New Ada Comstock Scholar Phounam Pin’s journey to Smith included stops around the world as a circus acrobat touring with a troupe from her home country of Cambodia.
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A Fair Shake in a Down Economy
Last spring, just as businesses around the country began shutting down or moving to a remote workforce, the Lazarus Center for Career Development surveyed the employment plans of the class of 2020.
The results? Pure anxiety, according to Deborah Wijnhoven, senior associate director of the Lazarus Center and director of employer relations. “There was a general feeling that the rug had been pulled out from under them,” Wijnhoven said. “The class felt that they really needed some help.”
With an urgent call from President Kathleen McCartney to look for ways Smith could ensure that new graduates got a fair shake in a down economy, the team at Lazarus partnered with the Office of Alumnae Relations and Development to launch a new career initiative that would provide $3,000 in Praxis internship funds to members of the class of 2020. Dozens of alumnae stepped up to provide summer opportunities—all remote—that gave a boost to new graduates whose job prospects were severely limited, put on hold or eliminated by COVID-19. More than 150 grads found Praxis internships, which in previous years had been offered to students, but not graduates.
“This is a perfect example of the Smith network at work,” said Denise Wingate Materre ’74, vice president for alumnae relations. The program was supported by endowed internship funds from alumnae.
Stacie Hagenbaugh, director of the Lazarus Center, said the program assured job-hunting Smith grads that even during difficult times it was still possible to get started in a profession you love. “One of the biggest outcomes was that we were able to help some of our newest graduates keep their momentum going, to keep moving forward despite the obstacles in their way,” Hagenbaugh said.
Among the alumnae to offer internships was Tracy Suitt Keogh ’83, chief human resources officer at Hewlett Packard, who set aside 25 slots in the company’s summer training program for members of the class of 2020. Ultimately, 17 Smith grads went through the program.
Stephanie Mickle ’94, CEO of Mickle Public Affairs Agency, created two opportunities at her Washington, D.C., firm, including one filled by Chioma Chinwuko ’20, who helped organize virtual town halls, conduct research for projects related to COVID-19 and assist in other media-related projects. “I believe in what Smith women can do,” Mickle said. “There is tremendous benefit to having courageous, bright and creative Smith graduates and students working with me.”
For Materre, the initiative exemplifies the long history of alumnae stepping forward to help fellow Smithies in times of need. “We asked for help and alums answered,” she said. “The impact on the lives of some of our newest graduates has been immeasurable.”
This story appears in the Fall 2020 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.