Leaving Notre Dame football for a career touchdown in D.C.

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Schar student Steve Elmer received the Alexis de Tocqueville Award. Photo by: Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University
Schar School student Steve Elmer is receiving the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Outstanding Public Policy Student. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

Playing football for University of Notre Dame was something Steve Elmer said he could only dream of when he was younger. His talent combined with a scholarship had him playing on the field with a golden helmet as freshman. He became one of the team’s most experienced offensive linemen, having 30 starts to his name.

“A lot of people probably expected me to play my senior year and push hard to develop myself for the next step to the NFL,” said Elmer, who majored in economics. “But I was fortunate to land a wonderful Congressional internship on Capitol Hill in May of 2015 that really changed the way I thought about my future.”

The George Mason University master of public policy student said that seeing people from his home state of Michigan making a difference in the lives of people every day confirmed a desire to go into public service. Community-mindedness was always important to him, he said, perhaps from growing up around public servants, such as his father and grandfather who were police officers.

Feeling burned out on football and inspired by a new opportunity, he graduated from Notre Dame a year early, accepting a job at Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia, and three years later enrolled part-time at Mason, where he is graduating this May and receiving the 2021 Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Outstanding Public Policy Student.

“My experience at the Schar School has been really incredible for helping me discern the direction I wanted my career to take, and I already feel like I’ve won everything and more out of this experience that I was hoping for,” said Elmer, who hopes to have a career in international governance and policy. “To get this award is an honor and really special.”

Mason caught Elmer’s eye, he said, because of the quality of professors, its location near the nation’s capital, and its focus on tailoring programs for part-time students.

“It’s incredible to be able to learn from really accomplished professors and practitioners and their experiences,” said Elmer, adding that he has been particularly interested in courses focusing on European security policy.

“What impresses me about Steve, apart from his diligence, intelligence, erudition and decency, is that he has become so passionately interested in the European Union,” said Professor Desmond Dinan. “I hope that Steve will be able to fulfill his ambition of working on some aspect of the EU.”

In August, Elmer secured a job at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Defense Exports and Cooperation, where he’s responsible for coordinating the organization’s attendance at international defense trade shows around the world.

“The work dovetails exactly with how I targeted my MPP emphasis,” Elmer said. “It’s a huge honor to be a part of the Army team, and I’ve become much more aware of the absolute importance of United States’ allies and partners.”

Whether it’s the opportunity to support the Army, or another aspect of international governance, Elmer said he’s motivated by what his contributions could mean.

“Policies at the federal level have the potential to affect everybody in the country,” Elmer said. “Knowing that there’s the chance to do something great for a lot of people, that’s really compelling.”