T-bird Summer Interns: Adventure and Advice

For some T-birds, summer meant relaxing with family and friends, catching up on neglected hobbies, or bopping around new cities. For others, it meant taking on the challenge of an internship, growing their network, and expanding their knowledge of an industry or organization—often in unexpected ways and situations. Find out where these top Thunderbird students worked this summer and what advice they have for other students.

Ethan Kirkpatrick (MAGAM ’18)
Africa Regional Services
U.S. Department of State (Paris, France)
Ethan standing next to the presidential vehicle when President Trump went to France. Courtesy of Ethan Kirkpatrick
What were your responsibilities during your internship?  
I was responsible for taking Public Diplomacy programs on the African continent from inception to successful completion. An embassy in Africa would come to us with an idea of a program they would want to do. I would take that program, tweak it to more correctly fit the guidelines of the State Department, and then I would find an American to conduct the program, either via webcam or on an official visit to the country. All of this included making travel arrangements, writing grants for funding from Washington, being the liaison between the embassy and the speaker, and making sure that the speaker had a travel visa, when that was required. I also wrote official reports to Washington about the programs and their impacts and I would handle social media postings for the web conference programs.
What was your goal going into it? 

My goal going into the internship was to determine whether I wanted to enter the public sector, and more precisely, the state department.

Who was helpful in you getting your internship?

I found that both Professor Fong and Mike Lowe were a great resource in helping me with the application and personal statement.

Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or, did you learn something you weren’t expecting?

I was surprised by the role of the locally employed staff. I had this misconception that the foreign service officers handled most everything, but the importance of the locally employed staff is really understated. The vast majority of my co-workers were French, not American, and without them, we couldn’t have accomplished anything.

Ethan dressed in a WWI war uniform for the embassy Fourth of July party with diplomats in Paris. Courtesy of Ethan Kirkpatrick

Was there anything in your Thunderbird education that prepared your for your internship?

The understanding of navigating and managing foreign teams that we receive at Thunderbird was really important. Not only did I work extensively with a staff of French employees, which I already had experience with, but I worked a lot with African teams from all over the continent, which was new for me. Having the understanding that different cultures work differently was very important.

What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?

I would say that they need to start the application process immediately because it closes very soon and it is very time consuming. I would also say, particularly if you are looking for a position out of the country, to leverage any personal experiences that you have in foreign countries and speaking a foreign language because they take that into consideration.

Fungai Mandaza (MGM ’17)
Marketing Consultant
iCare Benefits (Vietnam)

Can you describe the company you were working for?

I was working for iCare Benefits which is a for-profit social enterprise in Vietnam started by Hao Diep (MBA ‘10). It started in Vietnam, and it’s now in Singapore (where the headquarters is), Cambodia, etc., and is looking to get into China and Africa. Hao’s been doing it for four years now, and it’s grown real big. They go to multinational companies or big production plants, like LG, Nike, and Intel, and ask for products at a discounted rate to sell to factory workers. These products we sell would normally be completely outside their scope of every day basics. No one has really focused on these factory workers in this way. It’s on the social impact side of things. 

I picked up where Donald Kurangwa (MGM ’17) had left off. He was there before and had been designing a strategy on how to get into Africa, but my position was more based in marketing consulting. I was on the consumer side and was developing and testing go-to marketing strategies on how we can get the factory workers to see the advantages of setting aside their income or pooling their income for these products that would greatly benefit their day-to-day or the long term. For example, purchasing a washing machine or other appliances that would allow them to spend more time with their family.

Courtesy of Fungai Mandaza

Who was helpful in you getting your internship?

Donald’s the one who told me about the internship as he was wrapping his up. He encouraged me to pursue it and carry his project over. So, I went through the online evaluation and interview process with the assistants, and after going through that, I started having conversations with Hao. Hao loves connecting with T-birds, getting them involved, and getting their perspective. She says whenever there’s a new T-bird that comes, there’s always new insight into the company and where it should go. She’s employed a few that are there now. She and I also share the same mentor, Maria Houle, the Director of the Share Fellowship.

What was your role within the company?

The project I worked on from start-to-finish was specifically on Mary Poppins, a company that sells birth control pills. You have to understand that this a region that is very sensitive to issues like this, and there’s not a lot of education around it. Trying to convey sensitive information like this to the women factory workers was tricky because you have many generations in a family working there. If you get up there and start talking about birth control, people will start feeling uncomfortable around, let’s say, their mothers, sisters, aunts, mother-in-laws… They’ll walk out. We found alternatives to deliver information, such as putting flyers in their handbags so they can read about it when they get back home. Or we thought, “How about we do an event that’s centered around something else, like breastfeeding, but add information in there about our cause?” Cultural sensitivity yet effective communication was key.

