Intern at The Washington Center earns professional growth award

Natalia Kolbjornsen in Washington, D.C.

During her final semester at FIU, Natalia Kolbjornsen ’17 faced her fears.

Self-described as “a little shy,” Kolbjornsen was a bit anxious about networking opportunities. But when she landed an internship in Washington, D.C., through The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC), she decided she wanted to learn as much as possible – and that included introducing herself to people and having conversations with them.

A few months later when her internship concluded in May, Kolbjornsen was named the professional growth award recipient for spring 2017 at TWC. The award is given each term to a student who strives for and shows progress toward professional goals independently or through TWC programming and activities. This is the second consecutive semester an FIU student earns the award; international relations major Jose-Andres Camacho received the honor in fall of 2016.

“I came to D.C. eager to work hard,” says Kolbjornsen, who earned her degree in international relations this past spring. “I took advantage of every single opportunity there was.”

Kolbjornsen interned as a communications associate at Jubilee USA Network, a nonprofit organization that advocates for financial reform. She helped with news briefings, pitched ideas for communication strategies to the organization and, as part of her internship experience, visited many places in D.C. such as Congress and the Senate.

She also attended events and lectures – some of which were required for the TWC internship program, and many others out of her own initiative.

To step outside her comfort zone, Kolbjornsen chose to attend panels on topics with which she was not familiar. The result? She learned about diverse subjects from Puerto Rico’s economic crisis to environmental and climate change.

“At the end of every panel, I would go up, talk to the speakers, introduce myself and talk about their interests,” Kolbjornsen recalls. “I asked for many informational interviews.”

Her willingness to learn made Kolbjornsen stand out to Tristine Harris, the manager of Community Life at TWC’s Office of Student Services and Community.

“Natalia struck me from the moment I met her,” says Harris, who nominated Kolbjornsen for the professional growth award. “We tend to have a lot of programs at The Washington Center experience, and she was at all of them.”

Kolbjornsen met with TWC alumni-in-residence to explore career options and resume-building. She avidly sought Harris’ mentorship. And she also regularly posted to a job discussion board available to all interns.

“She was really passionate and engaged in the experience of becoming a better professional,” Harris says.

Kolbjornsen, who is originally from Haiti, says her internship experience helped her cement her passion for international development – and create a non-profit organization for her native country.

“A friend of mine and I were sitting together and talking about the different work people are doing in Haiti now,” Kolbjornsen recalls. “We were inspired by how people in D.C. are eager to make a difference. We said, ‘What are we doing for the country where we grew up in?’”

So they started brainstorming. The idea for a non-profit focusing on agricultural sustainability was born. Full details about the non-profit will be unveiled later, but for now, Kolbjornsen shares it’s going to be an innovative way to help Haiti’s agricultural industry.

Additionally, Kolbjornsen will be the vice president of a family foundation she and her brother will start for their family business in Haiti. The foundation will concentrate on youth development, sports and food distribution.

Kolbjornsen is currently working in Haiti as a sales and operations manager at her family business, Marché Titony S.A., a wholesale company for food and beverages.