A Kalamazoo College student is reflecting on an eye-opening internship opportunity that explored a global problem while providing experience that will benefit him in his life after K.
David Kent ‘22, a business and political science double major from Beverly Hills, Michigan, worked in Washington, D.C., at Shared Hope International this term. The nonprofit organization seeks to prevent sex trafficking while comforting and bringing justice to victimized women and children.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about an important issue,” Kent said. “I learned that the practice of sex trafficking is rooted in human civilization. It’s been around as long as people have lived together in societies. It went hand in hand with the institution of slavery. But even now, as slavery is mostly illegal, it persists. I think there is a preconception that it only happens in back alleys and at night. But the reality is there are large operations that work in plain sight and they can sell to people who are well known and very influential. I learned that it can be anybody.”
Part of Kent’s opportunity was funded by the John Dingell Memorial Scholarship, which provides funds for students from Michigan colleges and universities while they participate in an internship. The internship itself was offered through Shared Hope International’s connection with the Washington Center, a group that unites college students with a variety of nonprofit organizations and other companies in the nation’s capital.
Kent worked at Shared Hope International as a policy and communications intern, meaning he was responsible for assisting the organization’s legal team with whatever it needed. Its biggest project involved issuing grades and report cards to each state based on its sex-trafficking laws. Kent served as a media relations contact as he connected with news professionals from around the country.
“It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but I learned that Michigan is one of the worst states for trafficking with I-94 coming in from Detroit and going on through Chicago, and the state’s connections to Ohio, which is also one of the worst states because of its own highway system,” Kent said. “Michigan certainly has a lot to do in terms of getting laws on the books and enforcing them to better address the situation.”
In addition to the state report card project, Kent performed individual research on large-scale sex-trafficking operations before presenting to the organization’s staff on it. He also helped the organization prepare for a national conference conducted in Washington, D.C., that brought together activists, nonprofit organizations, policymakers, senators and survivors, while running a breakout session and funneling questions from virtual attendees to presenters.
Looking back, Kent said he has some ideas for how the world can fight sex trafficking.
“It starts with individual action,” he said. “Shared Hope International was founded by a former Congresswoman. It started with one person and that’s how we can advocate for such an organization—through one person at a time. These organizations always need volunteers, whether it’s donors contributing supplies or money, or volunteers for activities or shelters. You have to start there and work your way to bigger solutions.”
As an aspiring librarian, Nionni Permelia ’22 knows much of her job one day will involve community engagement.
“You have to know so much about literature, but you have to know so much about your community as well,” said Permelia, an English major from Battle Creek. “People might come in to a library for résumé help or to learn how to print and fax. They also might come in because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They might ask, ‘I don’t know where I can go to get fresh food. Can you help me?’ Being a librarian means you have to know a lot about everything around you so you can give people those resources.”
That idea made a Community Building Internship (CBI) this summer an ideal opportunity for her. Permelia was among the K students who worked at local organizations from AACORN Farms to the YWCA of Kalamazoo in CBIs through the Center for Civic Engagement and the Center for Career and Professional Development. The positions, offered each year, last about six to eight weeks, and interns are on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week while earning a stipend.
Permelia worked for Zoo City Farm and Food Network, a nonprofit organization founded and operated by Black women, that centers Black women’s voices and experiences while designing a comprehensive, responsible and sustainable food-industry ecosystem that is beneficial for everyone. In other words, they want everyone to have access to fresh, healthful food regardless of who they are and their economic status.
“Fresh food should be a human right for everyone,” Permelia said.
On a regional level, the organization nurtures food sovereignty by expanding food systems literacy in communities that have little to no education on the food ecosystem, primarily in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Outside Michigan, Zoo City wants to make its model accessible for communities across the country. While its model is designed with Kalamazoo and Battle Creek in mind, the organization welcomes partnerships with cities around the U.S. that could benefit from initiatives that champion food sovereignty.