Courtesy of Fungai Mandaza

What was your goal going into your internship? 

The main reason I went to Asia was because I’m from Zimbabwe, and there’s a lot of Asian infusion happening in Africa. There are a lot of corporates coming in, and there’s some bad feeling around them doing construction and setting up stores but not actually employing any Africans. When I heard about this Asian company wanting to enter Africa, I wanted to learn more about the backend process before I made a judgment. It was more about understanding why they want to get into Africa, the steps they take, and what happens at the end.

Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or did you learn something you weren’t expecting?

Once I was there I realized it wasn’t really the multinational companies’ fault. In most instances, there’s a “middle man” that helps these bigger companies “figure out” Africa. These middle men help them get their product or services onto the continent. The big companies look to them as experts in their field—for example, construction—but they don’t necessarily know the region and don’t become engrained in it. Those are the ones who are trying to make a quick buck, and they don’t know that there’s already manpower and talent available, so they send in their own people. They don’t necessarily care about the cultural orientation.

Also, I had exposure to the company’s supply chain, finance, and sales through meetings and shadowing. I learned a lot. For example, from the outset it seemed this was a business destined to fail: how could you buy a product and sell it for less? It made no sense. But they walked me through the whole process, and I saw how unique their strategy is. I also went to their factory in Danang to actually try to sell the products, and you have to know, this was in rural Vietnam where people had never seen someone like me before.

Was there anything in your Thunderbird education that prepared you for the internship?

I took a class with a Thunderbird professor, and one of the things we did was an exercise where we’d ask “Why?” five times. If there’s a problem, you need to ask why until you cannot ask anymore, and this would help me come up with a final solution. I used that a lot, especially when I was trying to understand the whole process of how everything works. It’s fun to see these case studies in class and discuss them, but to actually be out there in the field and experiencing it, you learn a lot.

What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?

Get your objectives in line because there are a lot of unknowns out there. When you take yourself to a whole new, different country and a whole new, different culture… if you’re going to go there just to have fun, it’s not going to be fun because you get there, and it’s work. If you’re going to take an internship outside your comfort zone, make sure you understand what you want to accomplish in the end because with that focus in mind everything else — the culture shock, the food you might not be able to eat, the environment — won’t affect you negatively at all.

Stephanie Willard (MAGAM ’18)
Market Research Analyst
Crowdfund Capital Advisors
Tyler Monaccio (MAGAM ’17), Stephanie Willard, and T-bird Alumn Sherwood Neiss, Principal and Founder of Crowdfund Capital Advisors—heading to present for the SEC on “Regulation Crowdfunding Trends.” Photo courtesy of Stephanie Willard

What was your goal going into your internship?

For me, the goal was to try something different while tapping into my analytical strengths. I’ve come to Thunderbird as a career-changer on my 3rd career (past language teacher/program developer for international students and architectural designer). With having a lot of work experience behind me, I wanted to do something that tapped more into hard business skill sets, such as Excel, data analysis, and formal presentations, because I have a lot of soft skills that I have acquired in my past careers.

Also, another big goal for my internship was making long-term career contacts. Again, as a career-changer, coming back to school has been about building a strong network of relevant contacts within international business. I knew coming to Thunderbird that my network was relatively sparse and as not strong as it should be for the international business arena. I feel I successfully gained a solid contact working with T-bird alum, Sherwood Neiss (MBA ’96), who has a wealth of experience, a positive life outlook, and just an all around great and interesting person.

Who was helpful in you getting your internship?

Dr. Michael Moffett. I give a big thank you to him and his concern for students’ career success. He is always reaching out to former T-birds and looking for ways to provide students with real career experience outside of the classroom. As a former teacher, the Thunderbird professor is the reason why I am here – they value the connection between the classroom and practical experience.

I also thank my T-bird alum mentor, Regula Schegg (MBA ’05). She has been really helpful in guiding me towards choosing a career path that builds on my skills as well as pushes me to challenge myself.

Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or, did you learn/gain something you were not expecting?

Expected: I earned a lot about Crowdfunding regulation – and by extension, Securities and Exchange Commission regulations for accredited and unaccredited investors. This was expected. Also expected: beefing up my pivot table skills.
What was unexpected was what I learned through my analysis on the 200+ start-ups looking to raise funds to start their new businesses. I learned a lot about the spirit of entrepreneurialism – there are some awesome, crazy ideas out there. I also learned about the challenges they face in getting their feet financially off the ground. I have a new respect for entrepreneurialism.
Also unexpected: Getting an article co-published with Sherwood Neiss on crowdfunding.

Most unexpected: Setting off the security buzzers at the Securities and Exchange Commission while trying to enter the building for our big presentation—all because I had a paperclip in my suitcoat!

