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At the Case Foundation we spend much of our time working with various influential leaders in the fields of philanthropy, civic engagement and innovation, but some of the most inspiring young heroes are right here working at our side every single day. Some of the best thoughts, ideas and initiatives dreamed up in this office come from the minds of our brilliant and driven summer interns, whose college bound brains are capable of reaching audiences and brainstorming ideas that us oldies may miss out on. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Nikolai Stieglitz and Jenna Hnath, the two newest young idealists and changemakers at the Case Foundation.
Josh: Give us your story. Where did you grow up? What are you studying? What are your plans for the future?
Nikolai: I moved constantly growing up, living in Florida twice, South Carolina, Northern Virginia, Hawai’i and now D.C., where I study at American University’s School of International Service. Like my background, my studies are a little eclectic - nuclear warfare, American literature, arms control and disarmament policy, intelligence analysis, Greek philosophy, Iran, peace and conflict resolution, cross cultural communications - so I don’t know what I’ll end up doing, only that I want to do something useful.
Jenna: I’m a Maryland native - I grew up in Silver Spring and Potomac, and recently moved to Germantown (technically Boyds). This coming semester I will be a senior at the University of Maryland in College Park, studying History with a focus on the Middle East. I hope to begin grad school by 2012 and earn my masters degree in International Diplomacy or a similar field. Currently I am part of the business development team of AIESEC at George Washington University. AIESEC is an international student run organization that facilitates international exchange, understanding and leadership building for college students and young professionals. I am planning on traveling to the Middle East after I graduate in Spring 2011 (*fingers crossed*).
Josh: What inspired you to seek out an internship with the Case Foundation, and what do you hope to achieve here?
Nikolai: Most of my work experience has been volunteering with organizations across the map and the spectrum of nonprofits: local and national, secular and religious, broad-scoped and narrow, venerable and upstart. With so many organizations, I got thinking about what makes a nonprofit successful, what an organization needs to do to survive and thrive nowadays. Answering some of those questions and aiding nonprofits is part of the Case Foundation’s mission, so working with them teaches me how I can jump in and improve the next nonprofit I work with.
Jenna: I first learned of the Case Foundation through Idealist.org. I was impressed by the Case Foundation’s commitment to finding solutions to complex social problems, and also by the organization’s emphasis on using technology and social media. I’m hoping to learn more during my internship about how technology and social media can be leveraged to further an organization or business’s goals; particularly, how organizations can use social media to communicate with their intended audience and get them engaged. I’m also very interested in success metrics, i.e. how an organization measures the success and effectiveness of its programs, contests, and online presence.
Josh: What has been your most memorable experience from this internship thus far?
Nikolai: Running around DC with a camera and asking people from around the country and the world about the meaning of democracy. Doing something a little new, a little crazy and a little last minute was fun and worthwhile.
Jenna: When I arrived my first day, I went straight into a meeting with Michael and a Congressional aide. I didn’t know what they were talking about and was google-ing acronyms for an hour after the meeting, but it struck me what an important force the Case Foundation is in the nonprofit world, and how lucky I was to be a part of it.
Josh: How will the skills or lessons learned during your tenure here impact your life back at school this fall?
Nikolai: Working with the Case Foundation and studying how other organizations with small budgets but huge goals can operate better has gotten me thinking about my student government at AU. I’ve volunteered some of my time with them, but now I think I could help them reach more people and improve their communications with the rest of the campus community.
- Research skills: useful in college, the workplace, and life in general
- Familiarity with social media tools: trending tools on Twitter; tech sites such as Mashable.com and TechCrunch; sites like Crowdrise that make volunteering and giving easy. I had no idea so many free tech/social media tools were out there. Once you know where to look, there are a ton of great resources available.
- Success metrics: how to measure the success or effectiveness of a program, or determine how many people are opening an email/sharing a post, etc. I will definitely share what I learned about this with AIESEC, the student organization I’m part of, and any other organizations I become involved with.
- Lessons Learned: Don’t procrastinate. Set deadlines for yourself. Collaborate. NETWORK!
Josh: What advice do you have for other college students interested in careers in civic engagement or philanthropy?
Nikolai: Keeping your eyes and ears open will help. Paying attention to problems facing your community - your family, your school, your town - will help show you where you can make a difference. Talking with people about how to go about accomplishing that is cheap but may put you on to great opportunities to learn and address the problem.
Besides that, working for other small organizations with limited budgets has required me to be flexible as well as hardworking. One tiny nonprofit I worked for had me doing research and writing one day, putting together furniture and fixing computers the next and interpreting French (badly) the next. Know your strengths and capitalize on them, but expect to do what needs to be done to support your organization. Many overlooked little things enable a nonprofit to succeed; doing them will help its cause and teach you to be versatile.
Jenna: Don’t be afraid to jump right in. Ask questions, be involved, and be passionate. And most importantly, network! On a more practical note, Idealist.org is a great website for finding internships related to civic engagement and philanthropy.