By Mary Helen Randall
Thanks to the fact that each year, 75% of Rhodes students complete internships and fellowships throughout Memphis, the college considers the city a laboratory for learning. Students apply their classroom knowledge to such areas as business, finance, health care or nonprofits and in return, gain real-world experience from top-notch mentors.
In the health care arena, for example, the Rhodes St. Jude Summer Plus Program places eight qualified students, or fellows, with scientists in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s professional laboratories for a period of one summer, one academic year and a possible second summer. It’s an intensive research experience where the fellows become fully engaged citizens in the scientific community of St. Jude, a worldclass clinical and research facility for pediatric patients.
Students do independent research, participate in lectures, group meetings and on-site discussions, and present their work at local, national and international venues. Many pursue advanced degrees in medicine and the sciences. There is also an international Summer Plus experience available to Rhodes students with St. Jude in Santiago, Chile. What’s more, Rhodes students enjoy internships at ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities), the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Reinforcing the close relationship between the college and the hospital is Dr. William Evans, director and CEO of St. Jude, who serves on the Rhodes Board of Trustees.
On the business side, Rhodes has had a long and successful relationship with FedEx. Andrew Russell, manager of International Solutions at the overnight delivery giant, has placed more than 100 Rhodes students in domestic and international internships at various locations for more than 15 years. At the personal level, he mentors them, supervising at least one every semester in international-related positions at his Memphis office, for which he routinely receives rave reviews. In recognition of Russell’s service to Rhodes, in 2010, he received the Algenon Sydney Sullivan Award for giving selflessly to others and the college.
While FedEx and St. Jude are among the college’s long-term internship partners, there are dozens of others. Here’s just a sample of what some students are doing in other areas.
Jake Long ’14
“Every college tries to sell you on how beautiful their campus is, so I’d heard that already and was pretty immune to it, but when my family and I drove through the gates of Rhodes, I have to admit I was stunned,” says 20-year-old sophomore Jacob Long. “When I saw the architecture and the grounds, my temporary love affairs with other schools were over,” he laughs. “After the admission talks I was completely sold. I had been through many, and they can get pretty tedious. Not so here. There was passion in what the professors and students said that was lacking elsewhere. I did an overnight campus stay, and when my parents picked me up the next day there was a silent understanding between us that this was the place. They knew it too, as they had spent a considerable amount of money at the bookstore already and bought pretty much everything that had ‘Rhodes’ printed on it!”
Long, coming from the town of Pontiac, IL, population 10,000, knew nothing about the South before his move to Memphis, and though it took some adjusting —“I’d never heard anyone actually use the word ‘ya’ll’ before in my life!”— he threw himself into campus life with gusto. A star of the Lynx baseball team, he also writes for the Sou’wester student newspaper and is an enthusiastic Rhodes College Diplomat, giving tours to potential students and visitors, along with those heartfelt speeches that helped sell him during his visit. His love of the campus and the students is why he became a Resident Assistant (RA) in a freshman residence hall. He was recently named head RA. “I like to think that RAs are the first line of defense to help new students get the best experience possible at Rhodes. I like to help the shier students become involved with activities and their fellow classmates,” he says. “Some people are just quiet and they like it that way, and I don’t try to change that or force anything on them. I just want everyone to be comfortable with where they are and who they live with.”
Once fully immersed in campus life, Long was ready to see what the city itself had to offer. “Sandi seemed pretty surprised to see a rising sophomore in her office seeking a summer internship,” laughs Long. “But the thought of a summer without some sort of involvement was almost scary to me.”
He’s referring to Sandi George Tracy, who has held the position of Career Services director at Rhodes for almost 20 years. Tracy has the critical task of matching students with internship opportunities at businesses and nonprofits around the city, and has a keen eye and almost sixth sense when it comes to knowing what will make a good fit for both student and organization.
After discussing his goals with Tracy, he found himself with a position at the local NBC news affiliate WMCTV, Channel 5. “Sandi really knows what she’s doing and it was a great match from day one. The assistant news director asked me what my interests were, and being a Political Science major with a Film Studies minor, I naturally wanted to explore that but was also open to seeing what else was out there, so I was sent out with various reporters to see them in action.
“It was very hands-on, that’s for sure. On my second day there, I was sent out with a news camera to cover a murder trial. The case ended in the death penalty, and it was a real-life experience if there ever was one,” recalls Long. “I loved being part of the team covering such a big story.”
During his months with WMC, Long has been exposed to parts of the city and its people that even some Memphians have never experienced. “Covering everything from sports to crime and other major news events really helped me sink my teeth into the city. I got to help write the stories and now am even more interested in political journalism.”
His time with the station has helped Long channel his academic interests, while giving him a unique appreciation for the city he now calls home. “There is something fantastic about Memphis, a mojo of sorts and I can’t exactly put my finger on. It’s just a place that accepts everyone. There is culture and diversity, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I chosen to go somewhere other than Rhodes and Memphis,” Long says. “It’s a perfect combination: If you have an interest in something, Rhodes will find a way to get you involved in it. That kind of commitment to students isn’t found just anywhere.”
