Next Up: Building Upon a Lifetime of Public Service

Leadership & Public Service | Clinton Presidential Center, Presidential Leadership Scholars


Mike Hemphill and Victoria DeFrancesco SotoThis post is part of our annual Impact Report, where you can hear directly from Clinton Foundation staff about the work they do, the programs they manage, and the partnerships they create — all in service of driving impact and helping others build better lives for themselves and their communities. 

Dr. Mike Hemphill has spent his career creating a space for established and emerging leaders to study and expand upon their core values and personal experiences to become a
truly transformational leader. As Director of the Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) program — and Director of Leadership Development — Mike has partnered with thousands of leaders throughout his tenured career to help each of them understand, embrace, and refine their own unique leadership style.

Through PLS, he brings these lessons to life through the
prism of the unique lessons learned from the presidential administrations of Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The program’s strength lies in its participants’ diversity of perspectives, political beliefs, professions, and personal backgrounds. Each year, hundreds of aspiring Scholars apply, and 60 are selected to participate in this one-of-a-kind program that aims to accelerate the possibilities of their social impact work. PLS offers its Scholars a uniquely presidential curriculum, an unparalleled opportunity to hear from some of the nation’s most tested policy voices, and access to a diverse PLS alumni network of changemakers – exposing them to new ideas, ways of thinking, and strategies for finding common ground in our divisive world.

We caught up with Mike to discuss the program, his work at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, and what’s up next for the latest class.


When you describe your work to your best friend, what do you say?

DR. MIKE HEMPHILL (MH): I spend a meaningful amount of time with
a broadly diverse group of established leaders who are working in a variety of ways to make their communities and this country better. If it weren’t for our program, most of our participants would probably never cross paths with one another. Because of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, they become part of a growing network of alumni who are tackling some of the toughest challenges in our country and across the world.


Who inspired you most in the past year? What did they do or say, and how will you recreate that for the year ahead?

MH: The participants in our program. That’s the best thing about my job; I get to spend time with individuals who are committed to making their communities better, whether that community is their neighborhood, state, country, the world, profession, or organization. They inspire me to maintain an openness to ideas about how to frame problems and define solutions. Like them, we need to act — to focus on the “what” as much as the “why.”


“Good partnership means…”

MH: Co-authoring with others the story of our lives.

I consistently remind the participants in PLS that leadership isn’t something you do to someone; it emerges from the relationships you have with others. Partnerships are made with the intentional and mutual involvement of yourself and others. And while we naturally think of partnerships as being strategic, built to have desired outcomes, we must also recognize and value the mystery of what might be made in partnership with others.


What are you looking forward to in the year ahead with the Presidential Leadership Scholars?

MH: What I always look forward to is our new cohort of Scholars. It’s invigorating for me to spend time with this deeply heterogeneous group of young (to me) leaders who are so passionate and committed to helping others live better lives.

In the same way, I’m looking forward to what our PLS alums will be doing. I’m hoping we can focus more resources on intentionally cultivating our alumni network. And more broadly, I’m looking forward to having more visitors and in-person programming at the Clinton Center.


What drew you to work for the Clinton Presidential Center? Do you have a favorite Clinton Foundation moment or story through the years?

MH: What drew me to the Foundation was the opportunity to be involved at such an early stage in a remarkably innovative leadership program. The Foundation’s commitment to action has always appealed to me. And it was great being able to come home to Little Rock. One of my favorite experiences was interviewing campaign and administration alumni who came back to Little Rock for the anniversary of the ‘92 election. Their stories were so inspiring, and it was clear that their involvement in the campaign or the administration was a life-changing event.


What do you think are the keys to becoming a transformational leader?

MH: Recognize the value of change and be willing to live in the tension that it creates. Allow others to participate in framing problems and solutions because, as President Clinton often says, “everyone has a story,” and those stories can inform better choices for change. Invite all involved to co-author the change since everyone affected by that change matters.


What’s one thing someone — anyone — can do if they want to make a difference in your line of work?

MH: Act. Have the courage to act in a manner that’s consistent with and reveals your core values. And be willing to act in ways that bring about incremental changes that may eventually lead to bigger ones.



Special Feature

HOW I BECAME ONE OF THE ONLY LATINA DEANS IN THE WORLD OF HIGHER ED: Interview with Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas

This interview was originally published by MSNBC’s Know Your Value. We have taken excerpts from this interview and reprinted here.


In January 2022, you became the first Latina to serve as dean of a presidential school and one of the only women of color in this space. Tell us about your career journey.

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: It was not the traditional one, that’s for sure! My path wasn’t one where I rose through the ranks of academic leadership, going from graduate studies chair to department chair, to lots of other positions in between.

For a couple of years, I left the academic world and focused on political analysis consulting. I focused on translating research into user-friendly information through various media outlets.

However, the draw of the classroom and the dynamism of college campuses drew me back in. I started teaching part-time and building programming [at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas] that bridged the classroom with the private and public sector.

I was fortunate enough to have a strong female dean who saw the power of this programming and created an Office of Civic Engagement there that formalized the space where the classroom meets on-the-ground practitioners. In this role, I gained academic leadership skills as an assistant dean.


How has the scope of public service changed over the years and what should women consider about their potential impact here?

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: The meaning of public service has become much broader and more diverse. Traditionally folks think of local, state, or federal government roles. While that’s one component, we’ve also come to see the private sector intentionally grow its public service footprint as part of sustainable business models.

For example, one of our graduates from the Clinton School co-founded a community bank that provides targeted development resources for its members.

A public service education is one that brings the tools of data, impact analysis and leadership to any and all professions, including medicine, business and philanthropy.

Today, public service applies to all sectors. We’ve lived through the Great Resignation and see how younger generations want fulfillment beyond a paycheck. A public service education meets that ambition, enabling individuals to find their impact and improve their communities.


See more from this year’s impact report