How Studying and Interning Abroad Influenced a Career - and Changed Lives

Stasia Lopez's picture

Kelsey Williams graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Science with an additional Certificate in the History and Philosophy of Medicine. 

Kelsey Williams: How Studying and Interning Abroad Influenced a Career - and Changed Lives

After graduating, Kelsey worked for a year at human services non-profit agency in Pittsburgh, and then continued on to get her Master of Public Health from Boston University. While earning her Master’s degree part-time in the evenings, she worked full-time as a research coordinator for studies about disability and quality of life. 

Currently, Kelsey is a Grant Writer for The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center. In addition to her job, she is currently a volunteer board member for the Regent Square Civic Association. 

Kelsey Williams: How Studying and Interning Abroad Influenced a Career - and Changed Lives

How did you choose your major in college? How did you choose the college[s] you chose? Did you have a mentor or person who helped guide you through that process?

I originally arrived at Pitt with the intention of becoming a Pharmacist. Throughout my freshman year, I was not thriving in my classes; after some time, and admitting to myself that pharmacy may not be the best fit for me, I realized there was a broad range of other jobs out there in the health and non-profit field that fit my abilities and interests better. Attending a large university like Pitt was critical to my path, as it exposed to me to classes, fields, and careers that I had never heard of before, which ultimately led me to discover the non-profit field. Once I officially transitioned over to the School of Health & Rehabilitation Science, I felt like I had found my fit. I did not have a specific mentor, but I utilized my advisor in College of Arts & Sciences, as well as the advisor for the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS), who were both helpful and supportive. 

Did you always want to work in nonprofit? 

No. When I was a high school student, I didn’t even know non-profit was a field. If I had heard the term before, it didn’t mean anything to me. 

I didn’t really learn about the non-profit world until my junior and senior year at Pitt, where I had the pleasure of hearing from many guest speakers in several of my SHRS classes. We heard from community organizers, counselors, advocates, etc. They would talk about their work and their organization. This exposure really started to open up my eyes to the non-profit world. I also had several adjunct professors whose full-time jobs were at non-profits, which also brought very valuable insight through their teaching.

Where did you attend college, what did you major in? How did you gain experiences to prepare you for the work you currently do now?

I attended Pitt, where I majored in Rehabilitation Science. I gained real-life work experience by working throughout undergrad, as a Manager at the William Pitt Union and as a Resident Assistant in Tower B. These jobs taught me administrative skills, organization, responsibility and time-management. I also enjoyed volunteering in the community (at UPMC Shadyside and the Pittsburgh Project), as I felt it broadened my worldview to see Pittsburgh as a whole, and not just what was happening on campus.

As an undergrad I took the opportunity to study abroad through Pitt in London, where I had an internship on a stroke unit in a hospital; I worked with a nurse who specialized in stroke to bring educational materials and support to family members and patients. That was when I realized that there were many careers that worked in the healthcare arena that directly supported people, but didn’t require medical training. Finding that out really opened my eyes to other possibilities for my future. 

As I mentioned in the previous question, listening to guest lecturers and speakers also helped to prepare me just by informing me of the non-profit infrastructure that existed. Non-profits who provided services to people, non-profits for advocacy, non-profits for fundraising, etc. – I never knew these existed before. Hearing about their work, and how they interfaced with other non-profits as well as the healthcare system was a great education. 

While I was at Boston University, I worked full-time as a research coordinator for studies about disability and quality of life while taking my classes at night. I feel I got a lot more out of my classes by simultaneously working than I might have if I got my masters full-time, because classroom discussions would inform my real-life work and vice versa.

What are some of the challenges about your job? How do you tackle those challenges?

The two major challenges of my job would be figuring out the best way to manage competing deadlines and pushing through writer’s block. That’s probably not much different than other jobs. I tackle those challenges by making myself accountable to my co-workers, and getting motivated by going to see what is going on in one of the three programs at The Children’s Home – Adoption, Child’s Way, and the Pediatric Specialty Hospital. All three programs as well as administrative offices are located in a unified facility for The Children’s Home, which I love. It is motivating to see these programs in action, and helps to inform my work, too. 

What is the interview process like for this organization? Any tips for interns or people seeking a job with the organization?

My advice for interviewing at The Children’s Home, or any other non-profit, would be to, first and foremost, be yourself. Your unique personality and experiences are very valuable to a non-profit, so be sure to let that shine and explain how you see yourself fitting in and advancing the mission of the organization. Second, be prepared to show how you can be an active part of a dynamic team. In my experience with small to mid-sized non-profits, it is crucial that you are able to work well with and help your coworkers. Part of that also means you need to be flexible and open to learning new things. In non-profits, where often resources are limited and administrative staff is small, these skills are very valuable. 

What do you currently do to achieve work/life balance? Any advice for students, graduates, and entry-level professionals that you could provide?

I don’t have access to my work email on my phone. To me, this is the #1 thing you can do to maintain a healthy work/life balance and is probably the best piece of advice I could give to anyone starting out. Unless it is an absolute requirement of your job, do not put your email on your phone because once it is on there, you have created an expectation that you will be replying 24/7. You have to set your own boundaries. If anything is so very urgent and you’re not in the office, work will call or text you, I promise. (In my case, this happens maybe twice per year.) If you absolutely must have email on your phone, turn off the notifications so that you are in charge of when you see and think about work while not there. 

Other than that, do your best to mentally leave work at work. It’s hard. But the more you create the habit, the better you’ll be at it. I find if I have a few minutes to transition once I get home, I’m able to mentally let go of my day. Sometimes that means I watch a 20 minute show or listen to music, or sometimes that means changing out of my work clothes right away. Find a routine that works for you. 

What are the benefits/perks of your job?

Though my title is Grant Writer, I help out with a variety of other development and marketing tasks – writing and editing other organizational materials, pitching in with gala prep, giving tours, etc. I really like having a variety of tasks as it makes the days go quickly, and also gives me the chance to learn new things and help my coworkers.

As for my coworkers, I work in a small department (just 5 of us) which is a great benefit to me (and all of us, I think!) We all pitch in to help each other out, and we’re able to keep each other informed of what is going on in each of our roles. This brings out great opportunities that might not otherwise be found to work together on something, as well as allows any of us to be able to pick up the phone/greet a visitor even if they aren’t our direct contact, which helps the organization as a whole. 

The other amazing benefit of my job is that I get to see the three programs of The Children’s Home in action every single day. All of the programs and administration for the organization are together in one, unified building. I’ve had the honor of attending birthday parties for Hospital patients, participating in the Child’s Way summer Olympics, and witnessing an adoptive family together on their placement day. It is incredibly meaningful and motivating to see the incredible work of these programs in action; it is my single greatest motivator for why I do what I do.

When I am able to help secure grant money, it means that another hospital family stay overnight on site, free of charge, or that a parent only pays what they can comfortably afford for the day care fee in Child’s Way, or that a family adopting a special needs infant can receive a scholarship to help cover the adoption fees. These services change people’s lives, and I’m honored to be a small part of it. 

Kelsey Williams: How Studying and Interning Abroad Influenced a Career - and Changed Lives


Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.