Listen to our conversation with Joe Chiarenzelli '11 and learn how he combined his interests in biology and philosophy into a career as a Program Specialist in the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. Joe entertains us with his unlikely career path and his best advice for those looking to follow suite.
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Dennis: Welcome back to the Scarlet & Brown Stories podcast. I am very pleased to be here tonight with my co-host, Beth Dixon, and we have a very special guest tonight. Before we get into that, Beth, I've got a random question for you.
Beth: What's that?
Dennis: So do you prescribe to the whole infinite parallel universes theory of reality?
Beth: Oh, okay. So Dennis, this is a whole can of worms that you're going to open for me. But the long... the short of it, I should say, not the long of it. The short of it is, yes, I do.
Dennis: Okay, cool. So the thing I love about my job is that a lot of it consists of just going to lunch with people I find interesting, and then the people I find super interesting, inviting them on this podcast. There's so often that I can't believe that's what my actual job is. So in many, many, many of those parallel universes, I'm doing the same job here, but in many of those infinite parallel universes, I'm doing a different line of work.
Beth: What was that?
Dennis: That is the work that our guest tonight, the one and only Joe Chiarenzelli, class of 2011, is actually doing in real life in this universe. And that's why I wanted to have him on the podcast. He and I got together, I don't know, it was before the pandemic, so it was a while ago. But I just was like, I can't believe you're actually doing the thing I fantasized about doing junior and senior year of college when I was taking government classes. I just so thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I've been wanting to have you on ever since we got this going. And so Joe, delighted to have you here and welcome to the podcast.
Joe: Well, thank you for having me on Everything Everywhere All at Once deserves an Oscar.
Beth: Well, they have 11 nominations.
Joe: That might be a job that you have at different universe, at least for Denny. But yeah, no, I'm very excited to be here. I won't lie and say that I didn't compliment the podcast without hopes of being asked. You guys know me. I'm second generation Laurentian, I have a sister there now, I have a sister who graduated a few years ago. St. Lawrence is a big part of my life. I get up there quite frequently. People kind of look at me weird when they notice a 33-year-old man just wandering around campus, but nobody's kicked me out yet. So I'm very happy to be with you both.
Beth: Well, we're so happy to have you. I know we're going to spend quite a bit of time talking about the amazing work that you do, and I know that it's kind of a mystery at this point. We haven't really said what you've done, but let's keep it a mystery a little bit longer. Because you mentioned that St. Lawrence is such a big part of your family and your life and everything. So one of the things that we like to do is let's take a little drive back into the past. So this is probably, I hate to age us, but about 15 years ago or so. Who were you the night before matriculation? When you came to campus, I'm assuming because of your father you had a little bit more of an idea of what St. Lawrence was about than maybe the average student. But tell us a little bit about what was your first night on campus or the night before, what were you nervous about? Who did you think you were going to be at St. Lawrence?
Joe: So yeah, that's a great question and I'm going to bump it back one year. I'm going to start with the original sin of my educational journey, which is that-
Dennis: All right, I'll attack him.
Joe: ... For my senior year of high school, I went to the Clarkson School at Clarkson University.
Beth: Well, this has been a wonderful podcast. Thank you so... No. The Clarkson school's such a good place to go for your senior year especially. We won't fault you there.
Joe: It was very good and was also a crash course in learning what I did not want to do. I went into college with the presupposition that I would go pre-med, go to med school, but I realized in that time, A, the classes were really, really hard. Not that other things are easy, but you know, you figure out how your own brain works. And the second thing I realized is, oh boy, I don't like blood. So that's my weakness.
Dennis: That's key. Yeah. That's a big one, yeah.
Beth: Good thing to figure out.
Joe: So my first year at St. Lawrence was my sophomore year of college. I transferred in after being at Clarkson for a while and realizing that the classes I enjoyed there were the ones that were most close to the classes I would be getting at St. Lawrence. The seminar classes where we talked about Blade Runner for a while, that was like my jam. So on the precipice of going to St. Lawrence, I kind of had exposure to a great path for some people, but something that I realized didn't work for me. And that's probably a theme that's going to come up repeatedly as we serpentine my way in my life path, my career. But on the eve of going to St. Lawrence, I was mostly excited. Having had parents who went there, having friends, even, who went there. But I grew up in Potsdam, so there's a lot of interplay there.