“In the inner city of Battle Creek, there are no grocery stores. Battle Creek sits in a food desert,” Permelia said. “My work with Zoo City and their Food and Farm Network helps them create a framework for how places like Battle Creek could eliminate their droughts in food systems.”
Permelia used her writing skills to develop email templates for Zoo City that will allow the organization to approach volunteers about its initiatives and how they can help. One of those initiatives helps farmers and small businesses sell the food they make at a farmer’s market in Kalamazoo.
“Zoo City purchases the booth, and local businesses who might not be able to pay for their own booth take it over,” Permelia said. “The community gets access to fresh food that way, and hopefully, the businesses and farmers will have more people visiting them outside the booth.”
Permelia also performed research for the organization’s Zoo Syndicate, a visual editorial that will show local residents how food is connected to everything.
“I helped them do research on graffiti art and urban interventionism, which are very different to, yet very similar to Zoo City’s core values,” she said. “Graffiti art connects to their initiative of urban farming because it usually happens on vacant property. The idea is that even vacant parking lots can become safe places for neighborhood activities. Instead of figuring out how we can make money off of it by developing houses the neighborhood can’t afford, why not grow food there? It might prevent higher taxes and living costs that make the neighborhood unlivable because people can’t afford it anymore.”
As a result, in addition to the job experience relatable to her future career and the opportunity to be involved in the community, Permelia learned about the administrative roles of people such as Zoo City co-founder Remi Harrington, making the internship beneficial on multiple levels.
“I thought I might be gardening and growing food, but I got to see the admin side of things,” she said. “That inspired me. I saw how people’s ideas to help others can actually come to life. It was amazing to see people like Remi writing all of her plans on a board, before I got to go to a farmer’s market or neighborhood event to see it happen. It was amazing to see it come to fruition.”
She adds, “I’d never worked for an organization owned by Black women before, which is really sad, yet this showed that I could have an opportunity to do it. Getting to see a Black-women led organization helped me to realize that I am also able to bring my writings and ideas to life. Not only that, but it’s possible for me to lead. It’s possible for all Black women to lead and see their imagination become reality. Remi has so many beautiful ideas for Zoo City. I am so happy we all get to witness her work and continue to see her vision unfold.”
Stella Young, a junior political science major, was just one of the Kalamazoo College students who had planned to study abroad during the 2020-21 academic year. When the pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, she was disappointed.
“Study abroad was one of my deciding factors in coming to K,” she said. “I was supposed to go to Madrid for six months.”
Regardless, K’s Center for Career and Professional Development, along with faculty and staff from around campus, provided a thoughtful alternative. Collectively, they developed a series of internships for 20 juniors, including five who worked through CCPD Assistant Director for External Relations Valerie Miller, giving them practical career experience in addition to a credit-granting class.
“I think the students had phenomenal experiences typical of internships,” Miller said. “They didn’t know what to expect and they had some doubts going in. Then they developed some skills and started to understand the work environment better. By the end, each one of them seemed to feel pretty confident about what they accomplished.”
Alumni Connections Critical
According to Miller, alumni were key in setting up the internships her cohort of students wanted. Young, for example, worked with Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that encourages young adults to participate in the election process, which is led by Carolyn DeWitt ’04.
“I wanted to go on study abroad to meet new people and make new connections,” Young said. “I think I did that with this program.”
Young became a valuable asset to her 15 internship colleagues from across the country as she worked on several projects, including one that helped Iowa voters understand issues and where candidates stood on them in Senate races.
“I hopped on projects as staff members needed help,” she said. “I did a lot of research and data entry leading up to the election, and after, I worked with voters who had questions about results. I knew going into this I wanted to work with a nonprofit and this was an opportunity to put what I’ve been learning in the classroom into action. I hope to stay involved as a volunteer because they’re doing really important work.”
Navigating Health Care
Aramide Apo-Oyin ’22, however, independently found her internship serving heart-failure patients through Aurora Advocate Health in Chicago, via a nonprofit patient-support program offered through its hospital.
