Innovating Over Winter Break

February 23, 2015

Read reflections and see photos from some of this year's Innovate Winter Break interns, a program of the Social Innovation Initiative and Brown CareerLAB that provides two-week mini-internships during winter break at organizations dedicated to social justice, impact, and entrepreneurship in Boston and NYC.

Taproot Foundation (NYC), Natasha Blackadar ‘15

Playful professionalism. Pragmatic optimism. Progress. Impact oriented.

These words, written on a large poster in blue Sharpie, have been hanging next to my desk for the last two weeks. When I first learned about these core values of the Taproot Foundation, I couldn’t believe that an organization could possibly sound so cool. After two weeks of intensive, engaging work on a project here, I can’t imagine a better way to describe this organization.

I’ve spent the last two weeks working with the Director of Marketing here at Taproot to evaluate an annual campaign that they run every October: Pro Bono Week. In addition to that, I’ve sat it on an office-wide brainstorming meeting, an interview with a nonprofit applying for a pro bono service grant, and heard presentations from all of Taproot’s departments about what they do and why they do it. I had never really worked at a nonprofit before, and all of this information was interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

However, when I attended the intern networking event that the CareerLAB hosted for us here in New York last week, I was somewhat dismayed to realize that I was the only senior participating in this program. “Am I behind?” I wondered, feeling worried that I had been slacking off during my first three winter breaks.

But now that I’m wrapping up my internship, I can look back on the skills I gained and the connections I made and know that, as a senior, this was probably one of the smartest ways I could have spent my final winter break, before I start my last semester at Brown and begin a daunting task--the job search. I’m glad I was able to participate in Innovate Winter Break, and more specifically, to be at Taproot, which has really opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities available in the nonprofit sector.

Generation Citizen (Boston), Monica-Ann Mendoza ‘17

This winter break, I worked with Generation Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing our nation’s democracy by encouraging teens to become more politically involved. GC’s core program sends college students into middle and high school classrooms, where they facilitate the development of civic skills and knowledge. The highlight of the program is that each class ultimately applies their learning to the real world. Students collaborate to select a community issue they care about, develop a plan to address the issue, and take action.
As an Impact Assessment Intern, I contributed to GC’s monitoring and evaluation efforts. Twice each semester, GC surveys participating middle and high school students, their teachers, and the college volunteers. GC uses these surveys, which involve both quantitative and qualitative indicators, to determine the strengths of their program and where improvements should be made.
I spent a large part of my internship analyzing student surveys, which are distributed before and after students go through the curriculum. As I compared the two sets of surveys, it was great to see that many students ended with an increased understanding of government processes, as well as higher motivation to be more civically involved. What was most exciting for me, though, was seeing that GC’s impact extended well past civic engagement. From reading responses such as “GC taught me that I have a voice” and “GC showed me that I can make a difference,” I knew that GC equipped students with leadership skills and confidence that would be valuable in all aspects of their lives.
I loved working for GC since day one, but after seeing students’ positive feedback, I finished my internship feeling even more excited about my experience. It was tremendously fulfilling knowing that the work I was contributing to was truly impacting students’ lives.

Eye to Eye (NYC), Lainie Rowland ‘17

Returning to the Eye to Eye office felt like a homecoming. After working at the organization last January through Brown’s Innovate Winter Break program, my 2015 return was heralded with welcoming hugs, warm exclamations, and even an exuberant high five. Once again, I was thrown right into their operations and was asked to undertake a relevant and meaningful project.
A mentoring program for children with learning differences, Eye to Eye is on the forefront of the movement to eradicate the stigma attached to learning disabilities and to empower those who learn differently. Through art-based projects, college and high school mentors help elementary school mentees gain self-esteem and self-advocacy skills while showing them how to see their learning difference in a positive light.
In my role, I examined how C​hief E​mpowerment O​fficer and Brown alum David Flink’s recent book, Thinking Differently, could be used not just as a valuable resource for parents and allies, but as a catalyst for movement growth. The book tells Dave’s story of his life experience with a learning difference – from struggling in school early on, to embracing his differences, graduating from Brown, and launching Eye to Eye. The book encourages others to tell their own stories and I sought to find ways to amplify these stories. After all, Flink writes, “we are in the business of telling stories.” What better way to propel a movement than by the power of its members’ own experiences?
At the end of my two weeks, I gave a presentation to highlight new materials I put together and recommendations that I gathered. Though I’m certainly not (yet) accustomed to presenting powerpoints in conference rooms full of adults, doing so was a high point of my experience. Being able to provide an outside perspective and put my analytical and research skills to good use was exciting and rewarding. Knowing that my work could help guide Eye to Eye in the future made it even more so.

Below: Innovate Winter Break interns compiled photos and captions that best represented their internship experience.