Shani Langford is a 2012 graduate of the BA program in Spanish who lives in Washington, D.C. and works for the US Department of Agriculture. She is the subject of the first edition of “Alumni Spotlight”, highlighting the experiences and achievements of graduates from the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures. Professor Reeder, Chair of the department, interviewed her by phone:
While you were at SSU, did you have an idea of what you’d do after graduation?
I knew that I wanted to work internationally, but I didn’t know the specifics, and I didn’t have a clear idea about how the degree would transfer to available jobs.
What was your first job after SSU?
I worked for FEMA Corps, which is a partnership program between AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). I did a 10-month program stateside working in emergency management; I was part of a team that got training in Iowa and worked in disaster management in the New England region and in New Jersey in response to Hurricane Sandy.
What was your first international work experience?
After FEMA Corps, I applied for the Peace Corps. The selection and placement process was relatively long so I interned with the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services while I waited for my placement. When my placement came it was to Peru; first I got three months of training in my assignment field, Public Health, and then I had a two year service commitment in a remote region in the mountains. I was trained in the needs of my assigned area and once I was there I worked with local governments, health post staff, NGOs, and community members.
What is your current job, where do you work, and how did you find this job?
I am an Ethics Specialist at the USDA and my office is on the National Mall, adjacent to the Washington Monument. I advise department employees on what statutes and regulations apply to them as Feds; our office serves as a preventative tool, so I give a lot of trainings and presentations to guide employees and make sure they understand the rules and stay in compliance with them. I found out about this position at a job fair for returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the DC area.
What about further education?
I just finished a Master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a Concentration in Crisis Management and Mitigation from American University.
Has your Spanish major helped you in your career?
Spanish has been useful as I served in various volunteer roles, at home and abroad. In Peru knowing Spanish was definitely a huge asset – learning the terminology of Public Health and working with other agencies in Spanish I was able to catch on much more quickly than if I had been learning the language at the same time. It also helped me with my Master’s degree because I needed to demonstrate language ability as part of the degree requirements. In my current job I’m now the only Spanish-speaker in the office so I do work with offices that have staff in Puerto Rico and any of the states that may send materials in Spanish.
What advice do you have for current students?
Experience is very valuable: These can be work experiences, life experiences, and anything beyond what you know and are comfortable with, so make an effort to gain these for yourself. If you want to continue education beyond your undergraduate degree, my advice is to take some time to get some life and work down first before committing to more study. The degrees are just part of the package, and your diverse experiences will influence your education decisions. And finally, know that it’s okay to change jobs and build a unique resume; people today are often expected to have a variety of skills and to be flexible with taking other paths.