School Profile: Hiatt Career Center World of Work at Brandeis

World of Work intern Preat Songphatanayothin

World of Work intern Preat Songphatanayothin (courtesy of Brandeis University)

World of Work internship funding program eliminates financial barriers for students pursuing unpaid summer internships

by KRISTIN RAWLS, Contributing Writer

The Kardashians could only dream of keeping up with “Brandesians.” A Brandesian is a proud student of Brandeis University, a private institution in Waltham, Massachusetts with a strong commitment to offering a broad liberal arts education. Since its founding by members of the American Jewish community in 1948, Brandeis has placed a premium on cultural diversity, free expression and social justice.

Joseph DuPont was first introduced to everything Brandesian four years ago, when he came onboard as Dean of the Hiatt Career Center. Because service is such an integral part of a Brandeis education, DuPont and the University set out to create a program that would support students pursuing careers in social justice. Since money (or lack thereof) is always an issue for many college students, DuPont didn’t want anyone forgoing an opportunity because of lack of funding. The result was World of Work (WOW), an internship funding program that awards $3,500 stipends to deserving students who secure service-oriented summer internships.

The WOW program immediately became popular with students, attracting a diverse range of applicants. What’s unique about WOW is its career development paradigm. The application process requires that students identify learning goals that they hope to accomplish during their summers. In addition, supervisors must submit a ‘Letter of Offer’ confirming the internship and acknowledging the student’s goals, ensuring that mutual expectations are met. Regardless if students receive the funding, they gain valuable career development skills just by completing the application.

A three-word sequence explains the core of the WOW program: explore, reflect, connect. The idea is to explore your interests and passions, reflect on your strengths and connect classroom theories to practice in real world settings.

The sky’s literally the limit, as students can construct a service internship anywhere in the world. Although help is always available, much of the time it turns out that “students had much better ideas than we did,” DuPont said. “Some of them found really cool opportunities.”

Exhibit A is junior Mangaliso Mohammed. The environmental studies and economics major returned last summer to his native Swaziland in Southeast Africa to help organize environmental action groups in local towns. While there, he worked with the Mbabane City Council to help empower individual communities to preserve and nurture their local environments. After graduation, Mohammed plans to go back and continue the work he started.

Another example is Vicky Negus, who graduates this May. She worked as a human rights research intern with Community Legal Services in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Negus was able to experience the inside machinations of the world of immigration law. Working hands-on with clients seeking human rights asylum in the U.S., she conducted interviews and compiled reports.

“I wasn’t just filing or updating computer databases,” Negus said. “I learned how to write reports in a productive way.” Her experience was nothing but positive. “I left feeling effective and hopeful,” Negus said. In the future, she hopes to work as a public policy analyst or advocate.

Senior Wajida Syed always had a passion for interfaith dialogue, so working with Interfaith Worker Justice in Boston was an easy fit. As a summer organizing associate, she participated in projects to create dialogue and understanding between Jewish and Muslim communities in the area. Specifically, she participated in outreach work to help mobilize Muslim groups for labor justice.

Although Syed said religious beliefs sometimes make people “very narrow minded,” her service internship allowed her to witness firsthand the coming together of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Boston. That experience reaffirmed her desire to keep working for both interfaith dialogue and social justice.

For more information on the Hiatt Career Center’s World of Work program, visit http://www.brandeis.edu/hiatt/funding/wow/index.html.

— Anne Kostuchik contributed to this article