University Spotlight: Vanderbilt University


This post was written by Sarah Rudd, Sage Corps’ marketing intern.

We are eager to continue with our University Spotlight posts! Up today: Vanderbilt University.

Located in the Country Music Capital of the World, Vanderbilt is accredited for its competitive academics, D1 sports teams, and, of course, southern charm.

We had eight total Commodores in our 2017 summer program located all around the world in Santiago, Singapore, Paris, Dublin, Berlin, and Amsterdam. We checked in with four of our Vandy fellows to learn a little more about what they were up to this summer:

Becca Xu

Becca Xu interned for ZestMeUp, a Paris-based company that offers employee engagement software to help employees get anonymous feedback from their employees. At ZestMeUp, Becca wrote product specifications for new features or improvements to the company’s application and kept track of technological development and competitor advances in order to offer a leading, cutting edge product. She also helped develop a chatbot feature for the application.

Becca is rising sophomore hoping to double major in Philosophy and Computer Science, with a minor in Engineering Management.

Name one of your biggest wins of the summer.

“One of the greatest feelings in the world is being able to experience the fruit of your labor! Because a startup is so fast-paced, I have been able to witness the features that I helped design and write the specs for go through the entire UI design and development process, before finally being implemented in the application. It really made me feel like the work that I was doing was meaningful, and that even though I was only an intern, I was making a difference in the company.”

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

“One of the biggest skills I believe I was able to hone was my ability to adapt to any situation. I needed to be able to handle whatever they threw at me, no matter how unqualified or unknowledgeable I felt. I’ve been to client meetings with the executives of huge multinational companies, have delved into the world of AI and chatbot technology, and have wireframed numerous screens for the application. I had absolutely zero background in doing any of that before starting my internship!”

What's the most fun/ coolest thing you did with your cohort this summer?

“It’s just cool to be able to live in a city. Once we did all the touristy stuff, it felt like we really got to absorb the real Paris by walking around and exploring. Even doing simple things like having picnics along the Seine river at sunset were incredible experiences because we only got to do stuff like that—to live like locals—because we are here for so long. As a cohort, we explored so many niche restaurants, museums, parks, and cool areas off the beaten path that we started to feel like real locals. And that in of itself is pretty cool.”

When asked if she had a favorite faculty member back in Nashville, Becca gave us Christopher Davies’ name, a Professor/Advisor in the Philosophy Department. He was able to provide some insights on the value he sees in internships:

“First, internships encourage students to see the relevance and practicality of the seemingly abstract things they've learned in their classes by forcing them to apply it in real life circumstances. This can bring home the value of a college education in a way classroom assignments can't.

Second, internships can sometimes help students to concretize their educational plans by giving them a preview of what their professional life might be like after college. Once they've gotten a sample of how a certain career feels first hand, they can better understand what course of study best prepares them for it and can make more informed decisions about what major or minor to choose.”

Though she isn’t sure exactly what it is she wants to do post-graduation, Becca hopes to work within the tech industry in one way or another. She is interested in what she refers to as the “nuts and bolts” of software development, and also the problem-solving and visualization skills of UI/UX design. Eventually, she anticipates going back to school to attain some sort of higher degree.

Becca with other members of the Paris cohort.

Becca with other members of the Paris cohort.

Michael Umenta

Michael actually graduated from Vanderbilt this past May! He studied Computer Science and minored in Engineering Management. This summer, Michael interned at Soundbrenner in Berlin, Germany, where he worked on improving iOS accessibility for visually impaired musicians, constructing a more efficient localization workflow for the multiple platforms that the company runs on, and providing a more optimal user experience for Soundbrenner’s iPad users.

Name one of your biggest wins of the summer.

“Definitely learning to speak German. Doing so has really allowed me to grasp so much more of the German culture, and has allowed to engage with its people on a much deeper level.”

Why did you decide to participate in Sage Corps?

“I decided to participate in Sage Corps because it turned out to be literally the perfect opportunity. For the past few years now, I have been itching to both work for a startup, and travel abroad, two things that I never had the opportunity to do before. Because Sage Corps allowed me to do those things simultaneously, before deciding and committing to any post graduation path, I wanted to explore what Sage Corp had to offer in order to figure out if this experience would be a good fit for me. Turns out the fit was perfect, and I have never felt more assured of the future.”

What's the most fun/ coolest thing you did with your cohort this summer?

“The coolest thing was by far traveling to the former NSA listening station in Teufelsberg, in West Berlin. You have to hike up an artificial hill in order to get to the site, getting the opportunity to enjoy the more rustic side of Berlin. Then, when you get to the site, you encounter some of the most jaw-dropping post Cold War graffiti art you will ever see. Not only that, but because of the altitude, you also get a chance to see all of Berlin in the distance— and for really cheap! Teufelsberg was truly awe-inspiring, and because of the strong connection the site has to German and US history, visiting there was truly a full-package experience.”

Michael is considering staying in Berlin now that he has graduated - we can’t wait to see where the future takes him!

Michael with other members of the Berlin cohort.

Michael with other members of the Berlin cohort.

