nicole sanford (1)

Reflections on a summer internship at BTC

This summer, BTC was lucky to have two great interns, Sebastian Rios and Nicole Stafford. Sebastian will graduate at the end of the summer from N.C. State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Nonprofit Studies, and Nicole is headed into her second and final year in Duke University’s Master of Public Policy Program. As their internships wrap up, we asked them to share their thoughts about working with us this summer. 

Why did you want to intern with BTC, and how did it fit into your career goals?  

Sebastian: I was interested in getting more nonprofit work experience and in learning about the state and local budget processes. I have never had the opportunity to learn how the budget process works and how important it is for our state. I also really connected with the mission and values of BTC, so I knew that I would enjoy working with the organization. I viewed this internship as an opportunity to explore my interests before deciding what I want to do after I graduate.

Nicole: I was excited about the organization’s commitment to equity in all aspects of its work. I could tell by the content BTC publishes and the way my professors at Duke spoke about the organization that the people at BTC were committed to creating an economy that works for everyone — not just the people who are already well-off. I did not have experience specifically with tax or budget policy research but was keen to learn. I am pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, and I understand that tax and budget policy is critical for funding any other policy area I care about.

What’s your favorite thing that you got to work on or participate in?

Sebastian:My favorite project was the publication that I helped write in June titled Anti-immigrant Policies in North Carolina Hurt Us All. Immigrant rights is a topic that I am very passionate about, so learning more about policy impacting immigrants and being able to share what I learned with the public was meaningful to me. One of my favorite lines from that publication is “we must demand that our leaders recognize that contributions of immigrants to our communities and economy are blocked when policies lead to fear and intimidation.”

Nicole: I enjoyed researching and writing ablog post for BTC about the implications of the Senate’s tax plan. I got to dive into several different policy areas and became quite familiar with Gov. Cooper’s Recommended Budget for 2023-25. I also enjoyed learning about BTC’s collaborative research, analysis, and publication process as this was my first time publishing something for an organization.

What’s one new thing you learned?  

Sebastian: I learned that budget and tax policy directly impacts so many different issues. Before coming to BTC, I had never really understood all the connections between social issues and how money is spent in our state. I was able to do a lot of research on state, county, and city budgets to see how money is spent. Through this research, I saw a lot of ways that money was being spent well, and I was able to start thinking about where funding falls short. While interning at BTC, I also began to make these connections to other topics such as inequalities that exist within the criminal justice system.

Nicole: I love learning new tools and technology. At BTC, I was introduced to a platform called Datawrapper that I used to create new maps on childcare subsidies to share with BTC’s partners and to update labor market data published on BTC’s website. I am certain I will continue to use this tool as I continue with my graduate studies and capstone research project.

What’s one thing that surprised you? 

Sebastian: I was very surprised by how important local spending in counties can be and how unaware some people are of where money is going in their communities. I learned more about spending at the county level through research I did into county budgets, the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act. I was sometimes disappointed by how hard it was to find information on how money is being spent. I think that it is important to have transparency from elected officials and involvement from the public in the budget and spending process.

Nicole: I was surprised just how removed the average citizen is from something as important as the state budget. I never appreciated just how much money is at stake here and how many programs rely on this funding to support all the good things we need to thrive as a state like education, healthcare, and housing. Learning about how the budget is created and negotiated and who gets to participate in this process taught me how important research and advocacy are. We must demand more transparency from this process and from our leaders. How else can we ensure that money is being spent on the things North Carolinians need?

What’s next for you?  

Sebastian: I will be finished with undergrad at the end of the summer, and then I hope to continue working in the nonprofit sector. I want to continue exploring other interests that I have such as education equity and criminal justice reform.

Nicole: This fall and spring, I will be finishing my master’s degree in public policy from Duke University. After graduation, I hope to continue working on state- and local-level issues with a focus on the intersection of equitable economic development and affordable housing. I do not quite know where this will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

Thank you, Nicole and Sebastian! We’re all excited to follow the next steps in your careers.