“The program is basically a volunteer initiative that helps patients and their families navigate the health care system,” she said, adding she commonly helped patients schedule follow-up care, understand their dietary needs and seek the exercise and activity they needed. “It provides them with the literacy they need, and helps navigate any barriers to their care.”
Apo-Oyin noted the program didn’t necessarily have a specific target audience, but it’s easy to spot trends in the health care system when working with people from many backgrounds.
“So even though we don’t say we’re only helping people who have the fewest resources, we often find they’re the people who need our help the most due to language barriers with their care team in the hospital, being uninsured and not knowing how to enroll into government assistance programs like Medicaid or Medicare, and not having a support system at home to help with transportation to appointments and overall support.”
As a result, the transition support program Apo-Oyin represented commonly assisted people without insurance or those who needed more support than just immediate care.
“We have connections and the relationships that can really help us to assist the communities that need our help. This program is about helping the patients heal and live with their diagnosis. I feel like that happens with more than just the medicine and the procedures doctors do. That’s our role and that’s why I chose to go into it.”
A Happy Ending
In moving forward, both students credited the campus partners for creating programs that tied well with their career goals while developing experiences that made their fall term valuable despite the absence of study abroad.
“I definitely want to use these services more in the future,” Young said of Miller and the CCPD. “She was great in finding a position that I really wanted. I would definitely recommend that people go to the CCPD when they want some off-campus experience—it helped broaden our horizons.”CCP
An additional group of students, whose interests could be connected with environmental opportunities, worked with the Center for Environmental Stewardship and Director Sara Stockwood.
“I think it’s been a valuable experience for everyone, even if they didn’t go on study abroad,” Stockwood said of the students who worked for organizations such as the Kalamazoo Watershed Council, the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association and Sarett Nature Center.
“The students I’ve talked to said they’ve wanted to get an internship before, they just weren’t sure how to make it fit in their academic plan,” she said. “But when this class came up it fit well and it matched their class schedule. It was a challenge for them to figure out how to work virtually, and some of them felt a little lost at first, yet they gained the skills they needed to figure it out. I think that will help them in their classes and future jobs, especially if they have virtual components.”
Amanda Dow, a biology major, worked with Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association (MLSA), which is a statewide nonprofit that unites individuals; lake, stream and watershed associations; organizations; and corporations that share an interest the preserving inland lakes and streams for generations to come. Her work experience included writing newsletter articles highlighting the organization’s virtual convention this year, contributing to its printed articles, and reformatting and updating several brochures.
“I have a background in writing so this was a good chance for me to practice in different mediums,” Dow said. “I wrote a review of the convention sessions along with a biography of myself for the newsletter. They also come out with a newspaper and the biggest chunk of my internship went to updating and reformatting their brochures. It helped a lot that when I first got there I could choose what I wanted to do.”
Andrew Wright, a German and biology major, said he felt a little directionless with where he wanted to apply his majors professionally after graduation, until he interned with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. The organization aims to protect, preserve and promote the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries for current area residents and future generations.
“Through developing a new interactive digital dashboard with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council members, my work will help users see the different types of chemical contaminants in the Kalamazoo area and how they affect the types of fish here,” Wright said. “Following the motto of the Watershed, we want to make that information as accessible as possible so people can learn how their communities’ ecosystems have been impacted. The Kalamazoo River has unfortunately suffered its fair share of PCB runoff from paper mills and oil spills, and we want to create ways for people to be knowledgeable and be mindful of how we affect our surrounding environments.”
Natalie Barber, a biology major and psychology minor, joined Wright in working for the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. She researched fresh water mussels, which filter small organic particles such as bacteria and algae out of lakes and streams, naturally purifying them. Part of that environmental research involved interviewing Daelyn Woolnough, a Central Michigan University biology faculty member and freshwater mussels expert, leading to website content and social media posts for the watershed council.
With K’s academic schedule, it was important to Barber that she could undertake the internship as a part of her term and she hopes more students at the College will have the same opportunity.
