We recently caught up with alum A’Shaela Chaires, who told us about her exciting work at Microsoft. We also referred back to an interview she did with Marquise Steward in 2020, where she reflected on her EFC experience.

What are you up to now? 

I’m working in Seattle at Microsoft in a rotational program as a financial analyst. It’s a really different culture from the East Coast, but there are lots of opportunities. I’ve moved around in this position, learning about different parts of the business, making sure we are in compliance with initiatives, helping the company prepare future budgets, and assessing structure. During my internship, I worked on the opening of the new Atlanta office, making sure we had an inclusive framework there when developing the new office, including creating inclusive spaces for employees and hiring diverse suppliers from under-represented, marginalized communities. I moved to Seattle in 2022 and worked on a compliance team, getting insight into how our broader teams are doing compliance-wise. We created a platform for teams to show what they do — an online tool that is inclusive and accessible.

Then I worked on our cloud marketing team. We assessed how we funded our cloud space, company-wide, and marketing externally. This created opportunities to help with financial cycles and budgeting how much money we spend as company and in marketing technology.

I went on to work in an accounting role for strategic and equity investments or corporate social responsibility. I’m now in my last rotation, as an operations deal manager focusing on processing our larger enterprise deals with our external sellers and partners.

I’m involved with ERGs — our employee resource groups; it keeps me connected. I’m part of a leadership program called the WERE (Washington Employees for Racial Equity) Leadership and Professional Development Program, working to develop the next generation of leaders who strive to create inclusive environments and teams in the corporate workspace.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

It opened my eyes to things I had not been exposed to yet in life — for example, not having day-to-day contact with people who identified as Native American or undocumented. It is something I never really thought about before, but having this experience made me more culturally conscious and I developed an interest in amplifying their real-life experiences. It also taught me to be vocal about my life experiences and opinions, as well as building my network for support to walk with me in my journey.

 How has the Encampment influenced your life?

The 2015 Encampment at Tougaloo College in Mississippi changed my life. I was interested in social justice, but not passionately; it was not a real connection before the EFC. [Fellow Encamper] Litzy’s project about farmworkers gave me a personal connection with what I think is important — it changed my mindset. Without the EFC, I would have had a less genuine type of involvement. The EFC puts perspective and oomph into you. I still would have cared, but it wouldn’t have been personal.

A’Shaela has been giving back to the Encampment through Microsoft’s Employee Giving Program. If the EFC has touched your life, now is a great time to give back by helping a 2024 Encamper participate. Each donation makes a difference in our ability to create a truly multicultural leadership experience. Click our DONATE page to find out options for donating.

Why is the EFC important now?

With the various issues our world is facing, the personal development, cultural competency, and emotional intelligence that the EFC equips people with is critical in today’s society!

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

The camaraderie! Kookie (Green) making fajitas on a griddle and yelling at us to get of the kitchen. One of the best times was getting stuck on the bus in the heat … we had the best fried chicken! We visited the  Edmund Pettus Bridge and talked with some BLM (Black Lives Matter) men standing up for their city who were invested in creating a safer community. It inspired me when I went back to high school to make changes. I loved the dancing — salsa and Mabel’s (Picotte) Native dancing. Creating those memories, being together in this experience, bonded us. It’s hard to describe, but the Tougaloo experience made me feel like this is my family.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

My mom worked with Aaron Richardson’s mom and they had a lot of great things to say about the Encampment since he had gone in 2014 (Chicago). He was a familiar face — it was the first time flying by myself, etc.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

I was soaking things in. There were so many people in the Encampment’s expansive network. I was a sponge and didn’t talk much; listened but didn’t react. I participated, but I just didn’t have enough experience to speak from the “I” or knowledge perspectives, so I enjoyed learning about the different perspectives and it strengthened my understanding of what was happening in the world.

What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

For me, it was an awakening! If I hadn’t gone to the Encampment, I wouldn’t be this culturally competent. I wasn’t sure where South Dakota was! When I came back, I made sure these different communities that I’ve mentioned were incorporated into everything I did. I realized how these communities are often overlooked.

I learned the most about Native American communities when working at the fair on the Choctaw Reservation. Learning about their culture and values, and how they differ from other reservations like Pine Ridge and other communities in South Dakota where Deanna Caden lived was so insightful.

I learned a lot about Black history when we went to Selma. That was dope! Where I live, Black history isn’t a huge thing that’s talked about. You know what it is, but something about being in the South — you’re immersed in it, it encompasses you. One day, it was 95 degrees — so hot — and we were walking across campus and I noticed there was a building on campus that had been a plantation house … that’s not something you see in the North. It was breathtaking — a lot to digest for a 15-year-old. The campus felt like a whole bunch of history surrounding you that you didn’t know what to do with … being on the campus was very moving.

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?

For the most part, we all got along pretty well. We essentially created our own little family. Even today, I still keep in contact with folks from my Encampment year.

Did you have any networking opportunities after the Encampment?

Yes — there were two events: a workshop in upstate New York and later a New York City trip. It was great hearing about projects people were working on and how to we could help. It was an inspiration and a reason to keep reaching out. The trip gave me a stronger camaraderie and network base. A lot of people I encountered in the boarding school world were at that event. For example, Steve Davis (EFC board member) and Keith O’Hara were there with young people from Pomfret, and the schools worked together. It strengthened the relationship between schools.

Advice for future Encampers?

Be a sponge, stay curious, and continue to fight for justice! At first, I went with a fixed mindset and gravitated toward people I had a lot in common with, but where I really grew was in my own discomfort with people whose experience I had yet to understand.

Help us share EFC’s transformative work with the world by building our social media presence: follow and “like” EFC on:   

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_encampment/?hl=en

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/theencampment

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2381986793/

PFSP: https://www.instagram.com/pesticidefreesoilproject/?hl=en

Want to share your EFC story? Email admin@encampmentforcitizenship.org and we will interview you.