Sheryl Stake: UW Alumna BA '10, MA '12 & Big City Queen

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Her Campus: What is your position? How long have you held it?

Sheryl Stake: I am currently a passport specialist with the Department of State. I’ve been doing this for almost three years.

HC: How did you end up in the position?

SS: My parents are in the government right now and there was a program for recent graduate students. I was working at WyoTech and the government program was asking for students who graduated within two years, so I just squeezed into that program timeframe. So I just looked for any way to get into the government position, but it ended up being a really good position for me.

HC: What are your duties?

SS: I look over the entire application and verify the person who applied is who they say they are and verify they are a U.S. citizen. Initially, it’s pretty easy, some other times, there are some problems, so I am the person who issues the passport and says they are the person who say they are and are a U.S. citizen. If there are any problems, I am the person who tries to get that information and resolve the problem.

HC: How many passports do you process per year?

SS: We have standards we are supposed to meet as a specialist, there are different facets of the entire process as a whole. In terms of general issue and application, I review about 100 applications a day. Especially since, 10 years ago there was a rule that everyone has to have a passport when traveling out of the country, even going to Canada and Mexico, so now everyone is renewing their passport. I guess 100 passports a day.

HC: Where are you from originally?

SS: My father was in the military, so the government became a lot more appealing to me; I grew up overseas. I was born in Japan, and we moved to Hawaii, Guam, back to Japan, and then when my father retired from the Navy in japan, he took a position in Korea with the Army as a civilian. So I actually graduated high school in Korea.

HC: How did you end up at UW?

SS: That’s just completely random, because I was looking at schools in Pennsylvania, and we were finding a lot of the in-state tuition was crazy. So I was thinking if I could go in-state in Pennsylvania, how could I pay that much to go out-of-state? I did some research online and there were two states that were under $15,00 per year. I was initially going to go to Hawaii, and then Wyoming came back with a scholarship and I was like, “why not? Why not go somewhere new?” When I accepted, I had never been to the state. I just went with it. It wasn’t a new thing in my life to go somewhere I’d never been. It was a complete shot in the dark. It was the best decision I ever made.

HC: What degree did you obtain from UW, and what years did you graduate?

SS: I have my bachelor of Art in Communication and I emphasized in Public Relations and Marketing and I also got a minor in the Honors program between 2006-2010. I have my Masters in Communication from 2010-2012. When I started applying for colleges, I was going to be a teacher, thinking “I don’t know what I’m going to teach.” And then I was like “you know what, Communication is kind of broad and I can see where I’m going to go with it.”

HC: How did your experience at UW help you get to where you are now?

SS: I got my Masters because when I graduated I was 21, and I couldn’t find a job. It was just the market at the time, I don’t think it was anything on me, I had internships but I still couldn’t find a job. Then one of my friends just convinced me to take the GRE and get my Masters. UW was the only place that would make that opportunity affordable. I taught Public Speaking for two years, which gave me teaching experience, which was ironic, but opened up that avenue for me, saying I had been teaching at a college level. I think Wyoming is unique in general. It’s that small environment that really cares about you, and that was apparent from the beginning. No matter what I needed, someone was always there for me. Everyone was really great and helpful when I needed them. I guess in a roundabout way, honestly it’s hard to say how I went from Laramie, Wyoming to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but I think it just made me who I am and gave me the opportunity and timing to open those doors and feel confident in what I’m doing. The confidence and the experience. It’s a very nurturing environment.  

HC: What is the best advice you can offer a woman going into your field?

SS: We experience a lot of different cultures. Even though you’re dealing with U.S. citizens, even to an extent within the American culture and within other cultures, women still aren’t really as valued. I think it’s important to realize no matter what you’re’ doing, you’re in that position because you’re someone someone else deemed as valuable and important. Just because someone from another culture or your own culture says your sex doesn’t make you as qualified, don’t let that hold you back. Treat them as you would anyone else and just let it roll off your shoulders. If this ends up being the position for you, you are still going to work in this position and make the connections a man would.  

HC: If a current UW student in your field had more questions about your journey to success, would you be open to talking with them? If so, what is the best way for them to reach you?

SS: Sure! Email would be great, I’m very responsive to [email protected]

HC: Is there anything else you would like to share?

SS: I want to stress never having been from Wyoming, it was the best decision I ever made. It looks like the university just keeps getting better and better, even being in a different part of the country now. UW and Laramie are just so great. It’s been a really great choice.