Carson Duffy ’12
Long isn’t the only Rhodes student whose interest in politics and what makes cities tick has been fostered by the college’s internship and fellowship programs. Carson Duffy, a senior from Charlotte, NC, was, like most high school seniors, struggling with choosing the right college. After a campus visit, Rhodes was high on the list, but when she was offered a Bonner Scholarship, a service-based scholarship requiring hundreds of hours of community service, Duffy knew Rhodes was the right choice. The Urban Studies major with a minor in Education was drawn immediately to the Rhodes setting in the heart of the city.
“Rhodes is very much a part of the community, and its dedication to service and helping the city thrive was an instant draw,” she says. In addition to taking on Rhodes’ challenging academic curriculum, Duffy was just as interested in seeing what difference she could make outside the campus gates. Her freshman summer she returned to North Carolina and interned with A Child’s Place, a nonprofit whose mission is to help homeless families with elementary-school-aged children. “It was eye-opening, to put it mildly,” she admits. “It redefined what being homeless meant to me. When children are involved, you have to work through the parents, and the best way to do that is to connect them with the right resources for them. The children are so receptive. They are just like other children in that they crave love and attention and need to be taken care of. When a child is hungry or tired because he or she slept in a shelter or worse the night before, it makes learning impossible, and the cycle of poverty is perpetuated when children don’t get a basic education.”
The other lesson learned that summer? “How to listen to people. I learned not to approach a situation like I have all the answers, because I don’t. But listening is the first step and sometimes, it’s all the families are interested in.”
Last semester, Duffy had an internship at Youth Villages, part of a national network that helps children and their families in difficult circumstances. It sparked her interest in community development and how people as a society relate to one another, as well as her interest in how best to serve teenaged parents. “The kids I worked with at Youth Villages are the same kids I worked with at A Child’s Place, but 10 years more grown up,” she observes. Of course, she’s speaking figuratively, but it drives home the point that without help and guidance, the cycle of poverty and misfortune will continue throughout one’s life. “Many days I think that the people outside of Rhodes’ walls are the ones giving me the real education,” she says. “I see firsthand what the challenges and issues are and then come to class and learn big-picture theories and strategies to help. It’s a dual education, and I can’t imagine that this sort of opportunity, the experiences that I’ve had, would have happened anywhere but Rhodes, and Memphis. The question I ask myself is, what do I want service to look like at Rhodes in the future? Working with the student volunteer Kinney Program has allowed me the opportunity to help shape that vision.”
Before her internship at Youth Villages, she brought her summer experience gained at A Child’s Place back to Memphis and set about putting it to use immediately. Serving as a program coordinator for the Mentoring and Education area of the Kinney Program, Duffy was challenged to pair students who wish to volunteer with the right opportunities. “If someone has a negative experience with community service the first time, then they won’t try again. Placement is key in volunteer retention,” says Duffy. “My goal was to place as many students in the community as possible, connecting an individual with an organization or cause they can relate to and understand. Sadly, some think that volunteering is serving a few hours at a soup kitchen. That is painful to me to think about, because it’s not how service should be approached.”
Duffy has a clear vision and understanding of what makes service and volunteerism work, and the key, she says, is a systems-based approach. “At the core, it’s all about stepping back and looking at the big picture: how we connect to one another as individuals and as a society. Once we understand that, everything becomes more clear—what our roles are and our places are, and then there is a more, I guess you could say holistic approach to the challenge.”
As a co-coordinator for Kinney Community Services, Duffy oversees a group of 24 students, with two students assigned to a specific aspect of the program, of which education, health care and mentoring are at the top of the list. “These areas are the most popular with volunteers.” Says Duffy, who, with her determination and ability to grasp the bigger picture in the need-to-giving scope, is making a measurable difference on campus and beyond. This year, she has focused on strengthening relationships with Kinney’s community partners, including the MED, the Regional Medical Center at Memphis; the Church Health Center, which provides medical services for the working poor; Big Brothers Big Sisters; BRIDGES youth leadership program; Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, which oversees Memphis’ 4,500-acre urban park; and Revolutions Community Bicycle Bike Shop, which provides affordable and reliable bicycles to all Memphians. Volunteers also mentor and tutor students at Snowden, Cypress and Springdale Elementary schools. Duffy’s efforts are paying off in measurable ways. At this year’s Memphis Community Service day there were more than 300 students—more than double the number of participants in years past.
