Students gather information at a employer table during a job fair
Students stop to talk to an employer about summer opportunities at an on-campus job fair in early March. (Photo by Haley Wilkerson '22)

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As a sophomore, Holden Gaupo ’20 knew he wanted to stay in Walla Walla over the summer. But he wasn’t sure how to find a paying position to stay in town.

“Staying in Walla Walla was kind of a decision of opportunity. I knew I wanted an internship, but I hadn’t been super proactive about looking for one,” Gaupo said.

Then he decided to attend the Student Engagement Center’s (SEC) Summer in Walla Walla job fair, where he found a position as the community development block grant intern for the City of Walla Walla.

“That’s where I found the community development block grant intern program. I met my boss there, Jennifer, and then came in for an interview, and got the internship,” Gaupo said.

Finding Summer Opportunities

The Summer in Walla Walla Job Fair is part of an initiative to promote and celebrate the local community. Mitzy Rodriguez Camiro, assistant director for Internship Programs in the SEC is always eager to introduce students to the vast array of jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities available to them in the Walla Walla community. 

“Sometimes Walla Walla is seen as small, rural and lacking in available opportunities, but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s a lot being offered,” Rodriguez Camiro said. The SEC hopes that events like the job fair will demonstrate to students the variety of opportunities available to them. 

This spring, the job fair is going virtual. A smaller, in-person fair was held in early March, but throughout the spring, employers and organizations looking for volunteers, interns or paid employees will set up virtual info sessions through the SEC. The events will be held on Handshake, Whitman’s online platform for jobs an internships. The virtual info sessions make it easy for students finishing the semester remotely to still connect with oppportunities.

As a politics major, Gaupo was eager to get experience interning with a city government. Gaupo applied for and received the Whitman Internship Grant to get funding for his unpaid internship. During the summer of 2018, Gaupo worked on drafting and submitting a large five-year consolidated plan for the federal block grant program. He completed the first full draft over the summer and was able to get feedback from the community on his proposal. The federal block grant funding goes toward many programs in the Walla Walla community, such as economic development, poverty programs and home repairs.

Opening Doors

Following his summer internship in Walla Walla, Gaupo knew that he wanted to stay and work in the local community again during the summer before his senior year at Whitman. Through the connections that he established while working for the city, Gaupo knew of many nonprofits that were doing work that interested him. He decided to set up an internship with Community Council, a local nonprofit that works to foster community dialogue, inquiry and advocacy.

“Most of my work focused on researching community engagement. They do a lot of community engagement and they were especially interested in a framework that would better help them understand community engagement and to give them some guiding principles behind what they were doing,” he said. “So I did some research and created this framework that could help them think about the different kinds of community engagement that they were doing to help them be more purposeful and more mindful about different types of community engagement.”

Gaupo’s internship with Community Council was also funded by the Whitman Internship Grant. Both internships gave him an idea of future career opportunities and options.

“Both summers, the work that I was doing felt important and meaningful to the community where I was engaged,” he said. “I felt that the organizations I worked with were doing important meaningful work, so I think that gave me a sense of the work that I want to do in the future, which I am still unsure of, but I know that I want it to be meaningful and beneficial to the community or group that I am helping.”

Connecting Graduates and Employers

The SEC aims to provides resources not only for students looking to find a summer position, but also for soon-to-graduate seniors who might be looking to stay in Walla Walla with a full-time position.

“We’ve heard from many students that they want to pursue full-time careers in Walla Walla after Whitman, so we are making sure that we share that with employers to let them know that the job fair is an opportunity for them to market these jobs to the student population,” Rodriguez Camiro said.

The job fair, Handshake, and virtual and in-person employer info sessions, are great ways for students to find out about opportunities, but Gaupo highly encourages students to reach out to local nonprofits and organizations whose mission interests them.

“I think that there are a lot of great opportunities in the Walla Walla community and organizations are usually really excited to host Whitman students. From my experience talking with organizations they find that Whitman students are really great interns and are super excited about hiring them,” Gaupo said. 

Similarly, Rodriguez Camiro knows how grateful local employers are for the resources offered by Whitman’s Student Engagement Center. During the summer of 2019, the Whitman Internship Grant funded 119 internships — 38 of which were in Walla Walla.

“They're really excited to see the support that the college provides for such opportunities, because it helps them move forward, but also, the supervisors really appreciate providing the support to the students and getting them integrated into the community and these projects that really do have a big impact in our community,” Rodriguez Camiro said.

Rodriguez Camiro grew up in Walla Walla and attended Washington State University before returning to Walla Walla to work at Whitman.

“In the past eight months that I've been employed here, I've learned a lot more about the community than I did in the 18 years that I lived here prior to leaving,” Rodriguez Camiro said.

Rodriguez Camiro hopes to impart this knowledge of the community onto students by offering them a range of information, opportunities and guidance through her position with the Student Engagement Center. She encourages students to spend time in the community outside of the Whitman campus to connect with people and the area.

“As they become familiar with the community, they can really feel like they have a sense of belonging when the school year starts,” she said.