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WHF Profile: Matthew Phillips (2017-18)

Can you tell us about yourself and your work before the White House Fellowship?
My wife, Amy, and I lived in Hawaii with our three kids, Jack, Emma, and Hank. I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, serving on the Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board. 

How did you hear about the White House Fellows Program and what made you decide to apply?
Like many Fellows, I had strong mentors who encouraged me to apply. While I was in Hawaii, I was fortunate to have Mark Montgomery (WHF ’98-’99) and John Wood (WHF ’96-’97) there on-island to help me navigate the process.

What goals were you hoping to achieve through the Fellows program?
As a nuclear surface warfare officer, my career to that point had been largely technical in nature. The WHF program gave me the opportunity to see the whole of government at a high level and learn how to best contribute.

Where were you placed and what was the focus of your work?
I was placed in the Office of the Vice President, and was focused on public engagement and intergovernmental affairs. I also contributed to the Second Lady’s efforts towards awareness and policy improvements towards military spouse unemployment.

What did you do immediately after the Fellowship?
I served as a Military Advisor and Policy Director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. During that time, I also completed my MBA – leading to what I’m doing now!

How did the trajectory of your life and work change after the White House Fellowship?
It took off my blinders! The fellowship allowed me to experience a breadth of government, private sector, non-profits, and the arts. It reinforced the idea to think globally and act locally – which I carry forward today.

What are you most proud of achieving since the fellowship?
Everyday I try to be the best Dad I can be for Jack, Emma, and Hank. I’m more proud of their achievements than my own. After the fellowship, I’m a better husband, a better Dad, a better Naval Officer, a better leader in the private sector, and most importantly – a better citizen. 

Can you tell us about peers and mentors who helped you on this path?
The mentorship within the White House Fellow network has been phenomenal. Certainly, the many Navy Fellows have helped guide my decision-making along the way. But the person who stands out the most is a Fellow from my year, Andy Ku (WHF ’17-’18). Andy and I first met at the regional interview in San Francisco and became fast friends. Throughout my fellowship year, service in the Navy, and transition to the private sector – Andy has been a trusted confidant and compassionate, faith-based friend. 

What are you working on now?
I’m an Executive Director at JPMorgan Chase’s Commercial & Investment Bank, leading a payment modernization effort for a federal client. Additionally, I serve on Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Veterans Affairs Commission.

What advice would you give to prospective applicants? 
The White House Fellowship is an awe-inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone who’s done it doesn’t feel like they deserved it. Those going through the application process who feel like they’ve earned it or deserve it – haven’t. Stay grounded – like the words of Abraham Lincoln, “be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

Finally, if there is another question you would like to address that we haven’t asked, feel free to address it as well.
My most memorable experience was being promoted to Commander by the Vice President at the end of my fellowship year. Surrounded by family and friends in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, it was a surreal experience that was a culmination of an utterly fantastic year.