Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


Sarah Percoulis, MPA Alumna and Youth Empowerment Specialist

Sarah Percoulis

1) Four years ago you graduated from college in Michigan with a dual major in Political Science and French. How did you first learn about the Institute?

My college advisor told me I should check out this grad school … called Monterey somethingorother. She would never know the impact that she has made on my life with that statement. That night I spent hours on the computer searching for this "Monterey" school, and the rest is history.

2) Now that you’ve been out of grad school for a couple of years, how have your experiences at MIIS contributed to your professional growth?

Not only do our academic programs rival top schools, but the Monterey community provides an open-minded environment that fosters personal growth. I had opportunities to reinforce classroom learning through volunteer work with youth in the Monterey/Salinas community and an internship with the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. As a kinesthetic learner, this time in the field has helped me reach my highest potential.

3) So, you graduated with a Masters of Public Administration in International Management ... a mouthful to say the least.

I'm frequently asked: What is the title of your degree? This question always leads me to reflect upon the education I received. Even though I technically have a "Masters of Public Administration in International Management," I sometimes find myself calling it a Master's in Social Change, Digital Media, Collaborative Project Management, Diverse Cultures, and much more.

4) I hear you just accepted a cool position as a Youth Program Assistant at the Battle Creek Community Foundation in Michigan. How did you find it?

Honestly, I found the position on a job board specifically for Michigan foundations. Because of my yearlong internship at the Monterey Peninsula Foundation during my time at MIIS, I really wanted to get back into foundation work.

5) How much networking did you do to get your current position?

Michigan is known as a large state and its nonprofit sector is similarly sized, yet interconnected. Many of the people who work at my current employer, the Battle Creek Community Foundation, knew numerous people I had worked with in Detroit, which is on the other side of the state from Battle Creek. These connections really helped me in establish myself as the stand-out candidate for the position. No matter where you live, it's possible that your future employer could get a good (or bad) recommendation about you.

6) What is the best part of your job?

I get to interact with young community leaders everyday. Their outlook on life and overall leadership in the community makes my job so enjoyable.

7) You said that this was your ideal job. What specifically—besides what you have already mentioned—makes this the perfect position for you?

Knowing that I am directly making a difference is empowering. In my opinion, working with young people means that everyday is interesting (and an adventure!) and my job responsibilities are ever changing. My ideal job is one where I have the control to make my own professional destiny and keep growing and improving - which is the path that I'm following currently.

8) What is one skill or approach that you learned at MIIS that helped you land your job?

Definitely the facilitation and presentation skills that I obtained while taking Advanced Nonprofit Management with professor Beryl Levinger. I am always meeting with local professionals and speaking at events that require active facilitation skills. Before my time at the Institute, I felt so subpar in regards to public speaking and group facilitation. But after being so inspired by my MIIS colleagues and having the opportunity to perfect these skills on numerous occasions, I was able to actively collaborate and build off others' ideas, all while improving in the long run.

9) Any advice for graduating students wishing to pursue a similar career track?

The professionals at MIIS (both staff and students) are resources that I tapped into as much as possible. The more engaged you are in campus activities and the more people you connect with, the more experience you will have benefitted from at the end of your time. Also, follow your passion - it does not necessarily have to be relevant in every class you take, but make sure you take the time to build your skills surrounding the thing that makes you passionate in life. You never know where it may take you.

10) With classes, group projects, and work, it's sometimes easy to feel isolated from the "real" world as a student. Is there anything we can do early on to connect to the professional world?

I think the experiences that one may encounter outside of the classroom, will absolutely benefit any MIIS student. Get out in the Monterey community, you'll be surprised in who you meet and what you may learn.