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Enterprising Interns

by Lisa A. Dubois | Features, Summer 2015 | No Comment | |

Heidi Schuette (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

Heidi Schuette just may be the youngest person in the room.

The human and organizational development major is seated next to some of Nashville’s top record industry executives in a sleek conference room at Big Machine Label Group. Rising star RaeLynn is performing her single, “God Made Girls.”

During her internship with Big Machine, Schuette rubbed elbows with many of the label’s hitmakers—an impressive roster that includes Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts. But her internship, as part of her HOD capstone experience, generally had her situated far from the glitz and glamor of the music business, working hard behind the scenes generating spin vs. sales charts, publicity talking points and marketing materials.

“I learned a great deal about the ins and outs of working in the music business,” Schuette said. “It was enlightening to be a part of all the work that goes into bringing an artist’s work to radio and their image to the public.”

This fall, Schuette will take her introduction to the business world to New York City, where she’s landed a job at Citibank’s HR analyst program. “The HOD program and capstone internship has prepared me to face a wide variety of experiences, and I’m excited about working in New York,” she said. “I’m confident that I can move into my new position having learned how to approach unfamiliar problems with sound thought processes.”

Every Vanderbilt student majoring in one of the HOD academic tracks must complete a capstone internship to graduate. As early as sophomore year, students begin working on the skills that will help them secure internships domestically or abroad. Each year there are more than 200 HOD interns working in organizations all over the world—everywhere from the Conan show in Los Angeles to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile.

The interns spend one semester during their junior or senior year working at their chosen internship 32 hours a week. They also attend classes led by professors in the classroom or online. Each is tasked with evaluating the dynamics within the organization by collecting and analyzing data. They must find an area where they can implement a solution that adds long-term value to their chosen workplace. No wonder Vanderbilt’s HOD capstone internship is considered one of the most rigorous in the country.

“We are not intentionally making it difficult, but we are capstoning the degree,” said Peabody Assistant Professor of the Practice Victoria Davis. “So we’re having our students take cognitive concepts learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world.”

Victoria Davis (left) and Lisa Koenig. (Vanderbilt)

In 2014, Lisa Koenig conducted her HOD internship at Nashville Prep, a charter school for low-income students. As Koenig hand-graded hundreds of papers, it occurred to her that she could streamline the process of evaluating a student’s written work against Common Core guidelines if she created an electronic toolkit for teachers. And she did just that.

“This, from an unpaid intern,” Davis said. “This is just one example of how the HOD internship experience pushes students to think beyond the obvious. We ask them to get to the root of an issue and not just focus on the symptoms. Bringing about change is what it’s all about.”

A few years ago, Erica Zanghellini was interning at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She noticed employees were not complying with hand-washing as much as they should. Zanghellini conducted an analysis and found that the staff were reluctant to use the hand sanitizer provided because it chafed and dried out their skin.

She collected a variety of samples of sanitizer brands, asked the employees to test and rank them, and then she presented her findings to hospital administrators. She persuaded them to switch to the chosen brand and even negotiated a contract with the manufacturer—saving the hospital money. By the end of the year, hand-washing compliance had jumped to more than 90 percent.

“This is the kind of outcome that makes directing the HOD capstone internship program so gratifying,” Davis said, adding, “They’re not just finding jobs; they’re truly making a difference.”

The capstone internship has been around since the inception of the HOD major 35 years ago. Because HOD was situated in the school of education, its creators modeled the program after student teaching, where students learn skills for becoming good teachers and then practice applying these skills in the classroom. Today, HOD students study an array of human and organizational behaviors. Because of this flexibility and diversity, they are able to explore internships in a broad range of fields.

At the end of each internship, each student presents a final senior project to the organizations and their professors to reflect a culmination of their experience. About five years ago, faculty advisers realized that these remarkable projects should be made known to a broader audience. So they created the HOD Nashville Impact Award.

Each year, a group of faculty identifies the top six most impressive projects—those making the biggest impact on their internship organizations—and the nominated students present their projects to a community panel of experts. The winner is given a small cash prize and is recognized at the Peabody award ceremony during Commencement.

Koenig’s Common Core tool kit earned the top spot last year. This year there were two winners: Vanessa Asaro and Joe Tropeano.

Vanessa Asaro interned at the Nashville Civic Design Center. Her final project was an interactive website that promotes tactical urbanism—short-term, community-based projects that work to improve the use of public space. Joseph Tropeano was an intern at Conexión Américas in Nashville, a nonprofit that helps Latino families realize their aspirations for social and economic advancement.

Tropeano created a summer college readiness and transition curriculum to prepare first-generation college students for undergraduate life. “These interns raise the bar every year and this year was no exception,” Davis said. “The HOD internship has an impressive legacy and seeing these students create such life-affirming projects just confirms how special the program is.”

Madeleine Webb

Madeleine Webb, who hails from a small town in Alabama, never imagined she could specialize in something as exotic as international leadership development—until she came to Vanderbilt. Her world expanded even more when she landed an internship with the American citizens services unit at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile.

“I’ve gone on trips with the consul general to visit U.S. citizens who are in the hospital, or who are in a court hearing,” said Webb. “They call these ‘welfare and whereabouts’ visits.” As part of her internship, she produced a newsletter for U.S. citizens in Chile and organized several outreach excursions and itineraries (including one to Punta Arenas in Patagonia) in which she accompanied the consul general as well as the deputy chief of mission, who is second in line to the ambassador.

