she worked as a student building manager. And she had family experience to draw on: Her father was director of facilities at the Pentagon, and her mother worked as a civil servant, too.

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