Jonathan Greenfield

Jonathan worked as a Business Development intern for FoodCloud, a non-profit tech start-up in Dublin, Ireland that helps facilitate food donations to various charities around the area. Some of his duties included developing a good overview of the US and European markets in relation to food donation opportunities, relationships with retailers, and food waste policies, conducting research on methods to increase operational efficiency within the company, and reaching out to more food retailers and charities within the Dublin area to expand the company’s operational footprint.

Jonathan is a rising junior majoring in Economics and minoring in Corporate Strategy.

How has this experience helped you get closer to achieving your post-graduation/ career goals?

“The programs set up by Sage Corps have allowed me to understand the true factors needed for a startup to be successful, and working for a startup has allowed me to comprehend exactly what is needed operationally and managerially in order to grow and expand a startup.”

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

“I’ve learned a lot about the entrepreneurial process and how devoted and motivated one must really be in order to succeed in this field. It is awesome to see so many people coming together working on a single, collective goal. Working at a startup has been awesome as I’ve really felt that my input is valued.”

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened while abroad in your city?

“Just learning that not everyone has the same ideals/values as you. Traveling expands your horizons and shows that there is so much diversification in our world, to where everyday you learn something new.”

Jonathan explained that Sage Corps has given him an affinity toward both entrepreneurship and technology, and he is hoping to go find a job connected to venture capitalism after graduating.

Hannah Waters

Hannah Waters interned for Dashmote, in Amsterdam, where her job responsibilities included researching current and prospective client bases, reaching out to and helping to draft proposals for prospective clients, and other various projects that the CTO, Stefan Tan, needed help with.

She is a rising junior majoring in Cognitive Studies and Communication Studies, and minoring in Business.

At this time, what are your post-graduation plans?

“My dream is to work for The Walt Disney Company in business development, corporate strategy, and communications at an international level. I want to aid the growth of the media conglomerate into one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information while preserving the integrity and warmth of the brand.”

What is the most valuable lesson/ most valuable skill you’ve learned or strengthened during your internship?

“The strategy of your business has to incorporate truly empathizing with the customers’ wants, values and/or needs. Researching and developing the experiences, goods or ideas your company produces with that knowledge in mind and that motivation in mind is what will help your business succeed. There is no magic formula for an idea, funding, or a team that will be successful, and this is especially true if the end goal does not appeal to the consumer. So, in tandem with learning that ideology, I have also learned how to empathize with potential leads and clients. Being able to put myself in their shoes when trying to appeal to them has completely changed my mindset on what a modern salesperson or marketing strategist has to accomplish.”

Why did you decide to participate in Sage Corps?

“I decided to join Sage Corps in order to further develop my motivators of ownership, excelling, and challenge, and so that I would have an even stronger understanding of the unique gift that I offer to any organization that I am a part of. I am fortunate enough to call my university my second home, and the comfort that comes with that kind of environment has led to my success in activities and experiences where I am familiar with the territory. I wanted to be completely immersed in a space where I would be challenged to accomplish novel things on my own. The second reason that I joined Sage Corps is because I knew the program would provide me with a role that satisfies my strong motivators: purpose and empathy. In working for a startup that is made up of people dedicated completely to growing the company’s success, I knew there would be a mission that I could put all of my efforts into supporting. That would satisfy my desire for purpose. Empathy is a large component of how I decide to appreciate and understand the world around me, making it so that I can learn from others’ experiences and relate to people on a deeper level. I believe that this is especially important when I am interacting with people that are different from me, and in an international business setting, I would not only get to interact with team members and learn about their backgrounds and what makes them so passionate about their product, I would be able to make authentic connections with a select group of student achievers and learn from them as well. Because Sage Corps promised these opportunities, I was and still am intensely interested in the program.”

Hannah in Amsterdam!

Hannah in Amsterdam!

We asked Hannah if she had a favorite professor back at Vanderbilt; she directed us to Craig Smith, Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies. This is what he had to say about Hannah’s time as a Sage Corps fellow:

"I am very pleased to learn that Hannah Waters is participating in Sage Corps’ global entrepreneurship program in Amsterdam. Hannah is an extremely smart, capable, and hard working student, for whom I have been pleased to be able to serve as her academic advisor. Hannah stands out as a student who is determined to make the most of the opportunities for personal and professional growth that are afforded her through her student experience at Vanderbilt. Not only is she a diligent student who works to take the most from each of her classes, but she has engaged in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, both on- and off-campus in ways that support her personal growth. Among these, her current internship through Sage Corps stands out as an especially valuable opportunity. At Vanderbilt we value immersive experiences, and it is evident that the experience that Sage Corps is offering Hannah in Amsterdam is an extremely valuable one: Her working in a meaningful role in a tech startup in an international context will provide Hannah with a wealth of experiences and connections that will prove to be of great value to her for years to come, in terms of both personal growth and career development. I couldn’t be happier for her!"

And we could not be happier for each of our fellows from Vanderbilt, either! We are so proud of all of their accomplishments thus far, and cannot wait to see what’s next for them as their Sage Corps fellowships draw to a close. Go ‘Dores!

Interning abroad provides valuable experience that employers love to see. Join the less than 1% of college students gaining international work experience today.