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A Capital Internship

Anh Nguyen '13

by Kate Dunlop Seamans

As she strides along the sidewalk between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials, high heels clicking, Anh Nguyen '13 looks like any young professional living and working in the nation's capital.

“Vice President Joe Biden came to a fund-raising event I helped plan, and I got to meet him. I am not an American citizen, so I had to plan ahead and go through extra security measures,” says Nguyen, a Business Administration major and Wesson Honors student from Hanoi, Vietnam. Overhead, another plane roars into view as it takes off from Reagan International Airport. “I've met Senator John McCain, too, and many generals and other military personnel.”

Last fall, Nguyen had enough credits to graduate early and begin an M.B.A. program, but she wanted to make the most of her undergraduate opportunities and study in Europe for a semester. Then she spotted a poster for the Washington Internship Institute at the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning for Career and Academic Advising, and the promise of gaining more professional experience intrigued her. The institute is an educational nonprofit organization that matches college students and recent graduates with semester-long internships in Washington, D.C. Colby-Sawyer began an affiliation with the program in 2010, and since then 10 students have completed internships in D.C.

The college's emphasis on combining a strong liberal arts and sciences foundation with professional preparation means that every student must complete at least one internship before they graduate. Harrington Center for Experiential Learning surveys show that 43 percent of those internships lead to job offers.

Although an internship with Ameriprise Financial Services in 2011 fulfilled Nguyen's internship requirement and affirmed her passion for finance, she wanted to explore other aspects of business, such as marketing, business development and event planning. She signed on with the institute and secured a position as a special events intern at Hayes and Associates, a public relations firm. In her first week, Nguyen was given a cubicle and a list of VIPs to call and recruit for event sponsorships.

“It was a challenge because I was not confident talking on the phone with my accent,” Nguyen explains as she passes the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. “My first few calls were horrible; people asked me to repeat myself a lot. I didn't want to tell my supervisor I could not do it, so I went home and practiced in front of the mirror. The next day I did a lot better.”

It wasn't long before Nguyen was deeply involved in planning major events, from business development and inviting the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, to figuring out seating and registration logistics, briefing speakers and tracking media coverage. On her best days, people like the director of Texas Instruments and vice president of Apple called to accept her invitations.

“I interacted with people from all walks of life and learned something from every event,” says Nguyen. “Team work was vital, just as it has been with my business projects at Colby-Sawyer. You have to figure out how to work together. Because of my liberal arts foundation I could discuss art, history, religion—everything that ends up coming into conversation every day— with clients, my peers and supervisors. Every class I have taken has proved helpful. I think I surprised some people.”

Again and again Nguyen heard that good grades do not guarantee a job after college—recruiters want to see relevant experience. “My internship is helping me learn what to expect after graduation. I'm gaining experience in almost every aspect of business,” she says. “I've had a chance to find my strengths and weaknesses. This experience has helped me define my career goals, and I have a lot more confidence now. I want to be a leader.”

Numbers make decisions, which is why Nguyen loves finance, and she wants to leverage her interests to help others succeed and sustain economic growth. With the Thomas Jefferson Memorial looming behind her and Marine 1 flying low over the Mall, it's easy to imagine this determined young woman will meet her goals. “I grew up in Hanoi, surrounded by urban poverty. I watched my mother, an eye nurse, help a lot of people, not only medically but financially. It made me wonder what I could do to make people happy and struggle less,” she says. “After graduate school, I want to work in a fast-paced company while I am young and have the energy. I think my international experience will benefit a lot of organizations. My ultimate goal, though, is to create a fund and help the homeless. As long as I give my best effort to everything I do, I will have no regrets.”