Kiana Barcelona, ESIA BA ’17, works as a special assistant to the vice president of development at the Atlantic Council. It’s her first job out of GW, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and affairs, and an unlikely landing spot given she spent high school at a STEM-intensive vocational school with sights set clearly on a future as an electrical engineer.
“Studying international affairs was a big, big departure from what my parents thought I would study,” she says. She credits the switch in life path to GW in general, which “felt like home” from her first visit, and the guiding hands of her professors in the Elliott School.
A third factor — internships — loomed large in getting her from anxious freshman to accomplished professional. She started interning her sophomore year, but most of the internships that fit her dual passions of international affairs and marketing are offered by cash-strapped nonprofits, unable to pay much – or anything.
“In the field of international affairs, there’s definitely a degree of financial privilege that’s needed in order to be able to succeed,” she says. For her, it meant working a part-time job at the Law School in addition to full-time studies and interning.
“It was really hard to balance a lot of things,” she says.
That harried life calmed down her senior year, when she applied for and received a $1,500 grant from the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund (KACIF). Established by the GW Career Services Council, the fund aims to encourage GW students to pursue high-quality, necessarily unpaid internships that foster their career exploration and enhance their academic program.
Launched in 2013, the grants totaled $662,000 in their first four years, going to 389 students. The maximum amount for each grant is $3,000 and the average is $1,700. These grants are entirely funded by philanthropic support from alumni, family members, and friends.
Barcelona’s $1,500 grant allowed her to spread her wings a bit more than she might have at a senior-year internship at the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC). The grant came at a crucial period when job searching would occupy any time that the internship and her schoolwork didn’t. It allowed her to cut loose the part-time job.
“It was great,” she says, “because I was able to really focus on the job search, was able to devote my time to the internship, and was able to take the classes I really wanted because I didn’t have that financial burden on my shoulders.”
At ICMEC, she helped lead a team that built an awareness campaign about the spread and use of child pornography in Southeast Asia, which involved researching successful nonprofit campaigns in that region and then putting their own stamp on the elements that work: social media outreach, writing scripts for video, and recruiting victims and advocates to write blog posts.
The project was sponsored by Citigroup’s Asia Pacific division, and ran for six months throughout the region. She also collected research and turned key facts about worldwide child protection issues into a holiday fundraising campaign, which raised $27,000 over one month.
“My wonderful supervisors helped me to realize that this was my calling,” she says, “and to take pride in my success, even when it’s hard and you want to shy away from the attention. To realize that I could keep working in international development, but in a way that allowed me to contribute my own skills and experience, was the greatest and most freeing feeling.”
That experience, plus her schoolwork and previous internships, gave her the confidence to know what she wants and pursue the Atlantic Council position. In a year, she’s been promoted twice.
“I can’t imagine a better first job than this,” she says.
Learn more about KACIF and ways to support GW students through the Center for Career Services.