Dshawna Bernard, SPA/BA ‘10, beams when she talks about her fall 2009 internship at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), a public policy and research institute focused on socioeconomic equality for African Americans.
Bernard, who is majoring in political science and minoring in international studies, almost missed out on this chance. After a friend recommended she apply for an internship at the foundation, Bernard discovered the deadline was looming. “I literally had three days to get everything done,” she said. “I didn’t know if I had time.” Bernard almost gave up, but thanks to encouragement from her mother and friends, she finished the application. When she received an e-mail from the foundation weeks later, she was hesitant to open it, fearing the worst. But to her surprise and delight, she had been accepted into the internship program.
The internship would have been a hard one to turn down. It includes housing downtown, a small stipend, opportunities to attend receptions and meet speakers, and a leadership retreat. The work itself has also been challenging and allows Bernard to engage in research and writing projects. But other opportunities still lay ahead.
CBCF’s president, Dr. Elsie L. Scott, needed someone to assist her during the foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference last September. A public relations representative from the foundation who was familiar with Bernard’s work recommended her for the position. Shortly after applying, Bernard was chosen to shadow and assist Dr. Scott throughout the conference.
Although Bernard performed the typical duties of a personal assistant, she gained much more from the week-long experience. In addition to attending seminars, panels, and other conference activities, Bernard was able to observe Dr. Scott up close. “You often hear about being a strong woman,” she said. “You rarely get to see it for yourself.”
Working for Dr. Scott also provided extensive networking opportunities for Bernard. “I literally had a stack of [business] cards at the end of the ALC.”
To make time for both academics and her internship, Bernard takes night and weekend classes and earns academic credit for her work at the foundation.
But this internship is only a jumping off point for Bernard’s career goals of promoting social change. She is considering returning to the Caribbean in the future to become a politician. “I want to be an advocate for social justice in other countries,” she said. Bernard’s advocacy work has not been limited to her internship. On campus, Bernard is also a council member of Caribbean Circle, a club which seeks to educate the AU community about the diverse culture of the Caribbean. When she served as vice president last year, the club held a dinner with ambassadors, diplomats, and other politicians that attracted 100 attendees.
No matter where the future may lead her, Bernard is determined to make a difference. And her time at the foundation has been a highlight for her. “I feel really proud to say I’m a CBCF intern,” she said.