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Crystal Sheridan works for human rights and a safe, stable Africa


Crystal Sheridan is not one to back down from a challenge. The Penn State University Dickinson School of Law graduate and former Presidential Management Fellow speaks Swahili, travels to conflict-stricken countries, and administers a $19.2 million foreign assistance budget for the State Department.

A program officer at the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan (USSESSS), Sheridan serves as the Contracting Officers’ Representative and Grants Officers’ Representative for USSESSS programs. She manages contracts and grants from solicitation to close-out while coordinating with other State Department and USAID offices providing support to Sudan and South Sudan.

Sheridan chooses to face all kinds of challenges in her career. She has worked as a rape crisis counselor, teacher, legal assistant, and for the United Nations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

“What we deal with can be hard to listen to and hard to think about,” she said, referring to hunger, displacement, and violence of all kinds. “But at the end of the day it is better if we can help in some concrete way one step at a time,” she said, adding that she enjoys being on the program administration side as opposed to the policy side.

Her legal education has been “extremely helpful” to her career. A member of the Class of 2009, Sheridan understands contract law, procurement, and legislation. She also credits law school with giving her above-average communication skills. “I take a very logical approach with contracts and grants. I write with a lot of brevity, which people find helpful and refreshing.”

Sheridan has developed a particular interest in Africa. Prior to law school, Sheridan was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, where she taught mathematics to teenage students and started an English class for local village mothers. When her Peace Corps experience ended, she worked as an assistant in a law firm and then decided to earn a J.D.

Pursuing Human Rights in Law School

As a law student Sheridan kept her sights focused on a public interest career. After her first-year, she interned for Amnesty International in Washington, D.C. She worked on the “Jena Six” cases and maintained a database of prisoner abuse complaints.

After her second year of law school she worked as a protection intern at the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There, she conducted interviews with individuals who were hoping to be resettled to other countries and served as a contact person for urban refugees. The summer internship was made possible in part by the Public Interest Law Fund, an organization she led as president during her third year. “So many of these refugees have faced horrors that I cannot even imagine and yet they are persevering and fighting to move on with their lives,” she wrote during the summer of 2010. “They deserve nothing less than respect.”

She remembers her time with the Public Interest Law Fund fondly. “It was meaningful leadership experience and I’m still so glad I participated in it,” she said. She also built leadership and international experience as a member of the Penn State International Law Review, which is now the Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs.

Plans for the Future

She thinks that one of the most exciting aspects of working in the State Department is the opportunity to make other international moves; she recently accepted a position within the Foreign Service. She is married to Penn State Law alumnus Brian Sheridan '09, who is a trial attorney in the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and a member of the U.S. Army National Guard. They are expecting their first child in February. Together, they wish to be global citizens and make a difference.

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