On any given weekday, you can find Kenithia Alston ‘14 interviewing defendants to determine their financial eligibility for court appointed counsel. As an eligibility examiner for the Public Defender Service (PDS) of the District of Columbia, it wasn’t so long ago that she wasn’t quite sure what her career path would consist of. When she was growing up, Kenithia knew she wanted to help people in her community. She also knew loved public safety. What she did not know was how exactly was how to forge a fulfilling career from her two passions.
In search of an answer, Alston enrolled at UMGC to pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in hopes that studying what she loved and finding her destiny.
Discovering her path
Fortunately, Alston was familiar with the power of networking and how it would cultivate her future career. “Networking is amazing,” she says. “It developed my professional relationships and helped to expand my skill set. It has also helped me find balance in my life.”
For Alston, networking aided in determining her career path. After church one Sunday, she was speaking with another congregation member who was a D.C. police officer. “I shared with him that I was about to finish my degree, and I knew I did not want to become a police officer. After which, I asked him if he had any suggestions.”
That is when the officer suggested Alston to explore a federal agency she was not aware of: Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). CSOSA provides supervision for D.C. adults on probation, parole, and supervised release. As a result, CSOSA extended an opportunity for Alston to combine her two passions—helping others and public safety—into a career.
When she was young, she did not realize her career dreams were possible. “I also did not recognize there were two sides to public safety,” she explains. “There is the prosecution side and the defense side. Now that I recognize my skill set, I understand my passion coincides with helping individuals through defense.”
Gaining skills and experience
While preparing for her dream career, Alston knew she needed hands-on experience alongside her education. “Interning and volunteering was a must to accompany my degree considering often times applicants required experience."
To obtain the skill set required to succeed at the PDS, Alston decided she needed to secure an internship.
“Although I had previously volunteered within public safety, the hours were inefficient compared to the level of experience job vacancies required."
For Alston, it took a lot more than filling out an application to land a relevant internship. She learned that the federal agency where she desired to intern, CSOSA, didn’t have any open positions. Undeterred, Alston called the human resources department every week—for three months—until an internship became available.
“Getting my internship was not an easy task,” she explains. “It took a lot of patience, perseverance and determination.”
Her persistence paid off tremendously. While interning at CSOSA, Alston was able to gain exposure through working at four various branches. As a result, the experience allowed her to acquire a relevant interpretation of her desired field and conformation she was pursuing the right career.
“Through my internship experience, I gained an enormous amount of knowledge and was able to expand my professional portfolio,” she says.
She also looked to her online education at UMGC to provide her with important qualifications to equip her for the job.
“UMGC helped me tremendously with acquiring my time management skills, especially considering I was working, interning, and attending UMGC simultaneously. I had to create a schedule for myself.” she notes. “I was able to successfully balance my current job, and complete my assignments and even ask for additional tasks to assist with.”
Living her dream
Thanks to her deliberate career preparation, PDS hired Alston to work as an eligibility examiner with the Defender Services Office. As an eligibility examiner, Alston conducts financial interview for defendants charged with a criminal or traffic offense. Through her work, Alston stands by PDS' mission "to protect society's interest in the fair administration of justice."
Alston was encouraged by the assistance extended from UMGC Career Services while seeking employment and desired to give back to fellow students. As a result, she was a mentor in the UMGC Allies Mentor program and now gives her time to UMUC's Career Mentor Program.
“I noticed several students had struggles with becoming disciplined with taking their classes online,” she says. “Because I had a similar experience, I knew I could be a great inspiration for them.”
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