Dennis: Many of our listeners almost certainly know your father, I'm going to say.
Joe: He cuts a profound figure, I think. If you like geology.
Dennis: He certainly does. He's got many, many faithful devotees in the Geology Department.
Beth: Absolutely. And just to make it very clear, your father is Jeff Chiarenzelli of the Geology Department for those who are like, "Who are they talking about here?"
Joe: Right. Jeff Chiarenzelli and his Rockettes, right?
Beth: His Rockettes, that's right.
Dennis: So you weren't like 13, 14 year old being like, "Yep, I'm headed to St. Lawrence." It wasn't a clear cut path like that.
Joe: No, I had no idea. To a certain extent, I think it's natural for people to look at where their parents went, someplace one town over, and be like, "Hey, maybe it's time for something that's a little different." So I had applied to a lot of different places with the eye of being a transfer student, but when I came down and I looked at the schools I'd gotten into, it was places like Skidmore, other small liberal arts institutions. And it seemed I had a perfectly good one that I knew something about one town over. By that time, having had a little experience at a different institution, I kind of just concluded, you know what? This seems like the safe bet. It is an exploratory period just naturally in university and why not see what's available right next to me. Has a great reputation. I didn't know it then, I know it now, it has a phenomenal alumni community. So I was pretty excited by the time I'd accepted and knew I was going to St. Lawrence.
Beth: Yeah, I definitely feel like I just share so many of those same thoughts. I grew up in Gouverneur, the listeners know this at this point. My father had gone to SUNY Potsdam, my mother had gone to Ithaca and had gotten her master's at Syracuse in St. Lawrence and those were the four schools I applied to. And I was like, ah, I broke every rule I had for myself, which was I was going to not go to a place that my parents went and I was going to not go to a place that was within two hours of my house. So I ended up going to the closest school to my home, but it wasn't a place that my parents had gone. Although apparently my mom has told me multiple times that she wishes she had decided to go to St. Lawrence. She's a Laurentian by parent status, so we'll just count her in there at that point too.
Joe: Maybe by the multiverse status too.
Beth: That's right. In the alternate universe in the multiverse, she went to St. Lawrence and maybe I didn't, I don't know. I'd like to think in every multiverse I go to St. Lawrence. So what were you most excited about? It sounds like you had this idea of what St. Lawrence was going to be like, especially having coming from the Clarkson School. What was your idea of that you were so excited about the night before you moved on to campus?
Joe: So the thing that I was really excited about, I kind of jokingly referred to my class where we just talked about Blade Runner. But that was like a freshman philosophy class, looking at some of the themes of dystopian fiction. That was kind of a whole new world. That's a bunch of different disciplines all smashed together. I knew in advance of my first morning of classes, I had had the time to look, sign up for the courses I want. I had some more freedom because I was transferring in, and I was just really excited to get in those courses that were a bit more synthetic, I'd put it. Mashing up different areas that the real, no BS part of the liberal arts education, to really get in there, have discussion, have debate, and work on some of the skills in terms of articulating my own point of view and better understanding others. There isn't a lot of that in lecture-based courses. In St. Lawrence, thankfully there's a lot of it.
Dennis: Where would you say that you settled in on campus?
Joe: I ended up, once I got it all sorted, I think by the end of my sophomore year I was Bio and a Philosophy major.
Beth: Oh, cool.
Dennis: Oh wow, that is super cool.
Joe: Yeah. When we get to what I do, it's very weird, but you can kind of see the seeds of it, right?
Dennis: Oh, yeah. It makes so much sense. I'm going to go out on a limb, I haven't seen the numbers, but I would speculate that there's not a whole lot of Philosophy/Bio double majors floating around out there in the job market.
Beth: Yeah. I just have this vision of youth working on a microscope slide and being like, what does it mean?
Joe: I mean, I wonder if your vision's from a video camera, because that's exactly what it was like.
Beth: What is the meaning of this life here under the microscope if it's this many.
Joe: You could tell by the difference in grades between my two majors.
Dennis: For real.
Joe: Really focusing more on the why of the thing.
