The Colgate Scene
September 2004

Life lessons in Cleveland
Alumni-led initiative debuts

Mia Mabanta '05, who was an intern for the Cleveland Metroparks system, holds a device used to check water levels in front of a small waterfall. Mabanta and Jen Brickett '05 were among 14 Colgate students who participated in the inaugural year of the Colgate on the Cuyahoga summer internship program. [Photos by Steve Cutri]

Leslie Alba '06 did not really know what to expect from Cleveland before making it her home this past summer. In fact, the New Yorker had never been west of Pennsylvania.

But after 10 weeks of living and working in her adopted city, Alba might as well be a native.

"I feel like I know a lot more about Cleveland than most Clevelanders do," she said just two weeks before completing her job at the nonprofit Downtown Cleveland Partnership, where she worked on compiling a data book about everything from sports teams to tax incentives. "It's been a good experience."

A geography major, Alba was one of 14 Colgate students who participated in the inaugural year of an internship program known as Colgate on the Cuyahoga. The alumni-led initiative offered the undergraduates meaningful jobs, free housing, mentors, and access to community events.

It also had a straightforward goal: show talented students from all over the country that Cleveland has a lot to offer and, hopefully, entice them to move there -- or, in the case of native Ohioans, return.

"I think there's no question that a pattern has developed where kids are going to good schools in the Northeast and not coming back, and their fellow classmates are not considering Cleveland as a destination to launch their professional careers after graduation," said Daniel Hurwitz '86, president of the internship program's board of trustees. "But if students consider Cleveland, they'll find it extremely rewarding."

Colgate was not the only college represented in northeast Ohio this summer. Students from Yale, Princeton, and Case Western Reserve universities also secured positions in what was collectively known as Summer on the Cuyahoga.

The Colgate, Princeton, and Case Western Reserve programs all were modeled after two Yale efforts -- the six-year-old Bulldogs in the Bluegrass, named for that university's mascot and based in Louisville, Ky., and Bulldogs on the Cuyahoga, which started just last summer. Colgate trustee Marianne Crosley '80, who serves as program coordinator, said representatives from six other schools want to get in on the action in the future. She added that two or three expect to participate next year.

Exposure to all things Cleveland
This year, more than 300 students from the four schools -- including 85 from Colgate -- applied for jobs in a variety of fields, ranging from research to government. In the end, 56 claimed spots in the program.

Will Fulton '05, who grew up in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, said he didn't expect such a high level of competition. He thought students would be more likely to apply for internships in bigger cities, such as New York.

"I didn't think people would give Cleveland a second thought," said Fulton, who worked at Developers Diversified Realty Corp., where Hurwitz is executive vice president. "But I think it's great, I really do."

Fulton said it was easy to apply to the program, since everything was available online. The English major said he learned about the various job listings just by logging on to the Internet while studying in London.

Fulton credited organizers, including Hurwitz and Crosley, with making the experience a good one.

In addition to setting up a user-friendly website, organizers arranged for every participant to earn a minimum of $2,800. All of the interns, even those who grew up nearby, lived together -- rent-free -- on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. For-profit companies paid for their interns' housing, while each school's program covered those costs for students working in the nonprofit world.

The Colgate group raised more than $20,000 to run the program. In addition to housing, the money was used for administrative costs, $200 travel stipends per student, and events. About half of the donations came from alumni, parents, and friends, while the rest were corporate and foundation gifts.

Jen Brickett '05 examines a dragonfly resting on a plant in Woodiebrook Preserve in Munson Township, Ohio, outside of Cleveland. Brickett was an intern with the Chagrin River Land Conservancy, through the auspices of the Colgate on the Cuyahoga program.
Hurwitz said the Colgate Club of Cleveland, parents of area students, President Rebecca Chopp, and the university's development and career services offices supported the program.

Throughout the summer, students from all four schools had plenty of exposure to the city and its leaders. Crosley said 12 mandatory events, including a meeting with Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, were on the schedule. Other events, such as a tour of the Cleveland Museum of Art, were optional.

"My impression is that the students have had a terrific summer," Hurwitz said during the Fourth of July weekend. "They've been challenged professionally and socially. They've been able to explore a new city and, potentially, a new career. They've had the chance to meet new people."

Big fish, smaller pond
Some of the students, including Colgate seniors Jen Brickett, Mia Mabanta, and Jenny Niles, took advantage of every opportunity.

"We choose to be this busy," said Brickett, an environmental economics major, during a rare moment of downtime one evening after working at the Chagrin River Land Conservancy.

Niles agreed, highlighting a lecture by Dr. Edward Hundert, president of Case Western Reserve University, and gatherings with "enthusiastic" Colgate alumni as among her favorite events.

Crosley noted that 14 alumni acted as hosts, or mentors, to the Colgate students. Many had not been involved with the Cleveland alumni club in any capacity prior to making that commitment, she said.

Niles and her friends said they were especially interested in learning what alumni have done since leaving Hamilton, N.Y.

"A lot of us were freaking out about graduation," said Mabanta, an environmental geography major from the Philippines who spent the summer in the natural resources department of Cleveland Metroparks. But hearing stories about what people do for a living and how they got there "eased the mind a bit."

"You realize you don't have to have a clear path," added Brickett, who hails from Massachusetts.

All three said they also were pleased to learn about the various civic opportunities available in Cleveland. That's just one reason why they'd consider returning.

"Cleveland is small enough that you can make a difference," said Niles, a biology major from Vermont.

Eric Levasseur '99, who attended high school in Cleveland and returned after college, knows just what she means. Now a lawyer, Levasseur told Niles, Brickett, and Mabanta, "It's about whether you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond."

A 2004 recipient of the Ann Yao '80 Memorial Young Alumni Award, Sarah Treffinger Latson '99 is a reporter for The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer, president of the Colgate Club of Cleveland, and a host for the Colgate on the Cuyahoga program.
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