How internships helped three students navigate the world of work.
By Beth JoJack ’98
Gabby Awuma ’14
During the first day of her internship at the Phillips Collection, Awuma watched a documentary about Duncan Phillips, founder of the modern art museum in Washington, D.C. It told how Phillips selected pieces for the collection not because a certain artist was in vogue at the time, Awuma explains, but because his or her art provoked emotion.
“In that moment, on the first day of my internship, I was like, ‘I need to be here,’ she says. Students who complete internships—and as many as 75 percent of Hollins students do each year—cite numerous dividends from the experience. For some, an internship serves as their first real work experience, a place to start a résumé. It’s a chance to network and put lessons learned in the classroom into action. Oftentimes, it’s also a way to get a foot in the door at a company. Employers offered positions to nearly 73 percent of their interns in a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Initially, Awuma, a studio art major, planned to go straight from Hollins to a M.F.A. program in painting. By her senior year, though, she started thinking there might be a way to combine her love of the arts with the many skills she gained as president of the Student Government Association (SGA).
During the week of Hollins’ 2013 C3: Career Connection Conference, Awuma mentioned to several alumnae she was looking for an internship at a gallery or a museum in Washington, D.C., or New York City. “They were like, ‘All right, we’ll ask around and see who we know in those cities who could help you out,’” Awuma recalls. “I sort of left it alone. Then a month later, I heard from our career center. They said, ‘We found an internship we think you’d be interested in.’” That was, of course, a placement at the Phillips Collection.
There, Awuma worked for the director on such tasks as preparing a PowerPoint presentation, conducting research for a future exhibition, and planning for meetings—a skill she had sharpened during her tenure at the SGA.
“It was really neat to see how all these things I learned at Hollins could be applied to a real job that existed somewhere,” Awuma says. “It changed everything. I felt when I came out of the internship that I had direction.”
After graduation, Awuma returned to D.C. and waited for a job to open at the Phillips Collection. By the following December, she’d scored a part-time job guarding the collection and assisting patrons. She also interned one day a week in the director’s office. That March, museum administrators rewarded her dedication with a full-time position. Awuma, who now serves as the museum’s stewardship coordinator, loves going to work every day. “When you walk through the museum, you can feel the spirit of Duncan Phillips everywhere,” she says.
Maya Rioux ’16
Rioux completed three very different internships during her Hollins tenure. Her sophomore-year internship at New York City event firm properFUN by jesGORDON was arranged by Christine Han ’09. The next year, Rioux returned to the Big Apple for an internship under Alexandra Trower ’86, executive vice president of global communications at the Estée Lauder Companies. As a senior, Rioux interned at DACOR Bacon House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes public understanding of diplomacy in Washington, D.C. “My interests are very broad,” says Rioux, who majored in international studies.
Through internships, Rioux tasted three totally different careers, allowing her to figure out which fit and which didn’t. Now Rioux knows she has no interest in working for a nonprofit. Too often, she says, those jobs require one person to do the work of five. Instead, Rioux set her sights on working for the U.S. Department of State, which she likes because of its clear-cut, hierarchical structure. She plans to take the Foreign Service officer test this fall.
Lan Nguyen ’18
An internship at the Maryland/D.C. chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) showed Nguyen the skills needed to learn for future scientific research. Nguyen, who’s from Vietnam, is majoring in economics and environmental studies. She’s working toward a career in which she can “make people realize the economy doesn’t necessarily have to go against the environment.”
At TNC, Nguyen worked with the conservation team on projects that enhance the resiliency of coastal communities in Maryland. As she worked, Nguyen saw that she’d be better prepared for future research projects if she hones her understanding of spatial analysis and statistical methods. “Looking at the way TNC scientists work every day with data analysis using those tools, I know it is something I want to do in the future,” Lan wrote in an email.
Maybe more important, Lan’s internship taught her that all is not lost for planet Earth; there’s reason to believe individuals can still effect change. “All the scientists I met and talked to…inspired me by their positive attitudes towards the environmentalism movement and their [search for] the best solutions to climate change,” Nguyen explains. This summer, she’s spending eight weeks in Massachusetts, having been awarded a competitive residence internship at the American Institute for Economic Research. There, she’ll continue to acquire the analysis skills so important to the career she’s planning for.
Beth JoJack is a Roanoke writer who contributes frequently to Hollins magazine.