Beth: That's so funny.
Joe: I mean, to answer your question, Dennis, I found a really good advisor in the Philosophy Department. Still there, Jenny Hansen. If you look at the work she's done on cosmetic psychopharmacology, which is what I ended up doing my honors thesis on while I was there, it was really, really good to connect immediately with someone who almost exactly matched my interests at that point. And then once I was in the department, I was an active member in philosophy club, and if any of my philosophy club friends are listening to this, they will say that I'm saying it much less so than I actually was. I was really into philosophy club. There's a good group of people who were always around to participate in what I was talking about earlier. In that context, the discussion, the debate, really kind of honing your skills outside of class, but having a lot of fun doing it. I think, and this is untrue, but I do remember, what was that section in the Hill News where they do little zingers?
Beth: Is that the Saint's Purgatory or something like that?
Joe: That's it. Yeah.
Joe: I would like to correct the record. They once, actually, I think it was twice, they made a crack about us smoking weed on the top floor the studn [inaudible 00: 11: 47] communion. That is not true, but we did have a lot of fun and laughed a lot. I can see how someone could get that impression.
Beth: I love that, especially with the April Fools blotter that the Hill News does. Sometimes there'll be like the security blotter, they just come up with random things that did not happen on campus. And I always think that that's funny too. And some of those would be like, oh yeah, the philosophy club was found asking what is the meaning of life? Those kind of things that-
Joe: See, but that one is true.
Beth: Okay, let's get into that then. No, I'm just kidding. Well, it sounds like then that you were probably really into this idea that Dennis brought up in the very beginning of this multiple universes and everything. That seems like it was right up your alley when you were at St. Lawrence.
Joe: I am trying very hard not to make the whole conversation about that.
Dennis: About just going to just pure metaphysics the rest of the time.
Beth: Honestly, Scarlet & Brown Stories would go in a very different direction, but I also think that because Laurentians learn is one of our pillars, there's this idea that I think this would be something people would love to listen to too.
Dennis: Yeah. Don't threaten me with a good time.
Joe: It's funny, and this kind of goes to what we're talking about, and Beth you mentioning the continuous learning and just genuine interest in things. Just a quick anecdote. My wife and I, we take these CrossFit classes at our gym, and I got talking to the trainer one day and she was a student doing her honors thesis in philosophy. She let me take a look at her thesis, and we had a two-hour-long conversation about it, and I was like, oh my gosh, all this stuff is still rattling around up there, it must mean a lot to me.
Beth: Totally. Well, I don't think you ever lose the drive to learn and question and do those things, especially when you have such a academic background like at St. Lawrence where you're constantly forced to think about, how does biology and philosophy connect to each other? I think on paper, a lot of people will go, well, you're talking about a social science of theory, and then you're talking about biological fact that, sure, has some theory into it. But I like the idea that no, we are being forced to remember that everything has theories and everything has facts, and therefore you can challenge everything, essentially.
Dennis: One time I was at a diners getting breakfast and me, I forget who I was with, but literally back of a napkin, we started making a network map of all of the academic majors and just drawing lines of the subfields that connect them. And philosophy, it was like one of two or three that every single other discipline connects to.
Beth: Oh, I'm sure.
Dennis: Basically, it's like whatever other sub-branch of any other field has theory next to it, basically that's the line that connects back to philosophy.
Joe: I mean, after all, it's the love of knowledge, right?
Dennis: Yeah, right.
Beth: Totally. Absolutely. So let's connect a little bit. I feel like we've kept the audience in suspense enough. Let's connect a little bit about this love of philosophy, biology, and how did your St. Lawrence education set you up for your career? What are you doing now and how did you get to that point?
Joe: Let me answer it kind of chronologically. If there's one thing I want to emphasize for anyone about to graduate, even thinking about what they want to do, that, at least for me, the thing that worked out best was to just be a ping pong and bounce around and see what works. I mean, I kind of referenced it already with my experiment with Clarkson. It wasn't what I wanted to do, so I adjusted course. So after graduating from St. Lawrence, I did not have a job lined up. Pro-tip, get a job lined up.
Dennis: Wait, wait, wait. You're saying that in 2011 it was hard to find a job?
Beth: It was hard to find a job?