During her internship, Webb discerned a communication issue among consulate staff. Some employees are U.S. foreign service officers, who rotate out every two or three years. Because of the turnover, protocols are frequently reinvented. As her senior project, Webb created a playbook of procedures to coordinate tasks, particularly in case of emergencies.

“The consulate deals with emergencies and natural disasters almost every day,” Webb explains. “Chile is the 10th most geologically dangerous country in the world. The staff members have to be prepared, stay calm and focused on the interests of the U.S. citizens.”

Samuel McDaniel

Samuel McDaniel’s internship provided him the opportunity to see both the upsides and downsides to national and global developments. At UBS/The Wallace Group, a Nashville-based financial advisory firm led by Mimi Wallace, McDaniel tracked economic factors and helped the advisers stay abreast of market fluctuations and important incidents so they could be proactive when determining appropriate and timely investments to offer their clients.

Each day McDaniel read The Wall Street Journal and wrote synopses of relevant articles. He also represented the firm at meetings sponsored by money management firms educating financial advisers on topics like health care and developments at the Federal Reserve. In the process, McDaniel has become a savvy investor.

“One of the highlights was getting to create my own hypothetical portfolio,” he said. “I had the chance to go over my choices with one of the advisers and that gave me a chance to convert what I’ve learned into a tangible deliverable.”

For his senior project, McDaniel organized a partnership with the national businesswomen’s networking organization Femfessionals so the Wallace Group can grow its association with female entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Angel Chui

Angel Chui knew she wanted to work in human resources, so she was well-matched for her HOD internship in the campus recruiting office at Deloitte in Chicago. Deloitte is renowned for hiring highly talented prospects. As part of her daily responsibilities as an intern, Chui analyzed and flagged thousands of resumes from undergraduate, graduate, business and law school recruits.

She also helped Deloitte’s recruiters organize and prepare materials they would need for campus and office visits. In addition, she undertook a major nationwide recruiting project using Excel pivot tables to forecast Deloitte’s recruiting needs for fiscal year 2016.

“One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is the complexity of recruiting,” Chui said. “I used to think it happened organically. But recruiting is very complicated. It’s a combination of human resources, statistics and math. That was an eye-opener.”

She credited her internship experience as helping her become more extroverted and putting her academic knowledge to use. “The past four years in HOD prepared me very well for what I’d need in terms of communication skills, having an eye for details and identifying problems,” she said.

Chui found that some new hires were leaving Deloitte because they felt disconnected. For her senior project, she created an interactive message board where employees could interact. Chui said, “If people connect with others and develop friendships, it can increase retention and loyalty.”

Emma Hulings

Emma Hulings says she “lucked out” in landing an internship with the prestigious fashion house Oscar de la Renta after another opportunity fell through at the last minute. As an intern, her responsibilities centered on editorial and stylist requests that came into the PR office each day.

Over time she was given the responsibility of pulling and recommending looks from the Oscar de la Renta collection she thought would be of interest to the client, and sometimes found herself on the doorstep of a celebrity or a giant in the fashion industry. During New York’s renowned Fashion Week, Hulings had the unique opportunity to shadow Senior Vice President of Communications, Erika Bearman.

“My experience has disproven the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ stereotype that some people have of the fashion industry,” Hulings said. “I’ve never worked with a more kind, supportive team. I consider myself lucky because this experience has brought me to a line of work that I love.”

Meixi Guo

Meixi Guo became interested in international development during her time at Vanderbilt. She chose the World Food Programme in Rome, Italy, for her internship. As the food aid arm of the United Nations system, the WFP works to promote food security in needy regions of the world.

Working there introduced Guo to the complexities of the humanitarian world and the practical skills and further education she would need to work in a UN agency.

“I only had a vague idea about the kind of work I wanted to do but I’ve learned so much,” Guo said.

Within the next two years, Guo will begin a master’s program in development studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

Collier Bowling

Collier Bowling loves to travel, so he leapt at the chance to spend a semester in London working at Neville McCarthy, a public relations firm. But when Bowling first began at the agency, he was feeling underutilized. A contributor to the Vanderbilt Hustler, Bowling wanted to test and improve his communication skills.

“They agreed and started off by letting me write press releases,” Bowling said. “Once they saw they liked the quality of my writing, I was given a more creative role in planning corporate events.”

Collaborating with his supervisor, Bowling helped plan a major press event in Dubai for Chivas Regal sales representatives. A yacht tour around the Persian Gulf, they decided, would offer just the right touch.

“I called different yacht companies and spoke to them about logistics, possible routes and stopping points, ending with a tasting reception for the press. Then I created a proposal for my supervisor, detailing the six-hour event,” Bowling said. “I had to call people in Dubai and be diplomatic about asking for details—it was a unique cultural experience.”

For his senior project, Bowling drew on his organizational skills and created an online task reference guide for all employees at Neville McCarthy.

The experience was invaluable, he said, but combining a full-time internship with coursework was sometimes taxing.

“It was challenging, but that’s what real life is like,” Bowling said. “A lot of who I am today is because of my Vanderbilt experience. So building upon what I learned and then applying it in the real world was spectacular.”

Hannah Park

Hannah Park worked as an intern at the late-night talk show Conan in Los Angeles, California. She was charged with making sure the scripts, schedules and all changes and updates were delivered to the Conan team. Because she attended rehearsals each day and worked closely with the script coordinator, she learned how a live TV show is put together from beginning to the end.

“My internship was a great experience for me, especially learning more about TV,” Park said. “I always thought I would make films, but have found that I really enjoy comedy and now am considering a career in the TV industry as well.”

Learn more at vu.edu/hodcapstone.

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