An internship in the U.S. helped Canadian alumna Stacey Berry figure out her career direction: “The Washington Center really helped me to narrow the kind of career that I wanted to do.”
According to Stacey, TWC opened her eyes to opportunities, possibilities and a way to create change through policy. It is something she thinks about often and remembers.
When were you at The Washington Center? Where did you intern and what were your duties there?
I came to The Washington Center in fall 2010 from York University outside of Toronto. My undergraduate degree was a double major in History and Law and Society, which inspired my internship as a federal policy intern for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in their D.C. office. LISC is a non-profit organization supporting strategic investment and development in underserved communities and neighborhoods across 44 states, including throughout D.C.
One of the main tasks I did with them was prepare a 95-page congressional dossier during the Midterm elections. It included a bio of each new member and the committees they served on. In addition to preparing that summary, I conducted research on policy topics, including housing, veterans, and youth affairs, as well as attended policy conferences and events hosted by groups like Amnesty International, The World Bank Group, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Attending those programs opened my eyes to a world filled with a wide range of impactful career opportunities.
What prompted you to seek out an internship as part of your college experience?
I did TWC between undergrad and graduate school. I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I was rejected from law school when I applied. I was looking for new opportunities when I came across TWC. I had always wanted to do part of my education in the U.S. The TWC internship seemed like it would be a great experience and give me a taste of living and working in America. After looking more into it, I decided to apply.
At the time, I already worked for a cabinet minister here in Canada as a political staffer. Doing the TWC program helped me to better understand the importance of policy and government. Working in D.C., getting that professional development, was really useful for me. I gained transferable skills and some good knowledge, which helped to prepare me for my current job with the Canadian government. It also motivated me to research think tanks here and in the U.S., and to understand the roles they play in policy and lobbying, and how the whole process influences everything. I found myself more engaged in these things after my internship.
What was your most impactful experience from TWC and your time in D.C.?
I liked that it was so diverse. There were people from all parts of the globe: people from Brazil, from India, from Africa. It was cool to meet so many people who seemed to have a shared interest in not just developing their professional skills, but seemed to be genuinely concerned with making a difference and making the world a better place. I liked that TWC seems to be a hub that attracts those types of people from across the globe.
I also loved being in D.C. I found it to be inspiring. Being there with all of the museums and getting to learn the history was really appreciated. The fact that they’re free made it accessible for people who might not be able to afford such things. Plus, I met some amazing people. I met former President Jimmy Carter, who is an icon for civil rights, and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I found that people of that stature were approachable in terms of willing to talk to an intern like me. They were willing to talk or give a word of advice. Meeting all of these people was phenomenal as a Canadian who had read about their stories and studied history, but then to meet all of these people in one city — what are the chances?
How did TWC affect your professional development?
It motivated me to aim higher and think bigger, to go beyond my Plan A. It really allowed me to see that there were so many other things that I could do. I wouldn’t have even thought of the field of public policy if it weren’t for my internship; I wouldn’t have thought of it as a career or have known anyone who could tell me to go into policy. Even if you’re working in government and learning as you go, you’re not realizing the power in a policy degree or understanding what a think tank means. I was already passionate about advocacy, so it allowed me to fine tune and narrow my career focus.
Also, one of the program aspects I appreciated that The Washington Center emphasized was civic engagement. I had the opportunity to do many informational interviews. One of the people I interviewed was Leon Harris, who is a well-known, award-winning news anchor. I had the chance to go to the ABC News headquarters and interview him for over an hour. I couldn’t believe he was so gracious with his time. He gave me career advice, professional and life advice. That was really a life changing experience.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Do you have favorite career advice?
I was devastated when I didn’t get into law school. Of course, I cried. That was the one thing I wanted to be since starting school. It’s easy to be discouraged when you’ve spent your whole life wanting to be one thing and it doesn’t work out. So I asked, what do I do next? What is my purpose in life? And then I do this internship and realize there’s this whole world out here with opportunities to do great things. So it’s good to be open and not limit yourself or put yourself in a box of doing or being one thing. Just be open, expand your horizons and let life lead you.
Don’t let a rejection from a particular goal deter you from your why. I really want to encourage young people to not be discouraged, be resilient and keep striving for greatness. There are so many ways for you to be in a field that you’re passionate about. I didn’t get into law school, but I feel like working in government allows me to be part of that larger system that governs by laws and policies impacting the lives of millions. You can still have a career in one field while being involved in others through volunteering for or joining a board, which I had a chance to do in Canada when I was appointed to the Board of Health for the City of Toronto.
How would you describe the biggest benefit or takeaway from your TWC experience?
Connection. Somebody was always involved in some civic engagement initiative. I volunteered for an annual walkathon for the homeless, for the Stop Modern Slavery Walkathon to raise awareness on human trafficking and for Housing Up, and I would see my fellow interns there. There was so much I did in four months; I was a very busy intern. And then I had a tour of the White House thanks to one of Obama’s former staffers, who I connected with through an email because I had subscribed to the White House newsletter. Those kinds of things are happening all the time, even being there for a short time.
I also like the fact that TWC has furnished apartments and helps with finding roommates. Sometimes, when you’re going to a new city, especially when you’re from another country, it can feel a little overwhelming. Where should I live? What kind of apartment should I get? So I liked that that part was already taken care of. That way you can just focus on the program and try to get the best out of it. TWC encourages students to socialize and not be in isolation. I think that’s very attractive to students who are looking for internships. You’re not all on your own to find the job, find somewhere to live, figure out the city. TWC is set up to help you easily navigate D.C. and you can just focus on the internship experience and making connections.
TWC is set up to help you easily navigate D.C. and you can just focus on the internship experience and making connections.Stacey Berry
In your current role, how do you see the workforce evolving? What opportunities do you foresee for soon-to-be graduates?
I recommend young people develop their leadership and executive skills. There will be opportunities for Millennials as the Baby Boomers do a mass exodus of the workforce. When it comes, there will be a lot of executive positions opening. At that point, the older generation is going to pass the baton to somebody that may not have spent 30 years getting to become the CEO. Millennials are getting multiple degrees at a higher rate whereas Boomers may have worked for 30 years and those 30 years of experience qualified them to be a CEO or executive director.
I think students need to think of more non-traditional careers, have a more entrepreneurial mindset and constantly be growing in terms of the way the workforce is moving. There are a lot of opportunities coming in tech. There are a lot of new skills they can develop like data science. That’s a growing industry that traditional schools haven’t kept up with. You need to have multiple skills in order to survive as an entrepreneur or as an employee. You need to know how to do administration, social media, communications, etc. You have to have a little bit of everything.
I started my own company in 2015, Bstellar Consulting Group, where I do soft skills training. When I speak with students, I tell them to make sure they do internships. Check out this thing I did, The Washington Center. Don’t limit yourself. There’s a big world out there. I always try to encourage them to do that because I wish that I had done the program before I completed my undergraduate degree because I would have most likely done a second internship, or maybe would have done my master’s in some other country. TWC really opened my eyes to endless possibilities.