Joe: That's right.
Beth: I don't know. I can't relate as a class of... No, I'm just kidding
Joe: That's right, I forget who I'm talking to. We're all children of the Great Recession to a certain extent. But I was able to find a job working at a nonprofit in Vermont for Martine Rothblatt. Martin Rothblatt's a very interesting person. She helped put the legislation together to put up the GPS satellites, and then a little while after that, in the '90s, she basically started a biotech company to cure her daughter's heart illness and successfully did it. Yeah. It was pretty crazy. And Martine hired me to run part of her nonprofit. Are you familiar with the term transhumanism?
Beth: Yes, I am to a certain extent. For those aren't.
Joe: That's a good point. There's an audience. I had dabbled in it from an academic perspective, but it's the whole idea that technology accelerates exponentially, processing powers getting faster, and eventually what we're going to be able to do is upload all of our thoughts to the internet and live forever. So this nonprofit was kind of aimed at that goal. But the hook that brought me into it was the organization, Terasem, was very interested in the ethics of all that, and that got me on board. So I was there for about half a year. I realized, again, ping pong, I didn't particularly like nonprofit work.
Beth: Okay, yeah, fair enough.
Joe: So I ping ponged myself back to St. Lawrence, actually, and I worked on a grant that Joe Erlichman in the biology department, neuroscience specifically. He had a laboratory that was looking at cerium oxide nanoparticles and their ability to kind of affect Parkinsonism, so like a precursor to Parkinson's in humans and ALS in mice and rats. So I helped him on that grant for a while. I think it ran about six months. And at that point I was like, okay, I've tried this and it was very, very fun to do, and it was very, very fun to work with Joe and Ana Estevez, people I had had while I was at St. Lawrence. And when that grant ended, I was kind of left with no plans next. This is when it kind of starts to take direction.
But I was googling and an ad for a master's in public health popped up, and I kind of thought to myself, you know what? I hear a lot about MBAs. There seems to be a glut of MBAs. I've not heard of this. And the policy side of health kind of matches exactly with my biology and philosophy background. So that's when I decided to go to the university at Albany. I was very, very lucky. Another little bit of nepotism here, my father had worked at the School of Public Health there many, many decades ago. So I did know a few faculty members there, and they were able to set me up as the graduate assistant for the department, which was super, super helpful experience for me. A lot of soft skills, a lot of just herding cats, getting things organized. I know you guys work at a university. Sometimes it's hard to get professors altogether rowing in the same direction, but that was kind of my job.
Essentially I spent two years there and one night in the spring of the year I was graduating, 2015, my now wife came to me and she said, "Hey, have you seen this Presidential Management Fellowship Program?" And I said, no, because I wasn't looking for anything. I made the same mistake not lining anything up. And she was like, "yeah, it closes at midnight tonight." I was like, "Oh, okay." And she's like, "You should apply." I was like, "Oh, okay." So she thankfully covered for me in the grants writing class I was missing, and I kind of tossed in an application. At that time, the Presidential Management Fellowship Program had kind of a multistep process. They did multiple interviews, et cetera, and I got through all of that. I can presume only by the skin of my teeth. This is a 8,000 applicant pool, and they winnowed it down to 400, and then you still have to find a job.
It just gives you special hiring status. I was lucky enough to be selected, and then I had to find a job. And wow, saying all this in order, there is a lot of serendipity because I kind of applied on a whim and I had this special status, which was great. It was something that I valued a lot and had some prestige, but I had no idea where I was going to go. But it turns out that through osmosis, I was actually renting a room and living with my landlord who worked at, I guess this is the big reveal, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, which is where I now work. I had kind of just been looking around for stuff and I was like, wait, hey, I do know one organization because I've heard about it on my couch for several years. I interviewed with them. I had the strong sensation that not a lot of people knew about this organization. It's very important and I'm sure we'll get into that, but I was kind of lucky to have just absorbed the context of where I now work and was able to successfully get through the process and start in 2015.