“It’s important we know the effects of global warming and climate change and how they threaten mussels,” Barber said. “We especially have those threats in Kalamazoo because we had the paper mills that put all the PCBs in the water, plus we had the 2010 oil spill. Just knowing about those bigger issues, and also the lesser-known issues like invasive species, which is a big deal to freshwater mussels. Things the general public might not realize are such a big deal like moving boats from lake to lake without cleaning them, that’s important information we should share so we can protect the organisms within our areas. I felt like I was doing something positive toward my career goals. I think these internships should be offered every term because I thought mine was that useful.”
To conclude the class and their environmental internships, each student provided a final visual presentation with screenshots and pictures from their projects. Stockwood said students each had about three minutes to present what they did, what they learned and why it matters.
“They took it very seriously and it was fun because the students didn’t fully know what everybody else was doing,” she said. “They found a lot of similarities in their experiences over time with being lost in the beginning, independently working and having some ownership by the second half of their projects. I hope something like this will continue. It’s important to recognize that it’s not study abroad, but I think the experience was valuable, and I think the students feel it was valuable, too.”
When study abroad stayed on pause this fall, Kalamazoo College faculty and staff got creative. In a short period of time, they developed positive, educational experiences for many of the juniors who expected to spend time in another country, showing the strength of the College’s relationships with its external partners.
“Our challenge partly was to identify what students could do to engage with our international partners and folks off campus, but the question was what that would look like,” Center for International Programs Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft said. “It took working with our partners to see what would be possible.”
Five of those juniors, in fact, still had a chance to learn about another culture in working at virtual international internships with K partners overseas. Addissyn House, Ella Knight and Julia Bienstock are working with the Universidad de Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain, writing articles on current events from a U.S. perspective; and Reyna Rodriguez and Maricruz Jimenez-Mora are teaching English as a second language to people in San Jose, Costa Rica.
‘The Perfect Internship’
For House, Knight and Bienstock, this meant working virtually on a weekly basis with Gemma Delicado, an associate dean and study abroad director, on producing articles for the December issue of Vice Versa, a publication from the Universidad de Extremadura Humanities College, similar to an academic journal.
“A lot of students come to K because of study abroad,” Bienstock said. “It’s a big part of the K-Plan. It was disappointing not to study abroad. However, getting this internship opportunity was a positive thing because we’re going to have to navigate this pandemic for a while, which made the experience really powerful.”
Wiedenhoeft compared their experience to a virtual version of the integrated cultural research project (ICRP) that students would normally write while reflecting on their study abroad experience. House described it as the perfect internship for her.
“My goal was to immerse myself in Spanish, which was what I intended to do on study abroad, and I think we’ve done that to the best of our abilities,” House said. “We’re learning to read and write Spanish at a different level than what we could in school. It’s especially different because we’re online and collaborating a lot more. We can see where Gemma’s making edits, and she can explain why she makes them. I didn’t know that would come out of this experience.”
The topics the students write about include current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the U.S. presidential election, and the virtual format helps them understand such events from a Spanish perspective. The takeaway remains a cultural immersion that most interns elsewhere will never receive.
“It was disappointing not to study abroad, but this has been enriching in other ways,” Knight said. “It shows that no matter what happens, there’s hope that another opportunity will come along. I hadn’t written articles like this before for a Spanish audience and I’m learning new ways to talk about and teach culture.”
‘I See Myself in These Students’
For Rodriguez and Jimenez-Mora, an international internship meant teaching English to Costa Rican high school students.
K’s study abroad program has connections to Skills for Life, a Costa Rican government initiative targeting bilingualism among citizens for the sake of higher education and better employment. Within that program, Project Boomerang—a reference to volunteers giving back—helps high school students expand their English skills.
Rodriguez was excited for her chance to volunteer through her internship because she struggled to learn English as a child after moving to the Chicago area from Mexico.
