How the Shepherd Program Shaped my Career Path

By Rebecca Dunn, Washington and Lee University (2016)

Ms. Dunn is a Sociology major and a Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor. She anticipates pursuing a public health fellowship abroad next year and returning to the place of her Shepherd internship the following year to research urban poverty.

The Shepherd Poverty Program has truly defined my college experience. Through enrollment in the Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor at Washington and Lee University and involvement in co-curricular activities the Shepherd Program has to offer, I have been able to take classes with inspiring professors, participate in two fully-funded summer professional experiences, meet new and interesting students, and become immersed in the Rockbridge community. I am proud to say that I attend the founding institution of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) that unites nearly two-dozen institutions to fight poverty across the U.S. and around the world. I believe that the niche the program occupies, the meaningful work it carries out, and the passion it inspires in students is unmatched by any other national undergraduate program.

Dunn (W&L 16) writes that rigorous poverty studies and national and international internships, "shaped my passions, worldview and career aspirations."

Dunn (W&L 16) writes that rigorous poverty studies and national and international internships, “shaped my passions, worldview and career aspirations.”


It didn’t take long for the Shepherd Program to permeate into my coursework, define what I would do in my free time, and eventually go as far as shape my identity—in fact, it started in the first semester of my Freshman year with Poverty 101. The rigorous coursework allowed me to understand the complexities of poverty and what can be done to foster human capabilities in ways I did not previously comprehend. Not only was I intellectually stimulated in the classroom, but I also later found that volunteer opportunities falling under the Shepherd Program’s umbrella—namely as a Leader at Washington and Lee’s Campus Kitchen—allowed me to deepen my academic studies and expand them beyond the scope of W&L’s campus.

The Shepherd Program later afforded me opportunities to intern for organizations in Kampala, Uganda and Washington, D.C. over consecutive summers. This work allowed me to gain technical knowledge regarding the nonprofit sector as well as participate in a variety of rich cultural experiences; some of which included playing barefoot soccer on a dirt pitch, teaching a class of 7-9 year old refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo about the ocean, working with a single mother to help her secure stable housing and carrying out research for my Sociology Honor’s Thesis on concentrated disadvantage and racial segregation across Washington, D.C.

Working with LIFT-DC for my domestic Shepherd internship last summer was especially enlightening. Through my position as Community Advocate, I collaborated one-on-one with low-income and homeless individuals in D.C. to help them achieve their goals and improve their well-being. My internship came with both rewards and heartbreaks: I worked on team that served 230 clients through the summer to help secure 11 jobs, 29 job interviews, 26 successful referrals and 62 computer literacy goals; but I also learned about the housing crisis occurring in D.C. and saw on a first-hand basis how it is affecting low-income men, women and families. This crisis is multifaceted and relates to the increase of gentrification in the District, the decreasing number of Section 8 subsidized housing units, the discontinued housing voucher program, the inflated living costs in D.C. and much more. With its harsh reality checks, LIFT-DC also allowed me to convert my classroom knowledge about public benefit programs like SNAP, TANF, SSI and SSDI into tangible paper sign-up forms and real world situations. These internship experiences and the personal relationships I developed with LIFT Members continue to push me to grapple with challenging domestic and international issues related to poverty, race, inequality, and policy.

When I applied to Washington and Lee, I never would have guessed how many learning experiences and opportunities that I would gain from the Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor. As a senior, I look back at my four years and can see how much the program has shaped my passions, worldview and career aspirations. After pursuing a year-long fellowship to learn more about international rural poverty and its intersection with health, I hope to return to D.C. and work for a think tank to do research on urban poverty. The Shepherd program was paramount in developing my interest in this field as well as a more well-rounded view of the capital of the United States. The Shepherd program allowed me to develop a lifelong passion in poverty studies, whether it is international, research-based or working in direct service. I am truly grateful to the donors and professors who make it possible and cannot wait to read about the incredible experiences of Campus Kitchen Leaders and Shepherd Interns in the future.

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