Beth: Going through the whole history is so important because so many people in of our parents generations, for example, graduated, they got a job, they stayed with that job for a long time and maybe moved positions a couple times in their lives, and that was about it. And that's so not the experience of especially Millennials and Gen Z. So it's really important to hear how did one thing build upon another, and this idea of ping ponging to lead you to working in the Office of the Inspector General. I do think that, especially with how many more students with our public health major that we have on campus and are trying to explore of what are the different avenues I could do with this. I want to make a difference and such. I think it'll be really powerful for people to hear, yeah, this wasn't really a thing when I was a St. Lawrence student. I went and got my master's degree and, like you said, on a whim I did this and it's worked out in such a wonderful way for you. So tell us a little bit about what your current position is in the Office of the Inspector General, and for those that don't know what the Office at the Inspector General does, can you give us a brief summary of that?
Joe: So the Office of Inspector General, there's more than one. There's generally one for each department in the federal government. And these were all put in place in 1976, largely as a result of Watergate. So the idea was we're going to establish these Offices of Inspector General. They're going to be independent from the department they oversee. They're going to report both to the Secretary, but also to Congress. So they have the independence to really look and perform oversight duties. How we kind of describe it is we fight waste, fraud, and abuse throughout all of health and human services programs. But let me kind of name some things. These are things like Medicare, Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Health Research Services Administration. I think there's roughly 30 different subdivisions. And these grants, the big healthcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid, I mean they touch pretty much every American's life at some point or another.
That's kind of what we're tasked to oversee. My part of the Office of Inspector General is the Office of Evaluations and Inspections, and we kind of do large scale policy analysis across the country. So our main work product is reports. So what we do is we kind of spend some time collecting data, talking to different people throughout the federal government who we oversee, and then we'll wrap that up and present it to the public. So these can be on topics like nursing homes, which is obviously a huge issue at the moment, drug safety. Pretty much anything that affects healthcare in the United States, it's something that's within our purview to look at.
Beth: You must have had a very easy past few years than. Just smooth sailing. Didn't really have to look at anything. Just no big headlines within the healthcare world at all.
Joe: Oh yeah, it's been great. And I should say, my wife also works in the department too, so our household has been serene for the past few years.
Beth: It's been a paradise it sounds like. Wow, wonderful.
Dennis: Yeah, I think the time when I sat down for dinner with the two of you was, in very recent memory, was the many attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act and all of the cascading policy implications of what that would've meant. And so in your day-to-day, you're essentially doing research into real world cause and effect of a policy and to help the government make recommendations on policy in that way. Am I doing justice to?
Joe: That's right, yeah. The other thing to remember, that's kind of what my office puts out. We also interact with the auditors, the investigators, the police officers, essentially, the lawyers who do civil litigation. So while we put out these reports that are our main product, we're also doing a lot internal-facing to coordinate with folks who have jurisdiction over certain things or have ability to rectify situations that in my shop we don't. But I will say, because I want to be as straight about it as possible. So my job, I work for headquarters, and the real research and analysis is being done by folks all across the country are teams of analysts. In my role, I'm kind of corralling a portfolio of different ongoing reports. So at any one time, somewhere between 10 or 20. We put out about 40 a year, and I specifically am focused on Medicare Parts A, C.
For reference, Part C is Medicare Advantage. You probably see commercials for it on CNN all the time. And health information technology and cybersecurity topics. So basically my job is to liaise and make sure things run on time. So if we need information from one of the parts of HHS, a team will call me and my job is to go get that. And that's really where, you know I was saying earlier I kind of learned how to herd professors. This is a similar thing. You're kind of acting as the liaison in very tense situations, trying to get information you need, trying to obviously behave professionally, but keep things at a simmer rather than a boil. I mean, there's only five of us right now in my organization trying to corral my whole organization, which is like 150 people, which does these reports on 30 different agencies under the HHS umbrella. We kind of have this strategic planning and directional role as well. At least for me, I've always found that... Well, both of you've met me before. I don't have the greatest attention span.
Being able to switch from thing to thing and kind of break up your day. I know I have 10,000 tasks, but they're all manageable. And it's a lot of planning, organization, and just making sure you're kind of moving quickly and efficiently through things. It's very rewarding because the mission ultimately is to improve healthcare for the American public, improve other areas like the human services side, where the Administration for Children and Family looks after folks coming across the border who are then in their custody. It really is this great mission of improving it and also keeping fraudsters, you know, other things out of these programs.
