Intern Q&A: Shannon, Research Intern

Shannon Keith has interned at williamsworks since August, 2013. A student at the University of Washington, Shannon conducted research for williamsworks through the Jackson School of International Studies, and she plans to graduate in June with focus on international development and a minor in African Studies.

Shannon sat down to talk about her experiences in school and as an intern at williamsworks.

Shannon KeithWhy did you choose your major?

It was sort of a mix between all of my interests at the time I came to UW. I originally came in wanting to be a journalism major, so I was taking an English class, and at the same time I was sort of interested in the engineering route and taking physics. My third class was international studies because I thought it would be a kick. I ended up liking it, clearly.

Is there any connection between what you wanted to do in journalism and international studies?

I have also been interested by different places around the world. I was really pulled towards journalism from being addicted to National Geographic growing up. There is a lot of writing in international studies, but it’s a lot more critical than what I had done previously. It was cool to stretch my writing ability in that way as well as engage in current events that are affecting people in the world.

What specifically do you study in school?

Mainly, my studies require a critical analysis of the status quo in international development. I am currently working on my honors thesis project, which is about the hidden forms of silences for women within Rwanda’s land reform and how women work within these constraints to pursue land rights.

Why choose Rwanda for your honor’s thesis?

In a previous quarter I did a Task Force project, which is a culminating project in the international studies major, and we researched the Democratic Republic of Congo. I looked specifically at the displacement issue, and that is closely linked with the history of Rwanda. When I was thinking about a new topic to pursue in the future, I stumbled across Landesa, who are based in Seattle and working on women’s land rights in Rwanda as a post-genocide development project. There’s a lot of different dynamics at play — like state-society power negotiations and gender – with so much in play on this one development initiative, I found it interesting and timely to look into.

Why did you want to intern at williamsworks?

I heard great things about the company through a friend of mine who I met on a UW study abroad program in Sierra Leone. She was a williamsworks intern and eventually joined the team fulltime after she graduated. A year or so later, I ended up conducting research for williamsworks through a Jackson School program along with other students in my major. It was one of the most challenging but best learning experiences I had ever had, so I knew that interning at williamsworks would be a good place for me to grow.

When did you go to Sierra Leone, and what did you do there?

I went the summer after my freshman year, just after I discovered international studies was a really cool subject. I wanted to get some experience, and figure out what excited me. It was the first time I had talked really critically about power, culture, and all of these theoretical concepts, and then apply to them to a place that was so different.

It was really hard. My language skills were basically nothing – I knew some of the pidgin language, but once you get into a remote village they speak their own dialects. We had a few people to help with the language, but what was cooler was communicating in ways different from the actual language with the people we were with.

If you could travel one place you haven’t gone, where would it be?

I was previously trying to travel to Latin America, because then I would hit almost every continent, and I was learning Spanish at one time.

What type of work and projects have you been working on here at williamsworks?

One of my favorite parts about working at williamsworks is that everyday there is a different project to work on. I help out with a lot of new business research, which has been a really fun way to explore different companies and organizations doing positive work in international development. I have also been able to help out with work for clients, for example, by mapping key donor prospects or innovative corporate partnerships for nonprofits. As interns, we are encouraged to think creatively in our research and it has been incredible to learn from the other williamsworks staff about how to approach problems in new ways.

What do you like most about your internship?

I really enjoy collaborating with the other interns and staff. Everyone brings a unique background to the office and it has been a great space to learn from others and have a good laugh after a long day.

What’s something you’ve experienced at williamsworks that you didn’t expect?

I didn’t expect to be able to work as closely as I have with senior-level staff and contribute in a valuable way to their ongoing work. I have also been able to take greater ownership over certain projects, and it has been a great experience to see them through from start to finish.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

That’s a good question! Right now I’m hoping to get more involved in nonprofit or consulting work so that I can continue to meet amazing people who are making a difference, learn from them and learn more about myself.

What is your dream job?

One that allows me to mentally wrestle with development-related issues while also contributing to solutions. Something that is really important to me is working with others who are conscious enough to periodically step back and recognize the inevitable flaws in the program design and then to think critically about how to resolve these problems.

If I have learned one thing in school it has been that nothing is as it seems at face value and there will always be unintended consequences, but that trying new things and making mistakes is the only way to work towards something better.

Has this internship shaped or changed your future plans in any way?

I had never considered consulting before coming to williamsworks, but it has been a really interesting position to be in. I have enjoyed the freedom to think strategically and creatively about philanthropy, so whether I go on consulting or not, it has definitely shaped the ways in which I approach problems.