Born and raised in a military family, Brittney Franks has always been on the move. Brittney was born in North Dakota, but growing up, she moved to Guam, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio; she considers Chicago, Illinois her home. Brittney is currently in the Netherlands, completing her master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in international public service and development (IPSD). Unsure if she wanted to enroll in an M.D. or Ph.D. program, Brittney earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Wright State University, which is a field of study applicable to both programs. Originally, she intended to become a psychiatrist or psychologist for the military, but realized public administration was closer to what she desired. “I wanted a career that would be emotionally satisfying, mentally challenging, and permit room for advancement…my most fulfilling experiences were when I worked or volunteered for charitable organizations,” she says. In addition, Brittney also wished to lead groups through projects and programs. “It was almost as though a career in public administration was calling out to me,” Brittney adds. While researching graduate programs, Brittney found Rutgers–Camden and says she “felt an immediate connection to the school and the IPSD program.” Rutgers–Camden became her top choice.
Brittney has been interested in helping others all her life. She has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and National Runaway Safeline, which then evolved to her externships at Racine Correctional Institute (RCI) and Cook County Juvenile Probation Clinical Interventions (CCJPCI). “It was through my work with inner-city youth that made me realize how desperate their conditions are and how much more vulnerable [juveniles] are to being victims or perpetrators of crime.” She says she was at first fascinated by what pushes people into criminal activity, and her interest and involvement inevitably increased, leading her to externships at RCI and CCJCI.
“The externships helped me get a full perspective of the situations leading persons to enter the prison system. A lot of work needs to be done in order to improve our prison system and it takes knowledge from various perspectives to develop and implement the necessary changes. I am still passionate about work with the justice system and this topic was the focus of my course project in Foundations of Policy Analysis with Dr. Lori Minnite, [Associate Professor of Public Administration]” Brittney says. “Interning at Catholic Relief Services was also a wonderful learning experience…I felt like the work I did really had a purpose and that I was truly helping people in need,” Brittney mentions. She explains that a part of her job was to generate a guide for government services and all the food banks in Salem County in both English and Spanish, which are now available at each food bank location so that people can have easy access to the information.
“Civic engagement has always been a big factor in my life,” she says. When Brittney was ten, she and her father worked as volunteers for Habitat for Humanity with the rehabilitation of a public park in Atlanta, Georgia. In high school, Brittney was a member of the Key Club, a group that encourages high school students to give back to their community. Brittney adds, “I’ve always felt that it is important to give your money, voice, or time to a cause you believe in.”
“I was on vacation in Europe when I received an email that the Office of Civic Engagement at Rutgers–Camden was taking applications for fellows. I halted my travel for a day so that I could complete the necessary paperwork in order to meet the application deadline. It was well worth the effort!” says Brittney. Her experience with the office entailed monthly meetings with the civic engagement program coordinator, Tom Dahan, and other fellows to share experiences and prepare a Civic Engagement Conference. In the first semester of her fellowship, Brittney coordinated the schedules of sixteen biology students by reaching out to several local companies to arrange opportunities for the students to shadow workers, attend lectures, and participate in training sessions. She says, “It was rewarding to network with various community organizations and establish sites where the students could supplement their academic work.”
During the second semester of her fellowship, Brittney also led a group of undergraduates in an after-school program with children from a local Camden elementary school. She loved working with the children. Brittney would help them with homework, and facilitate activities that promoted creativity and reasoning skills.
Brittney’s most recent internship was at Skyway Foundation, an organization in the Netherlands that helps children and adults think more in terms of possibility, focusing on building their strengths and empowering them to find the “ability” within a perceived disability. The work proved to be difficult at times, but was an excellent learning opportunity that helped her gain confidence in herself and develop her career skills. “I work for the Skyway Academy, which is the youngest of the programs within the Skyway Foundation…because it is such a new company, I get to contribute to the business as it establishes itself in the market,” says Brittney. She describes how, as the first international intern, she had to teach herself how to design and translate documents, create a community engagement program for a grant, edit graphics, and code webpages. She adds, “Interning in another country has been a mixture of frightening and empowering, but mostly the latter.”
“The reality of living abroad has proven different than my expectations,” Brittney says. She explains that although there are obvious cultural differences, the most difficult adjustment was leaving the big-city life of Chicago and adapting to the lifestyle of a small Dutch village, although she is able to travel to nearby cities surrounding the village. “The hardest part for me culturally was the fact that very few people smile at strangers in the Netherlands. I’ve heard from many Dutch people that it is very ‘American’ to smile often, and that our friendliness doesn’t seem genuine…on the opposite spectrum, they love their kiss greetings! You get not one, not two, but three cheek-kisses when you greet and say goodbye to someone. A small gathering of friends could entail 90 kisses when it’s all said and done. And I think that is fabulous!”
Brittney was able to partake in the World Cup celebrations and an international march during her travels. “It was exhilarating being in the Netherlands during the World Cup last summer. You could feel the energy and excitement as Holland kept advancing…not long after that, I participated in the Vierdaagse with my father-in-law. The Vierdaagse is a four days’ march where you walk 40km (25 miles) per day for four days straight. I walked with tens of thousands of people from all over the world.” The march always takes place on the third Tuesday in July and ends on Friday of the same week. Brittney says she will participate in this year’s Vierdaagse, the largest marching event in the world that promotes exercise and fitness. However, she will increase her walking distance to 50km (31 miles) a day. The march starts in the town, Elst, and ends at another major town, Cuijk.
“The experience of moving abroad has really empowered me in many ways and has also kept me grounded to the things that truly matter. It is not easy moving to another country…the stressful process entailed over six months of back-and-forth with the Dutch government over paperwork. But I did it…it has made me even more sensitive to the issues faced by refugees and immigrants who change countries under less ideal conditions than myself.”
Brittney says that her international placement advisor, Matthew McCaffrey, a public affairs doctoral student, has helped her immensely throughout her journey, making sure she obtained experience that will make her a competitive candidate for future jobs. Additionally, she appreciates the help of Kay O’Pella, a Career Management Specialist from Career Center, who is knowledgeable of nonprofits and even has a webinar that explains a job search platform called “Going Global” that she found informative and helpful for her work.
After graduating in May 2015, Brittney would like to return to Chicago and obtain employment in a public institution, such as a museum, a university, or a charitable organization, where she could plan and facilitate community outreach activities and events, welding her passion for public administration with leadership and compassion.
Written By Rebecca Grubb