Beth: I was going to ask, does your Office work with other Offices that are working with other departments? So do they ever overlap, potentially working with another Office of the Inspector General?
Joe: Yes. I totally understand the question, and it's a great question, and it's actually a very, very opportune time to be asking that. Because in the OIG community, as I said, there's more than one of us. Mine specifically, HHS is the largest civilian one. But because of all the money that went out during COVID and the desire to make sure that none of that was diverted, something that was established in... I'm not going to pull the law out of my memory on this call. People can Google this. They set up a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, and what that does-
Dennis: I've heard of this.
Joe: ... Yeah, it brings everyone together across the government for things that are specifically related to the pandemic. So it is something that is currently happening right now, and I think it's uniformly regarded as a very good thing to have folks talking to each other. Because there is programs, they can be co-funded by departments or they can have different parts of different departments have different steps in a process. So it is very beneficial to us. And that PRAC oversight committee, I encourage people to look it up. They've been doing great work looking at what's happened to the money that went out as a result of pandemic relief.
Dennis: It's very interesting actually, because I can remember walking away from the first time we sat down and you kind of laid out what it was that you do. The analogy I made in my head, it's funny, you talked about some background in doing neuroscience work, but is that your role almost felt like this neuron. You're connecting these disparate parts of this giant collective brain. And that, in any organization, including, to be honest with you, St. Lawrence does seem to be something that is lacking. I often feel like our ability to coordinate with what Student Life is doing in career services always feels less than what it should, even though everyone's always doing their best. But in the government, that's kind of a famous thing that the left and right hand not being in coordination. Would you agree with my assessment there?
Joe: Yeah, I really like the metaphor too. I do think that's right. It is a lot of linkages and, to a certain extent, it's also about something I was talking about earlier. That kind of synthesis. There is a lot of information stored across the federal government, but knowing how to get it and knowing who might want it is very, very hard to figure out. It does kind of require somebody both with experience, you learn it over time, who might be interested in this, who might be interested in that, but also just kind of an exploratory willingness to ask and a willingness to meet people and be like, "Hey, we're doing this thing. I think it matches up with something you're doing. Let's collaborate. Or at the very least, let's share notes so that we can both improve."
Beth: Once again, taking that liberal arts education and applying it and saying, "Hey, we don't necessarily need to know what the perspective is ahead of time. Let's explore and learn about it together so that we're better informed."
Dennis: So just thinking back to a couple interesting things here. I found this interesting. We had been trying to connect down a time to actually set up this call for I'd say two weeks or so. And part of what we had to hold on was that you needed to check in within your department and ethics advisor. And as soon as you said that, again, the philosopher in me was like, oh, why don't we have an ethics advisor? I want an ethics advisor to have lunch with and ask all sorts of things. I found that to be just kind of thrilling. But also I think, for one, it's impressive just that that's going on and I guess it speaks to the origins of the Inspector General coming out of Watergate and those things. It makes a lot of sense. It does feel like a high level of administrative machinery, in one sense. I'm just putting myself back in the shoes of senior year me and how daunting government work seemed, even though I felt an attraction to it. That kind of administrative machinery felt so intimidating. What has been your working in the government... Because I feel like you and I had similar sensibilities. We were similar types of college kids.
Joe: I'm nodding vigorously from listening to this.
Dennis: Yeah. How has that part of it all been for you?
Joe: That's a brilliant question because it is something I think about a lot. So I kind of got really lucky when I on a whim applied for this special program, the PMF, because on the other side of that, you don't have to go through the competitive process of getting a job. You can hand someone a resume and you have special hiring status, so they can hire you. I've participated in the LINK program for a while and do some other mentoring. The thing I always tell people is it is really, really hard to get in because it is very intimidating to be faced down with, "Hey, you know how on regular resumes, it's two pages. It might even be one now. But your federal resume needs to be everything you've ever done in your life."
Beth: Oh, wow.
