Ten years ago, Emily Dennis '08 was a junior embarking on a Whitman Internship Grant (WIG) through the Student Engagement Center. Now, she is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California's Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute—and paying it forward by hosting 2017 WIG recipient Erin Peterson '19 at the Stanford Mood and Anxiety Disorders Laboratory.
"My own mentor during that time was so influential in getting me started on this path and teaching me the basics," said Dennis, who wanted to return the favor.
As a research assistant with the fMRI Scan Team at the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Lab, Peterson will process and analyze MRI images, navigate the MRI terminal and write programming code.
"With the scan team, I'll assist in MRI sessions with participants, act as a judge during the Trier Social Stress Test and enter data," the chemistry major explained. "I am grateful for all of the Student Engagement Center's support, from reviewing my resume to providing financial assistance; they have enabled and encouraged me to explore my interests and expand my knowledge beyond Whitman's campus."
The WIG program began in 1999 and provides financial support for students who arrange their own unpaid internships at for-profit and nonprofit organizations within the United States and around the world. Peterson is one of a record 130 grant recipients this summer. This year also broke the record for the number of applicants.
Reasons for the increases include "greater student interest in seeking meaningful work-related off-campus experiences, greater interest from community partners and businesses in bringing students into their organizations and greater fundraising success by the Parents Leadership Committee," said Noah Leavitt, associate dean for student engagement.
In its inaugural year, the WIG program funded 18 students. It has gone on to provide 979 internships since then, and $350,000 in funding this year alone.
"For many students, it is the grant funding that allows them to pursue these experiences and apply their knowledge in a professional setting," said Internship Coordinator Victoria Wolff. "Because these internships align so closely with students' academic and career interests, they are able to test out theoretical concepts, apply classroom knowledge, carry out thesis research and hone skills they can apply in their future academic and career endeavors."
This summer's 130 interns will work at social services providers, financial institutions, museums, web design firms and university laboratories, to name a few. Eight received international grants to countries including Morocco, Nepal and Australia, and among the 122 domestic recipients, there are also a record 35 local internships.
One such recipient is film and media studies major Tywen Kelly '18, who will intern with the Walla Walla Foundry, owned and operated by Mark Anderson '78.
"One reason I wanted to work there was to spend some time behind the scenes of the art world—beyond white gallery walls and collectors' shelves—to see the people who labor over their craft," Kelly said.
Alongside administrative duties, he will document the production process through photography and videography.
"Renowned artists from around the globe congregate their production here in small-town Walla Walla," said Kelly. "The main competitor to the Foundry is based in New York—it's not every day that it is possible to compare or equate Walla Walla to New York."
Kelly's supervisor, Jenna Gard, project manager at the Foundry, said: "We aim to give our interns the practical tools they need to become highly skilled participants in the global art market. Skills learned range from engagement with traditional foundry practice, such as wax work and mold making, to understanding the role of digital media within art and art marketing. The opportunity for the Walla Walla Foundry to help prepare and train the next generation of art world leaders is an exciting and unique one."
For Dennis, her 2007 WIG was an important career step.
"That experience set me on this path and opened up lots of opportunities for me. I went on to get my Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, and my research focus is neuroimaging in traumatic brain injury."