“I came home crying because I couldn’t understand my teacher because she seemed to be speaking English so fast,” she said. “I see myself in these students. I know if they’re passionate enough, they’ll be able to succeed. I love the concept of the program because it means I’m giving back.”
Rodriguez typically teaches virtual classes of one to six students three times a week. The students have studied English for at least four years and can read it and write it well. Some even study additional languages. The program, though, provides the students with a stipend as they build their conversation skills on topics such as ice breakers, feelings, cuisine, culture and traditions.
Her fellow volunteers are from countries such as Korea, Brazil and the Netherlands. They all know at least some Spanish, and she and Jimenez-Mora speak it fluently.
“I think students really appreciate that we can speak Spanish because they’re able to ask questions in Spanish if necessary,” she said. “English can be difficult. The context you use and the conjugation can sometimes trip them up.”
Rodriguez has prior experience with teaching as a third-grade language arts assistant at El Sol Elementary in Kalamazoo through CCE. She doesn’t expect to pursue teaching professionally, although the internship has helped her build other job-related skills and she’s grateful for them.
“When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “As I’ve seen it growing up, teaching has been a passion. I don’t think it will be a career path, but this helps me see it will be something I pursue in my own time. Professionally, I’ve been able to communicate better with people just by learning how to say things differently. My time management has improved, and I think my creativity has improved as I’ve made my lesson plans and shifted them from elementary to high school students.”
Setbacks Create Opportunities
Although less than ideal with the pandemic, these opportunities have shown that K can channel its relationships abroad to create further opportunities for these students and others.
“It was our relationships with our international partners that really factored into our ability to develop this programming for students,” Wiedenhoeft said. “We try very seriously to nurture these relationships and these internships are the fruit of that. I think these students have demonstrated an ability to adapt to ambiguity and manage understanding how expectations can change, and can change based on a cultural perspective.”
Kaitlyn Dexter ’22 has fond childhood memories of going to the polls with her dad on past election days in Duluth, Minnesota. She would even get a chance to fill out a children’s sample ballot and receive an “I voted” sticker.
“Voting was always a normal thing to me,” she said. “Then I remember having our first Black president. That was a big deal to me even though I was only about 8 years old. Then we had a woman on a major ticket. These were important steps that developed my interest in politics.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Dexter, a junior at Kalamazoo College, continues building on that interest while empowering others to vote. She’s a political science major and worked this term as a virtual engagement assistant for K Votes, a non-partisan coalition that informs students, faculty and staff about participating in elections. Also, in prior years, she was a volunteer for K Votes.
Dexter credits people such as Emily Kowey ’17, who oversees K Votes for the College’s Center for Civic Engagement, and her fellow students for boosting voter participation at K.
“We know that voting is not the only way to get things done but it is a really important way,” Dexter said. “I think that we’ve done a good job making it more accessible, especially for students.”
As a result, when Dexter set her sights on securing an internship recently, she approached the City of Duluth about possible roles she could play related to the presidential election.
“When I talked to them, they didn’t have an internship set up, and they weren’t sure they wanted to take the time to do so,” Dexter said. “Then, the pandemic hit.”
The pandemic left Duluth, a city of more than 85,000 people and about 50,000 registered voters, with no doubt that it would need help managing requests for absentee ballots and handling the ballots themselves. Plus, Dexter knew she would be in her hometown as absentee ballots were received and on November 3 for the general election with the fall term at K being virtual.
Dexter and Duluth city officials sensed an opportunity.
“I think they saw that it would be helpful for them to have another person and then helpful for me to have firsthand experience,” Dexter said.
Ultimately, Dexter spent six to seven hours a day sending out thousands of packets that allowed registered voters to apply for an absentee ballot. After Duluth received about 26,000 absentee ballot requests, she helped respond to the demand by mailing the ballots themselves. Receiving them back involved checking numbers and signatures on personal identification envelopes.