Joe: So in kind of a perverse sense, I was almost unlucky to not have to do that. I had to learn, and I still have to learn, that the machine of government moves pretty slow. It moves very deliberately. There are a lot of steps, but if you do take the time and you actually walk through the steps, it begins to make sense. For instance, with a question about checking with my ethics attorney. You're kind of on that. We hold ourselves to a very high standard to be independent, and that includes the appearance of partiality. So even with something like this, I went to them and I explained what I was doing, and they were like, okay, that's fine. We understand colleges like to talk to people about careers. So it was fine, but you could see a scenario where, hey, maybe a buddy of mine who works on biomedical research, who's a professor at St. Lawrence, invites me to go speak. Well, then what happens if that person's applying for a grant?
There are many different scenarios where you can see potential conflicts of interest, but that isn't our standard. Our standard isn't don't have conflicts of interest. It's even higher than that, which is don't even appear to have some sort of conflict of interest because it diminishes our ability to be impartial and independent, even if there's no there there. But it creates an impression and ultimately, as I've said, the mission and the reason I like it is because it's to improve things for the American people. If you start to lose that trust, then you're not really fulfilling your mission very well and not showing folks you're credible. As an oversight agency, that's bottom line for us, that we are credible and that people know it. So when we say something, it means something, right? If we say there's a certain number of deaths in nursing homes, we want it to be understood that we don't have any motivation to say that other than having found the facts.
Beth: I think that's just fascinating work. It's necessary work, especially in an age with mass communications, which also leads what I call it the age of mass miscommunications. And I think that having agencies that you can trust to give you objective information is really important. Something that you mentioned that is not about your work, but about the work that you do to connect back with St. Lawrence is something that we've seen a string of people do, which is being a LINK mentor and a mentor in a variety of ways. What would you say to people who are considering getting involved as either a mentor, or trying to do something to give back to St. Lawrence with their time?
Joe: I know for me, it's a great feeling being able to give back. But one of the other things I think Laurentians pride ourselves on is our leadership ability, and there's no better way to both improve someone else's life and your own life than being that leader. Using that time to understand how you can positively influence people, maybe make something that was hard for you a little easier. To a certain extent, one of the things that society today, there is a lot of vindictiveness. If somebody coming behind you has an advantage you didn't have. I think mentorship, the LINK program, finding other ways you can do it formally or informally, kind of flips that dynamic. You're doing a real act of good helping someone out, and you're also investing in yourself because you want to be the Platonic ideal of you. You want to be the person who's giving, you want to be the person who can help people out. And to a certain extent, you have to have your praxis. I realize I'm slipping into philosophy terminology here.
Beth: But we like it. Yeah.
Joe: The highfalutin way I can say it.
Beth: Well, I think your point stands though, which is that it's important to realize that not only do you feel good, it's a good self-serving thing sometimes to help other people, but at the same time, you're going to be learning about perspectives that maybe you weren't as aware of that are happening currently now. You're going to get a better sense of what challenges do St. Lawrence students face today that maybe we didn't face 15 years ago or whenever you graduated. And that gives you a better sense with which to give back or in your own world, have a better sense of what's happening in the world of a higher education or St. Lawrence and that kind of thing.
Dennis: Just speaking to this theme, we talked about the deliberate nature of the federal government and for specifically students who may be looking at that as a place they want to be. With this big deliberate machine, is there still a place for networking?
Joe: Yes, there is. I think something that is wise to understand if you are interested in the federal government is that the hiring process is long and it's mechanical and knowing somebody isn't going to help you out. Basically, like everyone else, you have to go through this process or do what I did and get into a specific program. There is stuff like the Presidential Management Fellow Program or, more broadly, they're called Pathways Internships, which do kind of give you an easier way to get into the federal government. Pathways Internships are available while you're an undergrad, and I believe up until you graduate, and there may be other programs. I know for me the Presidential Management Fellowship Program that's available to people graduating from grad school. So if that's coming up for you, if you're listening, look into it. People have my name and my email's not hard to figure out. If anybody asks for it, they can have it.
Dennis: He's a great guy, listener. Trust us.
Joe: But yeah, so there's definitely a place for networking, especially once you're in the federal government. Getting in is the hardest part because from there, you can network, you can do what you said earlier, Dennis. You can kind of find ideas, you can connect people, you can make things happen using your network. It's something that's vital for me. If I didn't have colleagues and, frankly, friends throughout the federal government, I wouldn't be able to get half the information I need.
Dennis: That's fascinating. Yeah.