Time Well Invested
Justin Lee ’13
For Memphian Justin Lee, Rhodes had been more of an attraction, a part of his hometown that was in the periphery, than a potential contender in the college game. “I’d been on campus before when the college hosted our high school’s Model United Nations competition, but at the time I was all about the competition, and didn’t pay much attention to where it was being held,” says Lee. He’d planned to attend an East Coast school before Rhodes came calling with a Dean’s Scholarship. That, coupled with a second scholarship and a grant, combined to cover his tuition. “It was an incredible offer and my family and I were very aware of just how lucky I was,” smiles Lee. So he visited the campus, seeing it not for the first time, but with fresh eyes. “That’s when it hit me. This place is pretty spectacular. There is a real sense of drive and a true desire to learn that become evident the more time you spend around the students and the professors.”
Lee was clear about one thing from the beginning though: his interest in business. He’d grown up working in his family’s jewelry business, which he continued to do through his sophomore year. He then began to look around for opportunities in the community. And so it was off for a meeting with Sandi George Tracy. “When I saw Morgan Keegan on the list, I knew that was where I wanted to be. It has such a huge reputation and incredible name recognition. I interviewed and was lucky enough to get the job,” he says. “I love to talk about my work there but I’m pretty cautious as to what I can really say about it—that’s one of the things you learn very quickly at an investment firm.”
What he can say about his time there is all positive.
Lee’s internship was in the equity research division, and for the uninitiated in the complex world of finance, Lee is happy to translate. “I worked with a team compiling and conducting research on various companies within our sector, and that research in turn would help investors in their decisions to either buy, sell or hold on to a stock.” And that, he says, is really all he can say on the specifics of his work. However, he does speak freely about his admiration for the company’s willingness to give back to the city, and those young students so willing to learn the trade.
Prior to working with Morgan Keegan, Lee held a similar position with ServiceMaster, working in financial planning and analysis. His work helped the company’s higher-ups determine which parts of the multifaceted corporation needed what resources, and what funding, and when. “Like Morgan Keegan, they too instilled in us the importance of being responsible citizens. We had community service challenges as a workforce, where we did things like clear brush for the Greenline to plant trees at Shelby Farms.”
By the Numbers
Kajuana Pugh ’13
Junior Kajuana Pugh was born in Ohio and raised in Memphis. Much like Lee, she hadn’t considered Rhodes as an option after high school. This Germantown High School graduate was sold, however, when she visited campus and was offered a full scholarship.
“I didn’t know much about Rhodes, even though I’ve lived here for most of my life,” says Pugh. “I was impressed by the opportunities Rhodes offers its students, such as numerous study abroad programs and close ties to businesses that provide internships and fellowships. I was torn in my decision because Rhodes wasn’t at the top of my mind when I was looking at schools. My family was thrilled about the opportunity and it took me a little while to see the big picture, so to speak, but my freshman year, I understood. My professors really do care about each student and are very hands-on when it comes to learning. I appreciate that now and am so glad that I made the decision I did. Here at Rhodes, I’m challenged academically in every way—that’s how it should be—and I also get to be near my family.”
Pugh, a Business major with a minor in Chinese, had spent two summers working as a secretarial assistant at a local health care business, so when she met with Sandi George Tracy, she instantly zeroed in on the opportunity to work as one of five Rhodes ALSAC Summer Plus fellows. Pugh interns in the accounting department at ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities), the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
St. Jude, founded by the late actor and activist Danny Thomas, this year marks its 50th anniversary. Thomas was a man of vision, but it’s unlikely that when the doors of St. Jude opened in 1962, he could have envisioned that this hospital in Memphis would become a global leader in the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood illnesses. St. Jude, named for the patron saint of lost causes, now offers children from across the world a fighting chance to survive even the most daunting of diseases, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
Pugh’s first of two periods working for ALSAC (last summer and this semester) was spent “doing the math” on selected projects and areas of business within the nonprofit. “The first summer things were a bit slow, but the great thing about ALSAC is that my supervisor recognized that I was being underutilized and promised me that if and when I came back I would have a much more detailed and concrete set of duties,” she says. “I was looking forward to what was next.” True to her word, Pugh’s boss challenged her to create a format for cleaning up and reconciling account information. Pugh leaped at the task, and succeeded.
“I was asked basically to figure out a problem in the system and find a way to solve it. I’m very detail-oriented, so that appealed to me so much,” says Pugh. “The model I created is now used throughout the department. I’m so goal-oriented that when handed a job like this I really go after it. I was able to see the results of my work, and to me that is so satisfying and motivating. I’m a hard worker, but I need the work to be presented in such a way that I can recognize what I’ve done and know that it was the right way to do it,” she says. “The wonderful thing about my mentors at ALSAC is that they recognized that and in the end, we both benefited from my time there.”
After working for ALSAC, Pugh has a better grasp on just how important the work done there is. “Much like Rhodes, St. Jude was just another place that I knew was part of my hometown, but I didn’t realize just how important it is in the big picture. I get that now.”
She hopes her work and efforts will result in a full-time job once she graduates. “Working at ALSAC has been such a good fit. They are very team-oriented but at the same time my position has been very much a figure-it-out-for-yourself type of job. I’ve had the best of both words in my time there.”