After realizing that engineering just wasn’t for her, Maureen Pan discovered liberal arts at Purdue—and with help from a faculty member, also found the right graduate program and career path in public service. As chief of the Office of Budget Execution for the U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Department of Justice, she is responsible for developing the annual budget for the U.S. Marshals, who protect federal judges and witnesses, arrest fugitives and transport prisoners, and manage criminal assets that have been seized.
Pan has also worked on related budget requests for the Department of Justice, and her collaborative work on the budget for security initiatives following 9/11 was one of her most meaningful experiences.
“I was working at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC on 9/11. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the images we saw on TV. My daily commute takes me right past the Pentagon, and a long time after that day, I saw the parking lot turned into a massive crime scene and the rooftop still smoldering,” she recalls.
“In the days following 9/11, a bunch of us in the budget shop at the DOJ worked to put together a supplemental budget package to fund the components within the department. We were short staffed because people on vacation couldn’t get back into town since the airports were closed. Usually the process is contentious, if not acrimonious, with the various players involved (including the Office of Management and Budget and congressional staff members). But not after 9/11. I saw people come together and collaborate during a very stressful time, working very long hours. The funding enabled departmental components to help with recovery efforts as well as secure airports and federal buildings and landmarks. Legislation doesn’t move very fast in Washington, DC—so getting the budget to Congress within a week was a wow moment for me.”
I started in the school of engineering. After my freshman year, I worked a semester as a co-op in a steel mill outside of Chicago. That experience convinced me I was in the wrong major. I just couldn’t see myself taking metal samples for the rest of my life. I did well in chemistry and physics, but the topics were uninteresting to me so I switched to liberal arts. I kept my math classes but it took a year to find a new major. I took French, psychology, sociology, philosophy, economics, and criminal justice classes. These courses were so different from the engineering curriculum; going to class was fun again. In the liberal arts, things aren’t always black and white. I was used to solving theorems or following formulas. With liberal arts, the answers were often shades of gray.
The person who impacted me the most was professor (now associate dean) JoAnn Miller. I don’t think she realizes how she influenced the trajectory of my education by encouraging me and suggesting that I go to graduate school. I didn’t really know what graduate school was, and thought that medical school or law school were my only options. I was a senior studying criminal justice, and most of my peers were going to be police officers, social workers, or attorneys. I didn’t want to be any of those things, so Professor Miller suggested a public policy graduate degree, which I pursued. That led to finding a job in the federal government, working for a law enforcement agency.
I enjoyed ordering fried rice from a little Chinese restaurant called Purdue Friend. The man behind the counter always knew everyone’s name, hometown, and major. It went out of business before I graduated but it was a great place for a quick meal. I really enjoyed the odd jobs I worked when I was at Purdue—cafeteria worker at Shreve hall, tutor, and basketball referee at the Recreational Sports Center.
My undergraduate degree is from Purdue and my graduate degree is from the University of Michigan. People ask me which school I favor, and I always say Purdue. I don’t think I’ll ever have another time in my life when I get to spend all my free time learning new things in any subject I choose. I loved learning so many new things during that time in my life.
I taught myself how to play the drums in my 30s. My friend formed a band and I’m the drummer. We’re a cover band and we play to raise money for various charities. I like playing for free because it takes away the pressure. I wouldn’t say it’s my greatest achievement, but it’s an unexpected achievement because I’m not a musical person and I don’t like the spotlight.
Person I Admire
I admire Pope Francis a great deal. He’s uniting people and bucking tradition to show us how to live a Christlike life. I’d like to go to Rome to hear one of his masses.
Idea of Perfect Happiness
A friend gave me the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz as a Christmas present several years ago. There are also 20,000 different brands of beer in the world. Visiting many of these faraway places and sampling local beers would make me very happy.
What I’m Reading
I’m reading a paperback mystery novel a friend loaned me, and though it’s not very good, I have to finish it so I know who the murderer is. I’m also reading the book of Samuel, which covers David’s life beginning with his fight with Goliath. And Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which is the story of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Shackleton’s ship was crushed by the ice but he and all 27 of his men made it safely home a year later. I read this book before I went to Antarctica in December 2013, so I want to read it again now that I’m back. Even though his voyage was 100 years ago, Antarctica has remained virtually unchanged. The icebergs, penguins, seals, and glaciers were incredible.
Profession I’d Like to Try
I’d love to play point guard for a professional basketball team. I’m slow and have no ball handling skills, but that’s my dream job. Whatever my next job is, I’d like to be able to wear jeans and sneakers every day.