Was there anything in your Thunderbird education that prepared your for your internship?

I would say that I had a prior internship with another T-bird alum, Andrea Picon, in which I had to present to a very sophisticated audience internal and external industry analysis (Thank you, Dr. Ramaswamy!) for why an organization needed to be restructured. This prior internship along with concepts learned in class has given me the confidence in how to approach real organizational challenges or tasks. I begin to better see how the two reinforce each other.

What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?

For this particular internship, you have to love to think analytically and stretch your brain to think about trends from multiple financial, social, economic perspectives. But, my rec for any internship is go for what interests you most in your gut. Keep all doors open, meaning apply to the online applications, connect with alumni, professors, other students. Leave no door un-open. This creates a reinforced web of connections and gives greater chance for finding what you are looking for.
Temitope Adepoju (MAGAM ’18)
Volunteer Program Coordinator
Trees for the Future (Baltimore, MD)
Courtesy of Temitope Adepoju

What were the responsibilities of your internship? What was your goal going into it?

The responsibilities for my internship included the following: developing a sustainable blueprint for the volunteer program, designing manuals and training materials for potential volunteers, creating standard operating procedures for the volunteers, coordinating volunteer events, managing venues, liaising with other coordinators for fundraising events and General oversight regarding volunteer programs.

My goal was to learn how a non-profit organization functions and to learn the processes involved in the day-to-day operations.

Who was helpful in you getting your internship?

Well, I kind of looked for the internship myself. I found it on indeed.com and got an interview session. Also, the reputation of Thunderbird as a global business school played a prominent role during the interview sessions.

Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or did you learn/gain something you weren’t expecting?

I was surprised at how much went into managing a non profit organization. The fundraisers, program planning and execution, media sessions, high level conferences, and the level of government involvement.

I learned a few things: it was my first work experience at a non-profit organization, and obviously their operations were totally different from regular private companies. Also, the diverse donor database was something that surprised me. They had donors from virtually all of the continents and their consistency at donating was nothing short of exceptional.

What in your Thunderbird education prepared you for the internship?

As the volunteer coordinator, I interacted with the many volunteers spread across the world. I am talking volunteers in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Canada, Cambodia, and most countries in Africa. The Thunderbird experience came handy during my interactions with most of these cultures.

Also, most of the staff members came from differ by backgrounds. My immediate manager was Chinese-American. We had a Colombian, Ugandan, and a Mexican on the team. The leadership class with Dr. Peterson came handy in having to manage some of the different cultures.

What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?

As an advice, I’ll say do your research before you jump into an internship. Most NGOs are very intense in their operations, and if you’re not prepared beforehand, you might end up not making a success out of the internship. And one more thing—everybody should visit DC before they die. It’s the ideal melting pot for all cultures.

Courtesy of Reese Brown

Reese Brown (MGM ’17)
Private Equity Analyst
Two Nine (Lukasa, Zambia)

What was your goal going into your internship? 
I wanted to round out my M&A skills in a cross-cultural setting in order to uniquely position myself for a consulting role post graduation.
Who was helpful in you getting your internship?
I was connected with the managing director of the private equity fund by expressing my interest to take an internship overseas to a fellow classmate who knows the director and introduced us.
Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or did you learn/gain something you weren’t expecting?
I was surprised by the level of trust and responsibility I was granted during the experience. I had ownership over some very important deliverables.
Was there anything in your Thunderbird education that prepared you for the internship?
The accounting and finance courses provided me with the foundation I needed to hit the ground running with financial analysis for our pipeline of deals.
What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?
Learn to how to take large and ambiguous problems and break them in to manageable pieces.
Natalia Cavalhier (MGM ’17)
Operations Project Manager
Microsoft (Reno, Nevada)
Natalia in front of her office this summer. Courtesy of Natalia Cavalhier
What was your goal going into your internship? 
I was given a project called “Partner change management” in which I had to develop a framework of an optimal process to deliver change to our Partners. I wanted to learn as much as possible and network with Microsoft employees.
Who was helpful in you getting your internship?
The Microsoft recruiting team was extremely friendly and approachable. They guided me every step of the way.
Were you surprised by anything in your internship experience? Or did you learn/gain something you weren’t expecting?
I was surprised by the work life balances offered to all Microsoft employees. Also I was not expecting to be involved in so many moral events; it really made me feel as part of the team already!
Was there anything in your Thunderbird education that prepared you for the internship?
Definitely! My project management class prepared me well for my role. I referred  to Professor Youngdahl’s slides many times.
What advice would you offer a Thunderbird student who wants to pursue this kind of internship?
You need to be prepared when the right opportunities show up. Know how to answer the questions in the STAR method, know how to follow up and maintain your network, and most importantly don’t wait—go after the job you want!

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