Summer Foundation Internship Program

The RGK Center helps coordinate placement of qualified students with several Austin-area and Texas foundations. Information about opportunities is announced in the spring semester to students enrolled in the Nonprofit Portfolio Program. The selection process is competitive.  Foundations offer $5,000 stipends for completing a ten-week internship. Participating foundations have included the KDK-Harman Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, Sooch Foundation, St. David's Foundation and the Waco Foundation.

2014 Summer Foundation Intern

Although her prior experience in the nonprofit sector was in environmental education and policy, first-year LBJ Master of Public Affairs student Caley Corsello has had a long-term interest in nonprofit management and philanthropy. Consequently, in 2014, she applied for and was selected for a St. David’s Foundation summer internship, offered through an RGK Center partnership with the Foundation for Nonprofit Studies Portfolio program participants. St. David’s Foundation is a major Central Texas funder of public health initiatives with estimated 2014 grants exceeding $50 million.

“My biggest concern when I started was not having a background in public health,” Caley said. However, she said, Foundation staff provided a wealth of information and access to people and resources that made what she called a “steep learning curve” a fantastic learning opportunity. Further, at the beginning of her internship, Caley was able to attend a number of key meetings representing the Foundation, which provided an excellent introduction to the work of the health access community.

The areas of environment and health have overlap, she said, citing the Foundation’s work related to the “built environment” within its “Healthy Living” focus area, which aims to promote obesity prevention through increased access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Examples include the Foundation’s 2012 grant to the Trail Foundation for its Boardwalk Trail Completion Project and a 2013 grant to the Austin Parks Foundation to revitalize a playscape in the Dove Springs neighborhood in East Austin.

Tasked with updating the Foundation’s grantmaking policy manual, Caley was able to add perspective to her nonprofit experience from the funder side of things, “to see how it all fits together.” The project provided an opportunity to gain an understanding of the Foundation’s grantmaking process, as she documented restructuring and policy changes associated with the Foundation’s recent growth. This involved creating process flow charts, documenting model communications, and summarizing historical knowledge about foundation grantmaking activities for new employees down the road. At the end of the summer, she presented the revised guide to the Foundation’s grantmaking team.

After holding several positions with environmental nonprofits in Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., Caley applied to the LBJ School largely because of the opportunity to participate in the Nonprofit Studies Portfolio Program. The Portfolio Program core course she took last spring has been invaluable, she said, illuminating aspects of her internship experience where she saw what she had learned in the program in action in the everyday functioning of the Foundation.

Partly due to this experience, Caley sees a possible career in philanthropy, potentially with an environmental foundation that would allow her to combine her interests. She stressed, however, that her focus is not so much on a specific issue area, but rather “finding ways to create a positive impact.” As for her experience at St. David’s, she had this to say: “I think anybody who gets this internship is really lucky.” 

2013 Summer Foundation Interns 

Two LBJ School of Public Affairs students, Bonnie Hough and Lauren Menasco-Davis, were selected for internships with Austin foundations. Hough interned at the St. David's Foundation, a major funder of public health initiatives in the greater Austin area, and Menasco-Davis was with the KDK-Harman Foundation, a prominent education funder in the community.

Bonnie came to the internship with experience working in health-related nonprofits and a focus on development work. At St. David’s, Hough had the opportunity to conduct research in all the foundation’s major focus areas (healthy aging, healthy futures, healthy minds, healthy people,healthy smiles), investigating health care access and education issues. She also regularly participated in grant team meetings with the foundation’s program officers and visited several of the foundation’s community partners, such as the Sustainable Food Center. Hough said a major benefit of the experience was being included in meetings and discussions as a peer. Charged with the development of white papers in each of the foundation’s six funding areas, another key benefit was learning more about multiple public health issues. The work also helped her to develop her persuasive writing skills. “I’ve learned how to make data more accessible for an external audience,” she said. “I’ve had to figure out what data tells the story.”

One issue that was particularly eye-opening, Hough said, was learning more about nutrition and obesity in a local context. She described how many neighborhoods in East Austin do not have grocery stores, and, if transportation is a barrier, which it is for many, residents have to rely on corner stores that are more expensive and sell less healthy food options. “I didn’t realize how obvious it was, but when you look at the data and the maps, you can see this is a big problem,” Hough said.

As a result of her internship experience, Hough said she is likely to pursue career opportunities in the area of public health access. “I’ve always been interested in education and health care issues, and this has been so helpful, because the work is situated in the middle of both. I see myself staying in this field.”

For Lauren Menasco-Davis, also pursuing a joint Masters of Public Health, the internship experience has also opened new career possibilities. With undergraduate and master’s degrees in zoology and biology, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education has always been a passion and a focus of her previous work in higher education and government. Spending the summer working with KDK-Harman grantees offering summer STEM programs for disadvantaged students, she said, “changed my view and my interest in K-12 [education]….Going forward, I might look into working with children. Now I realize state government can’t do everything.”

Menasco-Davis also enjoyed being able to provide guidance for nonprofits in program evaluation. “It’s nice to know that what I’ve learned about evaluation at LBJ has really helped,” she said. She also commented that the internship allowed her to see some of the barriers that nonprofits face in service delivery. “I read the grant applications and the websites,” she said, but when she visited the programs, she saw that attendance was an issue for many groups and that access to rigorous curricula could also be a problem. Consequently, during her internship, she designed a workshop for grantees focused on best practices in STEM education to help sites examine what they are doing right and how they can improve. Bringing this value to her work was important. “This was the most fun internship I’ve had thus far. I’m doing significant things that are a core function of the organization,” she said.

Both women said that seeing through the lens of a nonprofit grantmaker was invaluable. “It’s so beneficial to see what funders are looking for, how they want to interact with their grant partners,” Hough said. Menasco-Davis was impressed by the funder commitment to helping nonprofits build capacity and become more successful. “They’ve been trying to be an incubator, really trying to help the grantees improve their programs.” Both also said they learned just how critical evaluation skills are in the nonprofit sector, both for funders and for nonprofits trying to understand and communicate their impact on their constituents.