Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

A gift of opportunity

Alums open doors to internships for students
Melissa Baron ’13

Melissa Baron ’13 worked at HBO this summer in an alumnae/i-sponsored internship.

For Melissa Baron ’13, a chance to work in the creative services department of HBO is the opportunity of a lifetime. “It’s HBO! Who wouldn’t want to work there?” says Baron, a Hispanic studies major and journalism minor, who aspires to host, direct and produce her own television show. “My experience at HBO has given me the knowledge I’ll need as a journalist,” she says.

Baron’s internship this summer was the result of collaboration between Alumnae/i Trustee Elaine Meryl Brown ’77, P’07, and Chris Spencer P’14, executive vice president at HBO. Brown, a longtime employee of the network who now owns her own marketing and production company, wanted to create a special opportunity for a Wheaton student at HBO. So she approached Spencer, and they made it happen, working with the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services.

Each year, students like Baron gain valuable work experience through a growing number of alumnae/i-sponsored internship programs that are specifically designated for Wheaton students.

“It would be wonderful if more alums who are connected to corporations or nonprofits would create internships that help students transition into the workplace,” says Brown.

Elizabeth Porter Daane ’77 did just that when she and her brothers created the Nancy Lyon Porter Community Service Fellows Program in 2004. The program is a tribute to Daane’s mother, Nancy Lyon Porter ’43, an advocate for children and families in Cleveland, Ohio. “My mom was a social worker without the formal degree,” says Daane.

Porter Fellows participate in community service internships in Cleveland and all over the United States. This summer, there were six fellows, including Marijose Vila ’13, an international relations major from Guatemala. Vila divided her time between Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and Esperanza Threads, both in Cleveland.

Through MRS, she helped immigrants shop and set up apartments, and used her Spanish language skills to assist the organization’s immigration attorney with translation. At Esperanza Threads, she helped refugees in the organization’s commercial sewing classes.

“I not only learned about the services available to immigrants and refugees, but I also learned about their personal stories and challenges, which is so important,” says Vila.

For Binh Nguyen ’99, it was the impressiveness of Wheaton students he met on campus that led him to create internships. In March, Nguyen—director of global operations at InterSystems, a global software company with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., and offices in 25 countries—participated in a panel on alternative careers in health care.

After the presentation, several students approached him with questions. “They were phenomenal, highly accomplished students,” he says.

Mengyang "Vicki" Li ’14

Mengyang “Vicky” Li ’14, a bioinformatics major, was an intern at InterSystems in Cambridge, Mass.

Nguyen worked with senior management to identify opportunities for the students. “We’re giving them real responsibilities, projects to lead,” he says. Mengyang “Vicky” Li ’14, a bioinformatics major, worked in technical support, while 2012 graduates Juliana Bennington and Claire Rowell were consultants in the company’s marketing division.

“It was great for me to reconnect to Wheaton by helping these students transition from the academic to the corporate world,” says Nguyen.

Since 1992, Wheaton students have worked as counselors at a summer camp on the campus of Robert College in Istanbul. The students help Turkish middle-school children improve their English language skills.

The program is the brainchild of Sukey Nichols Wagner ’56, a trustee of Robert College. “I thought it would be a good program for Wheaton students,” she says. “It is transformative to experience another culture, and the earlier one does it in life, the more it affects one’s outlook.”

Counselor Lana Rosen ’13 saw the internship as a personal challenge. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be in a completely new environment and still succeed,” she says.

Marguerite Copeland ’14 was thrilled to combine her two passions, “mentoring and travel.”

Other opportunities include internships at Colleccion Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (established through Patricia Phelps de Cisneros ’69), working with the curatorial, collections management or education departments, and at the Raptor Trust in Millington, N.J., which was established through Nancy Pearlstine Conger ’67, whose husband, Bill, is on the board at the Raptor Trust.

There are also internships that happen on an informal basis, notes Lisa Gavigan ’83, Career Services director. “Many alumnae/i post internship opportunities on the college’s LinkedIn site, for example. No matter how they go about it, alumnae/i are changing lives by giving this ‘gift of opportunity,’” she says.

—Mary Howard ’85 

About Mary Howard

Mary Howard ’85 is a freelance writer and editor who lives in southeastern Connecticut.