Two weeks before the election, Minnesota officials could start counting ballots. At that time and through Election Day, Dexter helped open the ballots and send them to the St. Louis County Courthouse, where votes officially were counted. This made her an important part of the 2020 presidential election for the people of her hometown. Now, as states certify their election results, remember the village of employees and volunteers—including Dexter—who braved the pandemic’s dangers to ensure each vote would be counted.
“When the pandemic hit, I didn’t want to put myself at risk, but I wanted to do as much as I could to help,” Dexter said. “I knew that at City Hall they would have COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing, so this was a way to safely help. It was the best way that I could make a difference.
“Voting is an avenue we have to make things better in society. It was exciting to see the inside of what goes on in the government at the local level and witness the process.”
She says that while she was a basketball player in high school, she went to the community gym in her Detroit suburb daily during the summer to practice her jump shot. One day, however, an employee of the Detroit Pistons NBA team told her she would have to leave because the courts were reserved for a team-run youth basketball program.
“I started to pack up but then I looked around and saw they were way understaffed for the event they were going to hold,” she recalls. “So I went back up to the guy and I offered my assistance. He took me up on the offer and I helped set up chairs, run the scoreboard, that sort of thing, and helped to clean up when it was over.”
After the event, she says, the employee chatted with her and ended up offering her a summer job at the Pistons’ youth basketball camp.
Along the way, she got to meet Pistons players including Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson and people in the team’s corporate office. So when it came time to seek an internship in summer 2017, she was well-situated to apply to the Pistons. She worked in community relations and marketing for the team, conceiving a career forum for girls 9 to 16 and then running every aspect of the event, which included presenting a panel of college basketball players and women business leaders.
That, in turn, set her up for this summer’s internship. With the help of K’s Center for Career and Professional Development and with advice from her professors, the economics and business major applied for the highly competitive program and was one of 50 students chosen from a pool of 6,000. She’s working in the retail division of the NBA’s Global Partnerships Department, which manages all aspects of the league’s relationship with companies including Nike, New Era, Foot Locker and Amazon.
That relationship includes activities such as licensing the sale of NBA-branded merchandise, arranging for advertising on NBA TV, approving the use of the NBA logo in social media messages and arranging player appearances at partner businesses, she says. Her role has been mainly in research. One assignment tasked her with finding out everything she could about how the NBA could work with Target Corp., and she says she discovered a natural fit in both organizations’ emphasis on supporting community voluntarism—a synergy around which her boss now is building a partnership program.
She says her K education has given her a real advantage in her role, especially a business research methods course that prepares students for their Senior Individualized Project (SIP). Business and economics professor Timothy Moffit ’80 put a heavy emphasis on identifying information sources in research papers, so in a PowerPoint presentation to NBA professionals, she says, she included a final slide listing all of her sources—about 30, and many of them recognizable names.
She says it helped cement the credibility and validity of her proposal. “They were really impressed. It’s not something that they were expecting.”
A Chinese minor who studied abroad in China during the 2017-18 school year, Moss also has had a chance to use her language skills, aiding her boss in a conference call with the NBA office in China, she says. And content- and video-editing skills she learned in a documentary filmmaking course have turned out to be in high demand, as well.
“Every day is a new day at the league,” she says. “You have to be very multidimensional. Part of the Kalamazoo College liberal arts experience is being able to study multiple subjects because the K-Plan is so flexible.”
With the experience gained in her internships, and a planned SIP contrasting consumer perceptions of professional sports in the United States and China, she hopes to land a corporate job in international sports after graduation. Her ultimate goal—“really just a dream” at this point, she says—would be to start a nonprofit venture that uses sports to connect with and empower Chinese girls.
“I was adopted from China, and when I went to my study abroad in China, I got to volunteer coach in some of the schools, and there was a huge absence of girls in all of the basketball programs,” she says, adding that Chinese girls get little encouragement to participate in team sports in general.
In another effort to help people achieve their goals, she is teaming with fellow Kalamazoo College athletesAlex Dupree ’21 and Jordan Wiley ’19 to form a sports business club for K students that will aid them in charting their way to careers in sports-oriented businesses and link them with alumni in the field.
