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Intern Q&A: John, Research Intern

John Gallagher has interned at williamsworks since November 2013. A graduate student at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, John has a bachelor’s in international studies and Spanish from the University of Denver. He has worked in global development and community organizing for several nonprofits, and plans on graduating in June 2015 with a certificate in international development

John sat down to talk about his experience as an intern at williamsworks.

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Why did you choose to study public affairs at UW?

I have a wide range of interests – international development, social justice, community organizing, politics. I didn’t want to limit myself by focusing on just one of these – for example,  getting an MA in international relations. I chose to pursue an MPA to give me a broad range of practical skills that will help me for the rest of my life, no matter which field I find myself in. An MPA degree will, I hope, give me the tools to succeed across all my interests, including finance, statistics, and economics.

As for why I chose UW, my mind was pretty much made up after I visited the Evans School’s open house, which was also my first time in Seattle. I was completely enamored with the city and the school. I was already leaning toward the Evans School because it’s a very highly ranked MPA program, and has some unique characteristics you can’t find at other schools. But having that emotional connection solidified my choice and made it easy to commit.

 

Why did you choose to get a BA in International Studies?

I’ve always been interested in foreign cultures and the idea of the global community and international relations. As the world becomes more connected, it’s crucial that we develop the skills necessary for cross-cultural communication.

With that in mind, I focused my studies on Latin America and the Middle East, two of the regions most in urgent need for understanding and engagement. I also love learning new languages, and Spanish and Arabic seemed useful, interesting, and challenging.

 

Why did you want to intern at williamsworks?

When I was looking into williamsworks, the first thing that jumped out at me was the commitment to values. Every company gives lip service to ethics and values, but at williamsworks we have our values posted all around the office as a constant reminder, and it’s just a part of the commitment to everything we do. Choosing clients who share those values is a big part of that, and I think we’ve done a good job of choosing clients whose values align with ours.

I’ve also never experienced international development or nonprofit work from a private perspective. Working as a consultant gives me a unique perspective, with the flexibility and creativity to influence strategy. Instead of working in one area or for one organization, we work for multiple. So having our fingers in several different pies exposes me to lots of different organizations, which helps to give me a better sense of the kind of work I want to do after graduation.

 

What did you do with the Move to Amend Coalition?

The Move to Amend Coalition is a nonprofit grassroots organization that works to end corporate personhood and reform campaign finance. I was there for about six months, working with the field organizing team to, well, organize our supporters across the country.

It was a great experience to work with a small team of people committed to doing work they’re passionate about and truly believe in.

 

What type of work have you done since you joined williamsworks?

I was initially hired to work on briefing books for TOMS’ trips abroad, and that took up a majority of the first two weeks I was here. I had to draft these enormous, comprehensive overviews of these countries, with information that’s actually relevant to busy travelers who won’t have time to learn a whole history, all in the timeframe of a couple of weeks.

Since then, I’ve worked on dozens of projects, ranging from policy analysis to event planning to HR/management work. I can confidently say I’ve never been bored here.

 

Where did you study abroad?

I studied abroad in Jordan, with an organization called the School for International Training. The program theme was Modernization and Social Change. The curriculum included seminars on topics like Political Islam, gender, and economic development.

The unique piece of the program was that during the last month, our only obligation was to conduct primary research and write a paper – no classes or anything. I studied Special Education in Jordan, and found a researcher from the University of Jordan as my advisor. I was able to get an in-depth look at this aspect of Jordanian life that you wouldn’t necessarily hear about otherwise. As a junior in college, I had never done anything of that scope before, so it was challenging at times, but an amazing experience overall.

 

Why did you decide to study abroad in Jordan?

I wanted to take an opportunity to go somewhere where I never would have gone on my own. I also wanted to take a deeper dive into Middle Eastern studies, and I had taken a year of Arabic.

 

Are you interested in doing more traveling and field work?

Yes. To work in international development it’s crucial to have this kind of understanding that only comes from living there and learning from the people who live there and know what problems they have. I would like to do research or development work in the field for a while.

 

What’s something that has happened with your internship that you didn’t expect?

The biggest surprise is the supportive atmosphere here. It’s a very busy and dynamic environment, yet people take the time out to express gratitude and offer support. I often work closely with more senior staff, which is not an experience a lot of interns have. I didn’t expect that given how busy and accomplished the people are here.

 

What have you liked most thus far?

The work is never boring.

 

What is your dream job?

I’d love to work for a large global development nonprofit like the Gates Foundation or PATH, or in international development in the federal government, at the State Department or USAID.

 

If you could travel one place, where would it be?

Just one? I’ve always wanted to go to India. The culture is so fascinating, and it’s the home of a lot of innovation in global development and other fields.