2015 PFIG Recipient Carly Taylor
Journal Entry #1
On June 8, I stepped into the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) headquarters as the intern in the Africa Bureau office of the Assistant Administrator. Armed with New Employee Orientation training under my belt, I felt both nervous and ready to take on anything. Above all, I felt confident that the Ronald Reagan building, in the heart of where policy happens every day, was exactly where I wanted to be. I met my new supervisor and mentor, who had conducted my phone interview back in early February. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer and USAID country desk officer, runs the front office, and is an all-around Africa Bureau guru. She now serves as the Africa Bureau Chief of Staff. As soon as I sat down in her office, she said the sentence that will determine the course of my internship: “President Obama is going to Africa this summer.”
Before I learned what my role would be in preparing for the president’s trip, I had to get some background information. USAID is organized into pillar, or technical, bureaus (think health, economic growth) and regional bureaus (think sub-Saharan Africa, Asia). Each regional bureau has a front office that coordinates with the State Department, the National Security Council, and the White House, among others. Since the Africa Bureau comprises roughly 1/3 of USAID’s entire budget, it’s a big office. It’s a long maze of cubicles and offices, with the front office in its own space. My desk is in the front office, where I sit next to the three administrative assistants and schedulers. They help me know who’s who, find conference rooms, and explain acronyms. That’s the hardest part about working in the federal government – learning acronyms. The task alone could fulfill the UVA foreign language requirement.
All of a sudden, I had a first project: compiling data from the 27 USAID missions in sub-Saharan Africa into a full report for the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa. One of USAID’s main roles in preparing for the president’s trip to Africa is presenting results to the National Security Council for incorporation into the president’s speeches and fact sheets. I worked with a country desk officer to put all of the responses into a massive, shareable Google spreadsheet. Then, when I had cross checked the spreadsheet with the original documents from the missions, I printed the entire document and organized it into a binder for the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa. I ceremonially presented it to her during a planning meeting, and got a “good job” as she leafed through it. Score. The best part of the project was reading all of the program results from USAID missions across the African continent. It was a fitting representation of why I’m passionate about development: working with local partners to implement sustainable solutions produces results. Reading real, tangible data, like megawatts of electricity delivered to a rural area in Ethiopia, was an exciting introduction to the work USAID does every day.
I have a lot of goals for this summer. In preparation for starting my Master of Public Policy at the Batten School this fall, I’m taking an online statistics class through Northern Virginia Community College. My statistics goals are to earn at least a B and become more comfortable using Excel to perform statistical analysis. When I am at USAID, I aim to meet as many people as possible – especially Presidential Management Fellows. The PMF program is a prestigious fast track into a career in the federal government. I can apply for the program in the fall of my second year of graduate school, but it’s never too early to find out how current PMFs find their experience. Most importantly, I want to be an effective, accountable, and valuable member of the Africa Bureau front office team. In the first week of my internship, I’ve already succeeded in another major goal: making intern friends. We get coffee in the mornings, go to happy hour in the evenings, and complain about DC tourists all hours of the day. With a solid intern crew to commiserate with, my amazing family to help pick out my outfits, and my supportive friends, I’m ready to take on my goals.
Journal Entry #2
Here I am, sitting on a red eye flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC. It’s been a whirlwind of a week: seven days ago, I found out that I had the incredible opportunity to travel to California. As a part of a large organizational team, I was the lead logistics contact for an official U.S. Government pre-Global Entrepreneurship Summit event. Since the President is attending the GES in Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of July, there is a lot of buzz surrounding innovative development through entrepreneurship. The White House, the Department of State, and USAID hosted the event to connect non-traditional Silicon Valley stakeholders with entrepreneurs from the African diaspora community in the Bay Area and U.S. government agencies. The two speakers and three panels discussed the innovative activities in emerging markets to help spark investment entrepreneurship opportunities in Africa. The official title was “African Entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley: Bridging Gaps and Making Connections.”
What that means is my team and I organized that event – in less than three weeks, start to finish. Our team was primarily within the Africa Bureau and Global Development Lab. The process was fast-paced and intense. I constantly soaked up new information and quickly responded to last-minute changes. I wrote the initial approval and the budget approval memos for the event, following through with the arduous clearance process. As logistics lead, I was responsible for coordinating with the Silicon Valley Bank and the African Technology Foundation to secure our use of the venue, catering 150 boxed lunches, arranging microphone rentals, designing and compiling the slide deck, finalizing the agenda and nametags, and directing a team of three during registration and lunch set-up.
Flexibility and a sense of humor proved vital. The night before the event, I completely scrapped the bios I had compiled for all of the speakers. I realized that I didn’t have enough time to adequately shorten each lengthy entry, and I certainly didn’t have enough time to ask my team lead to review the document. Instead, under guidance from my team lead, I included each speaker’s twitter handle on the printed out agenda. I could have been upset that all the time I spent compiling bios was ultimately not included in the agenda, but I quickly had a realization: even though the whole audience did not know each speaker’s background, I did. My research made the event a more deep and meaningful experience -- I knew enough information to have dynamic networking conversations.
There were a few crisis moments, like realizing we were going to exceed the cap of 100 guests in our very tight venue space. The Silicon Valley Bank representatives were calm and kind, and handled the day like the true professionals they are. I admire how they stay cool under pressure, catered to a diverse group of needs, and exuded professionalism. During the event, there were highs: meeting incredible innovators, listening to the deeply insightful speakers, and enjoying celebratory cocktails with my team after the event. There were lows: feeling panicked when the microphones malfunctioned, painstakingly arranging boxed lunches, and at the end of the day, realizing all the things I could have done better. I felt awed that the event had actually happened at all. Most importantly, I am thankful to everyone who trusted me to take risks, have immense responsibilities, and lead.
As I got on the plane, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Journal Entry #3
Has it really been eight weeks?
Eight weeks serving as a full-time intern in USAID headquarters.
I took pages and pages of notes. I stored documents in the safe, badged into doorways, and wore an American flag pin on my lanyard with zero irony. I took the metro every day, to varying success. I wrote memos, schedules, meeting agendas, tweets, long emails, and hand-written thank you notes.
I had the opportunity to learn from experts at conferences like “Combatting Wildlife Poaching and Insecurity in Africa” and “Democracy and Governance in Nigeria: the Road Ahead” at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. As my friends and I were waiting to get into the building to hear him speak, Nigerian President Buhari waved back at us when his motorcade arrived at the U.S. Institute for Peace. I attended the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ hearing on the Iran Nuclear Deal – Secretary of State Kerry walked right past me as he exited. And since the USAID Administrator reports to the Secretary of State, John Kerry is technically my boss. President Obama’s motorcade raced past my group of friends as we walked to District Taco for lunch. We hoped he was also going to District Taco, but alas, he had other plans.
As for my summer goals: I earned a B in statistics, met amazing people, and very tangibly contributed to the Africa Bureau. I also met a Presidential Management Fellow who shared his experiences and helped edit my resume. I worked with people in a myriad of roles: Desk Officers, the Director of Communications, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, and more. I’m thankful to each and every one of them – especially my supervisor and mentor.
As for this year, I am only more motivated to return to grounds and begin my studies at the Batten School for a Master of Public Policy. I’m ready to start my fourth year. I look forward to bringing my experience back to the UVA Career Center as the incoming Chair of the Career Peer Educators.
Thank you to the Parents Committee Internship Grant for making my summer possible.