Nurse receives White House Fellowship Doctoral candidate is one of 18 who will work as aide to high-ranking federal officials.

July 03, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

There are application forms, and there are application forms. Just ask Charlene Douglas.

Filling out a request for, say, a bank loan or a driver's license can be taxing. But it can't compare to the weeks-long process of applying for a White House Fellowship, an ordeal which left Douglas mentally and physically exhausted.

"You have five essays to compose. Plus you have to pick a topic of national importance and write a policy statement on it, as if it were actually going to be submitted to the president. You have a couple rounds of interviews. The whole thing was very tiring," says Douglas, 37, a nurse and doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Still, it's a good tired feeling, because Douglas recently was selected as one of 18 new White House Fellows from a national pool of 800 applicants.

Established by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the fellowship program seeks to provide Americans -- mostly professionals in their 30s -- with firsthand experience in the operation of the federal government. The fellows usually are assigned as aides to Cabinet secretaries.

The 18 men and women also participate in regular informal luncheons with high-ranking government officials, scholars, diplomats, journalists and business leaders.

Former White House Fellows include Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Henry Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

Chosen by a presidential commission and announced last month by President Bush, the newest group of fellows will serve from this September through August 1992.

The fellows will be paid a salary commensurate to what they were earning in their professions. The most any fellow can earn for the year's work is $63,500.

Douglas has not yet been assigned to any agency, though she could wind up in the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development or Veteran Affairs. Officials from each of those agencies have interviewed her.

She says she would prefer to work for the White House's Office of National Services, which promotes volunteer programs. She says the office would be the perfect spot for someone with her background in community work.

Since coming to the Baltimore area a decade ago to continue her medical education, Douglas has immersed herself in local community activities. She has established blood-pressure monitoring and weight-control programs, worked with mentally ill homeless women and served as a mentor to students in the Dunbar High School Health Careers Program.

Douglas, who also teaches Sunday school and is the secretary of Berean Bible Church in East Baltimore, earned her master's degree in public health from Hopkins. She is a month away from gaining her doctorate in public health psychology. True to her effervescent and confident personality, Douglas says getting the doctorate is a matter of "when," not "if."

One of 10 children raised in a Cleveland housing project, Douglas attributes her successes to her mother and the intense interest she took in her children's education.

"My mother was as involved in our school as she could be without being a member of the faculty," says Douglas, who was the second youngest in the family. "She went to every PTA meeting. She was even PTA president for a while. And if a teacher ever sent a note home with any of us about a problem we were having at school, my mother always responded to that teacher. She'd say, 'This has been handled.' "

All of her brothers and sisters are now "tax-paying, property-owning, responsible citizens," Douglas reports. Her mother, 71, lives in a high-rise home for the aged in Cleveland.

Douglas' father, who died in 1976, "loved me just where I was," she says, but it was her mother who pushed her to achieve -- perhaps even to over-achieve.

"I'm doing what I am because of my mother," she says. "I wasn't the smartest kid in the project, but the other kids in the project didn't have my mother."

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