Safety, Security and International Affairs finalist: Kiera Berdinner
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Safety, Security and International Affairs finalist: Kiera Berdinner

May 6, 2022 | Updated on May 17, 2022

Today’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® Q&A is with Kiera Berdinner, program officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Berdinner, along with Hilary Ingraham and Holly Herrera, are 2022 Safety, Security and International Affairs finalists for their work with the Operation Allies Welcome Resettlement Team to coordinate the largest resettlement of refugees in modern U.S. history. This team provided housing and services in record time to more than 76,000 Afghans who fled Afghanistan in 2021 as the American forces withdrew from the war-torn country.

What’s your best career advice?

Always ask. Always ask for the project, promotion or position you want—don’t presume your supervisor will know. Ask the questions you want to know and don’t worry if you think everyone else already knows the answers (they don’t) or if it shouldn’t be questioned (it should). Ask others for their input and then listen to what they have to say.

What’s one surprising thing we should know about you?

I was a jazz singer in college and graduate school. I performed at weddings and hotel bars.

Who is your favorite public servant?

Madeleine Albright, our first female secretary of state and a refugee. A couple of years ago, I heard her describe herself in six words and was deeply inspired by her response: “Worried optimist. Problem solver. Grateful American.”

What is your favorite thing about working for the U.S. government?

I love being able to contribute directly to a program and process—refugee resettlement—that is so wholly fundamental to the core ideals of this country. It is incredibly meaningful, humbling and sobering to see the direct impact of my work on the lives of human beings who have survived so much and who have the potential to enrich our country to an extraordinary degree.

What object would you save if your house was on fire?

My collection of Agatha Christie paperbacks. I own every Christie novel ever published—many of which I found in used bookstores over the years. Many others were passed on to me by my grandfather, an avid Christie fan.

Do you have any pets?

Not at the moment, unless you count the squirrels, skunks and rabbits that inhabit our backyard.

What are you reading, watching or listening to?

I like to relax with a good mystery, especially period pieces. I have very much been enjoying reading the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie E. King.

What’s your favorite takeout order or favorite thing to cook?

My favorite takeout order would probably be either Thai yellow curry or dumplings.

Read the full profile on Berdinner and the Operation Allies Welcome Resettlement Team and visit the Sammies website to learn more about our other 2022 Sammies Safety, Security and International Affairs finalists.

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