by Morgan Jupina
For many Kent State students, college graduation is quickly approaching, and it’s time to meet the “real world.” Job searching, resume building and interview prepping are all a part of our final sprint as college students. But what if you’re still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? I had the opportunity to meet with someone who might be able to provide you with a unique perspective.
“A lot of what we deal with is foreign individuals who threaten the United States,” he explained.
Twenty-year public service veteran and passionate guest speaker at this year’s KSU Media Ethics Workshop, Joe Vealencis, sat down with me to discuss the ins and outs of a career in public service.
Vealencis, director of the Office of Strategic Communications at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) – created in 2004 in an effort to stop terrorist action in the United States and abroad – ensures communications are coordinated in various tasks. Vealencis’ responsibilities range from facilitating visits to NCTC from senior officials of foreign organizations, to overseeing public affairs specialists who work on a wide variety of communication, design and publication assignments. Aside from being a man in a suit with a profoundly intimidating career, I learned that he landed his job by following his dream to help people.
Vealencis, who wanted to be a lawyer at a very young age, graduated with a degree in marine and environmental science from the United States Coast Guard Academy. After beginning his career as a Commanding Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Vealencis eventually worked his way from Senior Legislative Liaison for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to his current position.
Law to environmental science to NCTC is quite a winding path, but Vealencis is a prime example of being able to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Vealencis expressed that “the mission at the center” of his job is the most gratifying part of his chosen career because he gets to help protect Americans. Obviously, he didn’t graduate college knowing how to counter terrorism, but he went after a job he was interested in.
“Public service has always been something that interested me and opportunities presented themselves,” said Vealencis. “I feel good about myself when I go home at night.”
Sometimes, when attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombing occur, Vealencis’ job can become emotionally difficult.
“It would be hard to describe what a punch in the gut that was for the men and women of NCTC,” Vealencis remembered. “Some say we should have checked the brothers’ Facebook posts, Twitter and social media even after they were cleared through a robust investigation.”
He said he was taking a much-needed vacation in the Dominican Republic, but came back immediately when he had heard about the attack.
“I didn’t have to. I just came back. A lot of people did and that’s the kind of place we work,” he said. “We’re going to try to protect you. It’s our family too; it’s our friends too, and it’s our neighbors.”
It was evident that Vealencis was remarkably passionate about his career, which I believe to be a great model to follow.
Careers in public service can range from federal, state and local government agencies, as well as public and private organizations, and can bring great benefits. Vealencis told me that aside from excellent health benefits, public service allows people to be able to do great things, and it provides a sense of stability. He suggested that students interested in a similar career path develop skill sets in which they are humble, a good communicator in written and spoken word, and that they are able to drive consensus within a free and open conversation.
However, he said students also need to have patience in a public service job.
“The wheels of government do not turn quickly,” explained Vealencis. “We would rather do it right than do it quick, and those are naturally at odds with each other.”
Whether you desire to work in public service or not, Vealencis shows how taking risks for what you’re interested in can get you further in the long run. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what you want to be when you graduate. According to Vealencis’ story, you can be anything you set your mind to.
Vealencis encourages students to apply to any positions they are interested in even if it is not a first choice. Eventually, you will migrate to a career in public service you enjoy or to the job you’ve dreamed of.
“Don’t give up. Keep trying and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” he said.
Watch the video below for more from the Vealencis interview.