mcsweeney work photo
Sabrina Wise ’14 interning at McSweeney's

Sabrina Wise ’14 felt the pressure of the fast-paced publishing world the moment she stepped into McSweeney’s, a publishing firm founded by celebrated author Dave Eggers.

On her first day in the office, Wise was told she needed to innovate and be proactive in order to succeed.

“I’m so glad I had two years of Whitman to draw on,” said Wise, who as an editorial intern was responsible for fact-checking articles, writing coverage and reviewing and recommending short story submissions for several McSweeney’s publications, such as “The Quarterly Concern” and the “Believer.”

“Fact-checking involves tracking down rare books, reading up on unusual topics and contacting publishers. Whitman classes require us to research and write, so I was well prepared,” said the English major who credits her summer experience for her interest in pursuing an MFA in writing after graduating from Whitman.

“I’ve started to learn how the literary world works and absorbed so much about the craft of writing – what makes a story glow. Working for the “Believer” has gotten me excited about editing and magazine publishing, so those are areas I can’t wait to explore further,” said Wise.

Wise said that after reading Eggers’ “Zeitoun,” required summer reading for incoming first-years in 2010, she learned it was a McSweeney’s publication. This fed her interest in other McSweeney’s imprints.

“When I found out about this internship I practically tumbled over myself to apply.”

Complementing the liberal arts education Whitman provides is the college’s focus on experiential learning. It’s this emphasis that prepared Wise for her coveted internship, made possible by a Whitman Internship Grant, which helps cover the costs of summer internships.

“Summer internships provide a remarkable opportunity for students to take what they are learning in the classroom and use it in practical ways,” said Noah Leavitt, assistant dean for student engagement. “It’s putting the liberal arts into an applied context. Whitman students are already innovative and ambitious, so they have a very high likelihood of success when they pursue their passions and turn them into career.”

Eggers is a prominent literary figure. He’s the author of the award-winning memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” and he wrote the screenplay for the film “Where The Wild Things Are.” He also wrote “Zeitoun,” the true story of a Syrian-American small business owner who after Hurricane Katrina canoed through the flooded city helping his neighbors, only to be arrested without cause by local law-enforcement officials.

Eggers also spoke at Whitman in 2010. So Wise wasn’t the only Whitman student tumbling over herself to land an internship in Eggers’ San Francisco offices.

collins and levin
Claire Collins (sitting) and Beth Levin (standing) surrounded by their students at 826 Valencia.

Claire Collins ’14 and Beth Levin ’14 both remember reading “Zeitoun” and attending Eggers’ lecture their first year at Whitman. The English majors jumped at the opportunity to intern at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit co-founded by Eggers to help disadvantaged students who have fallen behind in school improve their writing.

“Beth and I really enjoyed working with the students using creative writing to make writing fun and engaging,” said Collins.

For Collins, the internship was more than volunteering her time to help others learn to write. The internship offered her an opportunity to gain valuable career experience in the field she plans to pursue.

“I want to be a teacher after I graduate, and working with disadvantaged kids at 826 Valencia was a great learning experience,” Collins said.

The Whitman students who earned these prestigious internships are examples of the connections domino effect resulting from a speaker visiting Whitman and challenging and motivating students with his or her words.

It can lead an English major to decide she wants to pursue a career in magazine publishing, or lead a volunteer to work with needy students which then leads to a desire to go into education.

“I’m glad Whitman required us to read “Zeitoun” when I was a freshman, and that Dave Eggers spoke on campus,” Collins said.

“It shows that a Whitman education can come full circle.”

—Edward Weinman