Elis initiate internships to rebuild a city ‘on its knees’

Easha Anand ’08 and Kezia Kamenetz ’09 can talk for hours about the new street signs that have cropped up lately around New Orleans, the flavor of Cajun food and the small boutiques that line the streets. They talk about the resilient spirit of a city that resists assimilation, and they talk about their hopes for its future. They talk, and worry, and plan for the program they founded, Bulldogs in the Big Easy, the newest addition to Bulldogs Across America, debuting this summer.

Unlike its predecessors in Houston and Denver, which were started by Yale alumni working in conjunction with Undergraduate Career Services, Bulldogs in the Big Easy is the first student-initiated Bulldogs internship program.

Anand and Kamenetz met late last fall semester at a panel discussion on rebuilding New Orleans. Kamenetz, a resident of the city and the president of Category 3, a New Orleans recovery group, had organized the event. Anand, who had worked the previous summer in New Orleans at the city’s public-defender service, spoke on the panel. Afterwards, the two discussed the challenges New Orleans faces in healing itself and decided to try and form a branch of Bulldogs Across America in New Orleans.

“This student-initiated program speaks to the fact that there is a current on campus which wants this to happen,” Anand said. With just a few fliers around campus, Anand and Kamenetz generated enough interest in 24 unpaid internship positions to garner more than 100 student applicants.

“This is the challenge of our generation,” Anand said. “We can either let the city rot with Bush and FEMA, or we can help it become this urban utopia.”

Over winter break, Kamenetz returned home and spoke at an annual Yale Club of New Orleans luncheon, pitching her idea to alumni. In a matter of minutes, she had raised $10,000.

“People were really excited,” Kamenetz said. “Five people right then and there were like, ‘We need people to do this, and we need people to do that.’ ”

Kamenetz returned to Yale and received a matching grant from Undergraduate Career Services and directed the combined funds toward paying for student interns’ housing at Tulane University. After that, it was just a matter of using the infrastructure that was already in place for the other Bulldogs in America programs to generate additional program funding, create the Web site, contact alumni and set up internships.

“I’ve sort of instigated all the domestic programs, and so what we’ve done is build this one with a new level of student input and engagement,” said Rowan Claypool, president of the Bulldogs in America program. “What’s unique about it is for the first time, Yale students had extensive knowledge about the host city, and they were able to bring employers to the table.”

While Rowan served as their liaison to UCS, helped develop the Web site and pressured employers to choose interns on time, Kamenetz and Anand applied for grants, reached out to alumni to help create a calendar of cultural and social events for the interns and called employers to arrange for internships.

“There were so many things going on that finding internships was the easiest part,” Kamenetz said.

Like the other Bulldogs Across America programs, Bulldogs in the Big Easy offers free housing; however, the internships are unpaid. With only two-and-a-half months between the program’s birth in November and the posting of internship positions in mid-February, Anand and Kamenetz were unable to gather enough funds and grants to pay full stipends.

“The city is on its knees right now, so we really can’t expect it to give us anything,” Kamenetz said. “Our biggest goal for the future to is get stipends for everyone. It’s a shame that people who need to earn money over the summer can’t be a part of this. We hope next time, with nine months instead of two and a half, we’ll be able to do a lot more.”

Internship positions include working in the Office of Recovery Management to help open charter schools in New Orleans or Global Green to help with research and write opinion columns on sustainability. They also feature positions in theaters and museums and in New Orleans Public Defenders or the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The storm gave the city a clean slate,” Anand said. “Schools were disastrous before, but now they have to let independent contractors and charter schools in, and New Orleans is poised to have this great education system. There were no street signs even before the storm, and now people have started making their own. When else do you have a chance to decide how a city looks?”

Kamenetz and Anand promoted Bulldogs in the Big Easy and its internship positions to those with particular expertise. They specifically advertised to architecture majors for the internship position at City-Works, which deals with urban planning. They reached out to students in the teacher-prep track for positions in New Schools New Orleans, which oversees the opening of charter schools, and New Orleans Science and Math Academy, which is looking to expand from a half-day school to a day school.

Allison Pena ’11, who will be interning this summer at the Science and Math Academy through Bulldogs in the Big Easy, was one of many students drawn to program because of the opportunities it offers to effect real change.

“I went to a public high school in South Florida, where I was able to see firsthand many of the major problems, curricular and otherwise, that occurred within the public-school system,” Pena said. “I’m very excited to be working with a program that is hoping to correct all of these issues.”

“I think it’s a great place to intern because they’re reliant on college students,” said Hannah Shearer ’09, who will be working this summer to help rebuild the historic district of Broadmoor with Broadmoor Development Corporation. “It’s an opportunity to not only gain job experience but to influence what’s going on there and connect with other professionals. So many of the companies are really dependent on college students right now that there’s not that much money in the city.”

“As a college student, I think the opportunity for real impact in New Orleans is unparalleled in any other major city in America,” said Xuan Nguyen ’10, who will work this summer as a criminal investigator at Orleans Public Defenders. “I chose to work for the OPD because of my strong desire to maintain the integrity of our justice system by helping to provide a quality defense to those who cannot otherwise afford one.”

Kathleen Borcshow ’10, who will also be interning this summer at Orleans Public Defenders, applied for positions in other Bulldogs programs, but she described her internship through Bulldogs in the Big Easy as the perfect fit because of her interest in criminology and her plans to become a lawyer.

“My interviewer described the position as a very hands-on job, investigating crimes and such, and it just sounded like an incredible opportunity,” Borcshow said. “And where better than in post-Katrina New Orleans to do something like that?”

Other schools have already realized the opportunities in New Orleans. The University of Pennsylvania started its own think tank and lobbying group in the city, enabling students in urban planning and architecture to see their theses put into action as they helped build the city. Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government gives out fellowships to pay for 100 students to travel and work in New Orleans, fully funding 20 students each summer.

“The existing power structure is so disrupted that there really is a unique opportunity to be introduced to a city that has been in real distress,” Claypool said, “and the hope is that some Yale students will really catch fire with this and be a part of the rejuvenation of the city.”

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