I had the opportunity to sit down with sophomore Rachel Fybel to discuss her life, her passions, and her time so far in DC with the W&M DC Summer Institutes. She eluded grace and confidence as she spoke about her heart in service and her internship experience so far with the United Nations Foundation this summer. I watched her face light up as she talked about the William & Mary community and the way that this community has been transferred to DC in the College’s Community Engagement Institute. She spoke eloquently about her involvements at The College and her dreams for the future. As I watched her talk about the many opportunities that she has had as a result of the DC Summer Institutes, I realized that there is something special about Rachel. She is an incredibly driven individual who, as a freshman, took the initiative to apply to a program designed for upper classmen. Her passion for others and drive to succeed is evident in the way that she carries herself and interacts with her peers. Listening to her giggle and casually throw her head back in laughter as she talked about the highlights of the summer institute, I couldn’t help but be inspired by this young woman.
1. So, You’re in DC this summer. What are you doing here?
Yes, I am an intern on the Better World Campaign at the United Nations Foundation this summer. I have been studying the advocacy side of the United Nations in the United States and specifically focusing on US funding of the UN and the relationship between the United States and the United Nations.
2. Do you have any advice to students who are interested in the W&M in Washington program?
Sell your passions. From what I can tell the DC Summer Institute staff wants to build a compassionate group of young people. You have to sell yourself and share with them what you will bring to the group and to the internship on behalf of William & Mary. Be professional and positive in your interview and show them your unique personality. When I was considering coming to DC for the summer, I started off by going to an information session for the Security Institute. The director told us that freshmen should not bother applying to the program because the institute only accepts older students. She all but said, “Focus on your GPA and we’ll see you next year!” Drew Stelljes, the professor for my freshman seminar, saw that I was in the information session and encouraged me to apply for the Community Engagement Institute. He told me that the program would cater to my needs so that I could make it what I wanted it to be. I have to be honest; initially I was not fully convinced that the Community Engagement Institute was where I wanted to spend my summer. Eventually I decided to push forward and interview with the program directors. I did a lot of preparation for the interview, but I must say that it was worth it. I have never been more nervous in my life. Drew came up to me afterwards and said “You nailed that, they’re sold.” I told him, “Cool, I don’t think I want to do it.” Now I understand why he pushed so hard to have me here, this has been a very valuable learning experience!
3. You mentioned that you are interning at the UN Foundation. What has this experience been like?
I knew very little coming in. To be honest, I spent the night before my first day researching the Better World Campaign to figure out what it really was. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what my role would be in the organization. The first day they told me that I would be on the team that convinces people that the United Nations is worth supporting – I thought this was the coolest thing ever. My job is to increase civic awareness about the importance of the United Nations. I quickly learned that this kind of work is important in the world and would not be dealt with if there were not passionate people advocating for justice. When I found out that I was going to be working for lobbyists I was not exactly thrilled. Slowly I have learned that I am not working so much for lobbyists as for advocacy which is much less aggressive. This has become something that I am passionate about so I can see where my work is making a difference. I have also learned about myself through this experience. For example, I now know that my strength lies in editing. In a standard day at work I am given reports, from House and Senate hearings and other events and asked to summarize or edit the work. So far I have visited the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States Institute of Peace and the Brookings Institution. I attend events at these locations and listen for mentions of the United Nations to write summaries on for the organization. These summaries are released within the Better World Campaign.
4. Do you have a favorite memory of your time in DC so far?
A favorite? Wow that’s hard… I love the whole package! I get to wake up in an apartment that I share with four other William & Mary students, I have to get to work dressed and looking presentable, I work 9-6 then run my grown up errands, hit the gym and grab dinner. Just so I can wake up and do it all over again. One of my friends came to visit last week and she told me that she was impressed with how hard I worked. “The fun thing is that I am doing something that no one else my age is doing. I feel like an adult.
