Kirby inspired by changemakers in Obama Foundation internship

Hannah Kirby ’18 inspired by changemakers in Obama Foundation internship

Nov. 5, 2018

As she completes her Senior Study, Maryville College student Hannah Kirby ’18 is working as an intern at the Obama Foundation in Chicago.

A political science and environmental studies double-major and environmental science and gender and women’s studies double-minor, Kirby finished up her courses last May. She is completing her Senior Study (focused on the environmental impacts of the Syrian Civil War and resulting migration crisis) remotely with the help of advisor and Professor of Political Science Dr. Mark O’Gorman as she builds on her experience in nonprofit work.

Before she left for the Obama Foundation, Kirby, a Knoxville native, sought to become a Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) while a member of the College’s Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA). She will receive her CNP credential in December of this year once she officially completes her undergraduate career.

 “My work with the NLA was definitely the most relevant experience to this internship,” Kirby said. “I helped organize events, including KT Weekend and the Nonprofit Fair, built our annual budget [and] recruited members.”

Kirby worked closely with mentor Amy Gilliland, director of community engagement and head of the NLA program at the College. According to Gilliland, the NLA program’s opportunity for individuals like Kirby to attain a CNP is valuable for a nonprofit career.

“[The CNP] credential combines critical skills and knowledge with practical experience and a national perspective,” Gilliland said. “I believe that the references to the experiences and competencies gained through the NLA program in Hannah’s application and interviews with the Obama Foundation were highly influential in her selection.”

While she gleaned a great deal of nonprofit experience in College, Kirby recognized prior to her internship that she still had more to gain.

“The reason I applied for the [development department of the Obama Foundation] is because I felt that fundraising was the one nonprofit management skill that I hadn’t gotten enough experience in,” she explained. “In the development department, I support our team members by helping with research projects, data entry and other tasks like writing, editing and proofing materials or creating reports and presentations. I also get to work with other departments on creating communications materials about programs.”

Programs supported by the foundation include the Obama Foundation Fellows and Scholars, the Leaders: Africa program that supports leaders in Africa who already play an instrumental role in their communities, the Community Leadership Corps that provides training for budding leaders who require a sound start for their ideas, and the planning and construction of the Obama Presidential Center and Museum – a new landmark and economic engine in the south side of Chicago.

“The mission of the Obama Foundation is to inspire, empower and connect people to change their world,” Kirby said. “The Foundation is dedicated to developing a new generation of leaders by giving them the skills and tools they need to effect change in their communities.”

As she completed her final year at Maryville College, Kirby was a budding leader herself, passionate about a plethora of social problems yet still searching for a starting path. While impassioned with environmental issues, women’s rights and economic growth in developing countries, she was conflicted for a long time regarding which cause to pursue.

“While planning the 2018 Nonprofit Fair at MC and trying to secure sponsors, I started thinking about what the organizations I was researching had in common,” Kirby explained. “They were dedicated to doing work that would make sure other nonprofits could do their work to the best of their ability. That’s what the Obama Foundation does. Our work here is ensuring that leaders and organizations around the world who are tackling different but equally important issues can do their best work.”

Through the Obama Foundation, Kirby believes she has a much clearer scope of both the technical aspects and worldly purpose of nonprofit work. Her internship ends Dec. 7. After working for a year, she plans to enroll in a dual-degree program that would allow her to earn a juris doctorate along with a master’s degree in public policy or master’s degree in public administration.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that foundations and other organizations that enable changemakers are where I want my career to go. At the Obama Foundation, I’ve found my way of ‘doing good on the largest possible scale,’” she said, referencing the personal motto of Maryville College founder, the Rev. Isaac Anderson.

Written by Jared Crain for Maryville College.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,146.