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Heather Senecal, MPA Candidate

Rockefeller College’s internship program is intended to take students far as they embark on a professional path.  For Heather Senecal, second year MPA student, this was the case, literally. 

Heather spent the summer of 2009 some 7,000 miles from campus in a rewarding and illuminating internship in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, while working through the Center for International Development (CID) on LINKAGES, a 3.5 year $7 million project intended to improve transparency and accountability in Uganda by increasing civil society participation and democratic representation in key government institutions. LINKAGES is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by CID and its subcontacting partner RTI International.   

Before coming to Rockefeller College as a graduate student, Heather had graduated from Providence College in 2003, earning her bachelor’s degree in French, history, and political science. Right after that, she spent 27 months working oversees as a Community Health and AIDS Prevention Volunteer for the Peace Corps in the West African nation of Togo.  After returning to Rhode Island following her Peace Corps assignment, she worked at the Pawtucket Foundation, a nonprofit concerned with community economic development.  When she began considering graduate school and looking into programs that offered public policy concentrations, a friend and Rockefeller alumna highly recommended the College to her, citing what a great value a Rockefeller College education was and the high caliber of its internships.  Senecal was particularly impressed that the College had a professional program and that it reflected the vast choices within the field, offering opportunities and classes that enabled students to, as Heather explained, “experience anything that could be imagined within the public sector.”   So that’s why Heather Senecal came to Albany, NY, but how did she get to Uganda? 

Always interested in international work, Heather learned about the Center for International Development when she first arrived at Rockefeller.  Soon she was a CID volunteer working on many of the Center’s projects related to Africa, including performing monitoring and reporting tasks for the LINKAGES initiative. Inquiring quite innocently one day if she could possibly go to Kampala to do work for the project, she set wheels in motion and found that the Ugandan program staff would be happy to have her in-person help.  While there, her responsibility was to develop quantitative quarterly measurement systems for indicators that USAID needed to monitor, for example, the number of legislators and legislative staff that attended program activities and the number of civil society organizations that participated in programs.  She also kept counts of local governments working on local revenue mobilization, and contributed to the development of more meaningful data analysis and reporting capabilities, such as quantifying participation by gender.  These tools facilitated periodic required reporting, allowed for better evaluation of the project’s progress, and freed up the office staff to run activities without getting bogged down in data entry.  

Heather feels her internship experience enriched her educationally, professionally, and on a personal level. It confirmed her interest in program monitoring and evaluation, an area of study and a career path she wants to pursue.  It also enabled her to be involved in cross-agency collaboration, an approach she believes in strongly.  The opportunity to use the skills she’s developed in her information management concentration was extremely satisfying, and even eye-opening to her. “This is not just an academic exercise the professors are putting you through,” said Heather.  “It was really nice to know that the things we’re learning in our classes at Rockefeller College are very applicable to the work we’ll be doing.  It’s helped me plan this year’s courses.”  

While in Kampala, Heather lived with a Ugandan family. She remembers how fascinating she found the stories they shared with her about the history of their country. The father of the family was a retired trade representative for Uganda who had lived through numerous regimes, including that of Idi Amin.  “I knew about Uganda through text books and courses, but actually talking to someone who lived thorough all that put a whole new spin on history.  I never knew which turn our conversation was going to take,” Heather recalled. 

Even though Heather lived close to a family, she went through what she describes as the ‘test of character’ one undergoes when on one’s own abroad. And she feels she made the grade.  When asked what her future holds, Heather talks about her desire to work in international development and how she is currently exploring which educational avenue at the college will best help her achieve that end.  According to Heather, “Coming to Rockefeller College was a very good decision.”