5. Can you tell us a little bit more about your involvements at William & Mary? What clubs are you in? Major?
I will be declaring a Government major this coming fall 2011. If for no other reason than to register on Banner. As far as my primary activities go, I am in the International Relations club where I am very active with the collegiate conferences. I helped staff the middle school conference last year and am currently working on the high school conference for this year. I also volunteer 4-5 hours a week at Matthew Whaley Elementary School. I work two hours in a school classroom teaching math and reading and two hours a week with a 4th grade “little sister.”
6. Of all of the places that you could have studied this summer, why DC?
I guess it just felt like it was the right place at the right time. I was in DC in high school and had the opportunity to work on the House floor. I always imagined that I would go to school in Washington DC, but then I ended up choosing William & Mary because I fell in love with the community, but I also knew that I would be able to leave Williamsburg and do programs like this. I am still trying to decide where I want to focus my studies and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to observe a nonprofit in a large city. To have this experience to work with a global nonprofit in DC is a once in a lifetime experience.
7. If you could advocate for one social justice issue for the rest of your life, what would you fight for?
I would focus on post-conflict reconstruction. I think that failed states and the theory behind rebuilding failed states is a very interesting topic. This summer I am analyzing the human, economic and social capital and the way that these variables interact in Africa and South East Asia. I get to study Afghanistan and enjoy looking at all of the different facets of international work. In all honesty, I still haven’t found my “thing”, but I don’t think I have to just yet. I wish I could tell when that changing moment will happen or where I will end up, but that is part of what this summer is going to be for me – exploring issues.
8. What are some of the highlights of the Community Engagement Institute so far this summer?
This program gives me the same feeling that the William & Mary campus exudes. When I step onto campus and see the Wren Building or the Sunken Gardens, I understand that I am exactly where I belong. This same feeling of belonging was translated at the micro level into the Community Engagement Institute. Being the youngest in the group, I was somewhat intimidated by all of these students that I knew were movers and shakers and scared of what this summer was going to be. All of my fears were assuaged the minute that I stepped into class on the first day. Everyone in the Leadership in DC Nonprofit class encouraged interaction and I could tell that they wanted to see me succeed. There was a feeling of authenticity and of collective uplifting that was very encouraging. For the first time, I understood how adults acted and interacted with one another to disagree and problem solve. In this class, it was neat seeing the different facets of the nonprofit sector because previously I had a biased image in my head of what the sector looked like. Now I realize the effort that goes in behind the scenes and where the policy work comes from. For the first time, I discovered the many faces of the nonprofit sector and the many paths that lead to nonprofit work. I learned about Corporate NGOs from Nancy Gofus who came to speak from Volunteers of America. I saw how a single man can start a movement with Robert Edger and the DC Central Kitchen and how a former government employee, John Bridgeland, started Civic Enterprises focused on civic engagement. I now understand all of the different paths that lead to this profession and how these paths are manifested through the different faces of the nonprofit sector. This realization and enlightenment changed my previous bias of the nonprofit sector.
9. The Capitol Building or the White House?
Capitol Building forever. Which, to be completely honest, is not what I would have initially said. I think what fascinates me is the many pieces that have to work together to correctly represent civilians in the Capitol Building. I had the opportunity to attend a hearing two weeks ago, which changed the way that I think about the Capitol Building. I always thought that policy started on the floor, but recently learned that it starts with someone who has passion enough to lobby on behalf of the issue. There are many steps involved in the process of creating a bill that I had no prior knowledge of.
10. What is something that people around here probably don’t know about you?
I have swum on four continents and one subcontinent. In the Dead Sea in Israel, 0 degrees longitude and 0 degrees latitude off the coast of Ghana and in Glacial bay in Patagonia Chile. I’ve swum in the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and in the US both the Atlantic and the Pacific. My goal is to eventually swim all seven.
11. What would the soundtrack to your life have on it?
A symphony would be the background music that would change based on how I feel inside; sometimes the music would be upbeat, other times slow. I would have some alternative pop in there, maybe the top 40s. Of course, I would have to include the singer-songwriter tracks and some acoustic just for fun.
12. One day I will… Save the world from indifference. If people cared a little bit more, I think we would solve more world issues.