Her effort to create what she calls “new channels and opportunities” for her classmates echoes what she says is her goal on the lacrosse field and basketball court: “to play for my teammates and make great memories.”
Moss’ enthusiasm and cooperative yet competitive spirit wins high praise from K physical education professor and coach Jeanne Hess.
“Amanda is one of the most committed players and teammates I’ve seen come through Kalamazoo College,” Hess says. “She plays with passion and ferocity and she’s fun to watch. She’s going to do great things.”
“I think I’ve always had it in the back of my mind,” he says. “But that was when I really started to pursue it and decide it was what I wanted to do.”
The Hornet football offensive lineman’s ambition is well known to Head Coach Jamie Zorbo ’00, who mentors his players both on and off the field. In keeping with the emphasis in the K-Plan on experiential education, Zorbo nominated Bez for the NCAA Career in Sports Forum at the NCAA’s national office in Indianapolis in late May and early June 2018.
Bez was one of just 240 juniors and seniors chosen from more than 460,000 U.S. collegiate athletes to attend the all-expenses-paid forum, which the NCAA says is designed to assist them in charting their career paths as athletics professionals.
Over four days, he got to meet coaches, athletic directors and athletic staff from colleges and universities across the nation.
“It was all networking and workshops: how to make a better resume, different ways to connect with people, more information about the different careers in athletics, and particularly college athletics,” he says. “There were so many things we learned how to do and learned more about.”
The history major and political science minor says the biggest benefit may have been meeting fellow college athletes who will be among his future professional peers.
“Initially a lot of us went there with the idea that we were going to try to meet people in a position we want to be in. So a lot of us were trying to network with the people who have jobs,” he says. “And by the end, we all realized it was way more important to network with our peers, to try to get to know them. For example, I want to coach, and I met a guy who wants to be an athletic director. So we got to talking, and I was like, ‘Down the road, maybe one day, we’ll cross paths and you’ll get to hire me.’ ”
Bez, who is spending the summer as an intern in the Michigan State University athletic director’s office, says the biggest takeaway from the conference was “you have to build genuine relationships with people. If they just know your name, that’s not really enough. You have to know who people are and they have to know you in order for that to be a productive relationship. For both of you it has to be genuine.”
That’s the sort of relationship he—and, he says, his teammates—have with Zorbo.
“I’ve been pretty lucky that I’ve gotten to be around Coach a lot during my time at K,” he says. “Whether it’s calling me into his office to have an extended conversation or just encountering something and him saying, ‘Hey, if you want to be a coach, this is what you need to know,’ I’ve had a pretty in-depth relationship with him.”
He says Zorbo’s off-field efforts for his players also include making sure they get to know K football alumni who can help them in their athletic and academic pursuits.
“Through Coach, I’ve been able to build my own network and have these people who share a commonality with me,” Bez says.
With Zorbo’s example, he talks about coaching not in terms of wins and losses, but as a way of making a difference in other people’s lives—and his own.
“I think the best thing about coaching is the relationships you get to build and the effect you get to have on people,” he says. “I mean, when I look back on my life, aside from my parents and family, the biggest impact on me has been my coaches. Those people shaped me to be who I am. I think that would be a spot really suited to me to have an impact on other people, but also for them to have an impact on me.”
Kalamazoo College student Peter Rossi ’18 is among the first students to take advantage of a new internship program that teaches students about the mortgage industry.
Rossi, a computer science major and music minor from Kalamazoo, is one of nine college juniors and seniors learning career skills this summer through AmeriFirst, a mortgage banker in Kalamazoo. The students, who were chosen from more than 50 applicants, work in marketing, information technology, appraisals, human resources and legal/compliance. The program began in May and continues through August.
“The work environment at AmeriFirst is extremely unique because my work is directly applicable to the company,” Rossi said. “They’re willing to value my opinions even at the highest level, which pushes me to work hard.”