Joe: And it's much easier to move around from agency to agency, department to department once you have that federal status. So once you're in that network really, really does become key. And then you can have happy accidents like end up working where I do, and running into at least one or two St. Lawrence people.
Beth: I mean, that is a pretty common thing despite wherever you work. I think that's what the nicest thing is about the Laurentian community. Well, Joe, I feel like we could talk to you for hours about this, so we might have to have you come back on the podcast, but we are definitely at the end of our time with you, unfortunately. If there's one last thing that you wanted to tell the Laurentian community, either about the work that you do or inspiring words to give back to the St. Lawrence community in some capacity, what would you say?
Joe: Kind of just sum up what we've talked about. Be willing to try new things, tap into your network. If you're interested in stuff, get a head start. Don't wait until you're looking for a job to try to figure out what you're going to do next. Don't trust fall everything. Do some planning. But ultimately, the best advice I've heard recently was from Scott Galloway, who's a professor at New York Stern School of Business. He was kind of talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerator of trends. So you had some remote work. Bam. It's 10 years in the future with the COVID-19 pandemic. But the same thing happens for personal habits too. And I think something for everyone to remember as we kind of come out, to a certain extent, from the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease will be with us for a very long time, but as things kind of get back to normal, evaluate your habits, think about what you want to be doing, what you want to develop in yourself, and for folks who are still in college, now is the time. You can really put in place habits now that will get you 10 years into the future real quick, because the world has started changing very, very fast, and I don't think it's going to ease up anytime soon.
Beth: I think that's great advice, especially this idea of kind of ties into what President Morris's vision is of impact. Having our students not think about the job they want, but the impact they want to make on the world, and what are the positions and employment that will get you to that point that will give you a sense of fulfillment. And so I think that's wow, right in line with what the Laurentian mission is coming up. Joe, I want to thank you so much for joining us on Scarlet & Brown Stories. It's always so great to chat with people who are doing amazing things, and we are so thankful for the work that you do, not just for the country, but also for the Laurentian community.
Dennis: Yeah, this is a pleasure. Thank you so much, Joe.
Joe: Well, thank you both. I really, really enjoyed it.
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Dennis: And there you have it folks. Joe Chiarenzelli, class of 2011. Great guy. He's someone that both Beth and I have known for a long time. Very excited to have finally had him on the show and thought that was a great conversation.
Beth: I definitely agree, Dennis, and it was so much fun too. We were saying that Joe's just one of those people that you can see how he's gotten into such a wonderful position and a trustworthy one for the American people. He's just so easy to talk to, he clearly loves what he does, he loves looking at the world from a variety of different perspectives and is looking to make sure that everything is working the way it should in America. And if it's not, then trying to find the evidence to change things. You just could tell that he's the kind of person that you want in that role.
Dennis: Oh, absolutely. And also, just generally, one other thing I'll say is that I think this came across in the conversation, but he's just to his core, a genuine intellectual, deep thinker. We could have spent an hour talking to him about dozens and dozens of different topics because he really represents St. Lawrence in that way of just deeply curious and enjoys thinking as a sport.
Beth: Yeah, thinking as a sport. I like that. He definitely is like that. And I like to think, Dennis especially, you're like that too. So it was just really fun to see you interact with him, and especially because we know that this was a role that, as you said multiple times, this is kind of one of your dream jobs.
Dennis: I know. I hope we didn't oversell it, if anything, but that was definitely, that always sounded like a dream job, being in those roles at the high levels of the federal government doing real thinking work, collaborating with interesting research happening all over the country at many different levels. And he's right there doing it. So I'm inspired to see him as I often am when we meet with various Laurentians. And again, it's why I love getting to do this.
Beth: Absolutely. Well, thank you all so much for listening to the Scarlet & Brown Stories podcast. We'll be back again next month with another amazing Laurentian interview.
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Beth: Scarlet & Brown Stories is produced and edited by Amanda Brewer, Beth Dixon, Megan Fry Dozier, and Dennis Morreale. Our music was written by Christopher Watts, inspired by Eugene Wright, class of 1949. Subscribe to Scarlet & Brown stories on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Consider leaving us a rate and review as well. If you have a story to submit to us, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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