The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alternative Spring Break brings Academic Fellows to DC for networking and professional development opportunities

Academic Fellows in front of the capitol building
Thursday, March 15, 2018

The University of Massachusetts Academic Fellows Program (AFP) embarked on its inaugural Alternative Spring Break trip to Washington, DC from March 9-13, taking 19 AFP participants to the nation’s capital. The AFP brings specialized opportunities and programs for first generation and ALANA undergraduate students in the UMass College of Social & Behavioral Sciences.

Academic Fellows in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument

Led by AFP Director and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Angélica Bernal, the group participated in panel discussions and networking programs with successful UMass alumni, and toured prominent sites throughout DC. 

“AFP represents our university’s deep commitment to diversity, and to supporting our students’ success at UMass, and of course beyond. The idea behind this Alternative Spring Break program is an ambitious one. It’s to provide students with an intensive career development and learning experience by bringing them to one of the most exciting cities in our nation—and together with some of our distinguished and very impressive alums,” explained Bernal during the first day’s programming.

Sharon BlandPolitical Science alumna Sharon Bland ’88 kicked off the program with a keynote about her career path from working in the DC city government to her current work as Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. During a panel on careers in Politics, Government Relations, Criminal Justice, & Public Service, students heard from alumni in careers ranging from federal agencies, to the DC police force, to

“If you’re involved with something you’re passionate about, if you work really hard, you’re going to succeed,” said Chuck Kosak, Economics ’88, now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Defense Continuity and Mission Assurance at the U.S. Department of Defense.

A second panel brought together prominent alumni and professionals in communications, journalism, and media. Ranging from organizations like prominent LA radio station KCRW to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"What I found from UMass is that you guys are all fighters." 
-Mark Preston '94, CNN's Executive Director of Political Programming

“I’m so grateful to UMass for giving me a solid foundation, between helping me get an internship at Channel 5 in Boston, writing for the Collegian, and all the professors who were mentors from Howard Ziff and Ralph Whitehead to my colleagues and friends who I’m still in touch with now, decades later,” noted Heidi Berenson, Journalism ’79, and President of Berenson Communications.

Other programming encompassed an information session with Mark Preston, Journalism & History ’94, and now CNN's Executive Director of Political Programming and Senior Political Analyst.

“The reason I’m talking to you is that the road is not easy…but I will tell you that if I was ever prepared for it—it was because of UMass,” said Preston. “What I found from UMass is that you guys are all fighters. Whether you’re from in-state or out-of-state, you decided to go to this school in a state that has the likes of MIT, and Harvard, and Tufts. But what I always found from UMass kids is that we’re all fighters,” he added.

The College of Social and Behavioral Science will continue its Washington DC programming this summer with SBS in DC, which will connect students to a number of high quality internships in the capitol. To make completing such internships accessible, SBS will cover housing costs at the Washington Intern Student Housing on Capitol Hill and provide funding for other cost of living expenses. Prior to leaving for these internships, the SBS office of Career and Professional development will be providing mandatory trainings to the inaugural cohort of students on topics such as networking, policy and legislative preparation, professional etiquette, and more.

“We believe it’s absolutely critical for young people to get involved – especially now – in politics and policy at all levels,” said SBS Dean John Hird when speaking about the College’s DC initiatives.

Learn more about SBS’s Washington DC Programs