Rossi’s job in information technology includes communicating with various departments around AmeriFirst to help the company build an intranet platform that suits employees’ needs. He also has duties involving business process modeling, which is a method of mapping processes to help make an organization’s workflow more effective and efficient.
Rossi said there are three divisions within IT at AmeriFirst including:
a technical-support division;
a network administration division, ensuring that servers are protected and company information is properly encrypted; and
Rossi’s division, which offers a mix of continuous improvement and project management.
“There are a lot of departments that have interns, but the IT department has a way of making every day interesting and fun,” Rossi said. “We really go out of our way to interact and have a good time.”
A weekly lunch-and-learn program encourages community and builds cohesiveness among the interns across departments. During these 60-minute sessions, members of senior management provide industry and life-skills education along with overviews of their respective areas of expertise. A recent highlight included a session with Chief Executive Officer Mark Jones, who shared his passion and business philosophy with the students, who appreciated his time.
“AmeriFirst is going out of its way to see that young talent stays here, which I think is amazing,” said Rossi, a Loy Norrix High School graduate, Heyl Scholar and a member of K’s swimming and diving team. He added he hopes he can take the experiences he has gained so far and continue to be successful moving forward.
Before launching the internship program, AmeriFirst Staff Recruiter Kelly McConnell and coworker Nicole Waterbury connected with local college career departments, including K’s Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD), and reached out to other corporations running successful internship programs. Although Rossi first heard of the internship opportunity through a friend’s dad, he said CCPD was integral in helping him prepare his résumé and learn how to network.
Rossi said he would encourage other students thinking about the AmeriFirst program in the future to “absolutely apply. If you can get in, they really take care of you. It’s a diverse workforce, and a majority of employees are women at the home office, even among the senior leadership team. For me that creates an amazing community atmosphere that also has a young, energetic vibe.”
For more information on internships at AmeriFirst, contact McConnell at 269-324-4240, ext. 12020, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In early May, 28 Kalamazoo College students had the opportunity to share a meal on campus with eight professionals who have at least two things in common—the K-Plan and careers at the Stryker Corporation, a Kalamazoo-based Fortune 500 medical technologies firm.
The alumni returned to campus at the invitation of the Center for Career and Professional Development to meet with students who could learn about career paths at Stryker and the relevance of the K-Plan to those paths. At least 15 current Stryker employees got their undergraduate degrees at K, and both institutions are interested in strengthening the talent pipeline between the two.
The event began with a welcome by S. Si Johnson ’78, the retired group president of Stryker MedSurg Group and a current member of the College’s board of trustees. Johnson shared the four core values of Stryker—integrity, accountability, people, and performance—and reflected on how the critical thinking and problem solving skills inherent in a K education are great preparation for a career at Stryker.
After students and alumni enjoyed informal networking conversations over dinner, James N. Heath ’78, the retired president of Stryker Instruments and a member of K’s board of trustees, moderated an alumni panel that included Randy Rzeznik ’08, director of customer excellence, Neuro, Spine, ENT and Navigation; Bryce Pearson ’15, finance representative; Kevin Packard ’05, clinical marketing manager, Neuro, Spine, ENT and Navigation; and Michael Weslosky ’02, staff scientist.
Panelists reflected on their trajectories from K to Stryker and talked about the qualities of the company they find most attractive. The panelists’ K majors were varied—chemistry, economics, biology, and business—and each panelist cited the value of the work ethic instilled by the K-Plan and the 10-week term. They also stressed the importance of persistence in the pursuit of employment. Pearson, for example, shared the effort and time that was required before he secured a position at Stryker.
Heath also invited one of the students in attendance, junior Alex White, to describe the extensive process he’d gone through to secure an internship with Stryker for the upcoming summer.
Other alumni attending the event included Legal Counsel Christopher DiVirgilio ’04 and Senior IS Business Analyst Russ Hankey ’96.
Students and alumni agreed that the evening was a success and excellent preparation for the next step in the K/Stryker relationship: a half-day immersion K-Trek for selected students to the company’s headquarters in the fall.