Non-profit Internship in Public Education -
A Rewarding Experience
By Srik Gopalakrishnan, MBA2
The Monroe Street Journal
University of Michigan Business School
November 11, 2002
I must begin by confessing that as an international student
beginning my MBA at the University of Michigan Business School
last fall, a non-profit internship wasn't exactly on my list.
I was hoping to travel down the trodden path of most ambitious
MBAs - Strategy Consulting, and my education and background
convinced me that it was the right path for me to follow.
Until the current economic situation and the consequent dearth
of employment opportunities convinced me to take a long, hard
look at what I really wanted to do this summer. I decided
to focus more on 'what activities would I be happy doing?'
rather than 'what industries do I want to target?' As I made
a mental checklist of things 'I'd be happy doing', it seemed
increasingly apparent to me that it was imperative for me
to get some experience working for a smaller firm in a non-traditional
sector. As I looked at off-campus positions, I was particularly
attracted to the internship opportunity with The Ball Foundation,
as it had at its core something that I have come to value
greatly - education.
The Ball Foundation is a family Foundation based in Glen
Ellyn just outside of Chicago that works in two different
albeit closely linked areas - Public Education and Career
Counseling. My internship was with 'Education Initiatives
(EI)', the arm of the Foundation that primarily consulted
with public school districts in implementing several reform-based
initiatives. I had a brief but highly rewarding interaction
with 'Career Vision', the other arm, the details of which
I will save for later.
EI has 'partnership agreements' with four small to medium
size school districts in the U.S. The EI staff, located both
at Glen Ellyn and at some of the partnership sites, engage
in continuous interactions with school district officials
and local school staff to introduce and implement many productivity-driven
interventions. These include site-based decision making, leadership
development, school based budgeting and school design collaborative
models. Most EI staff members have a background in Education,
which in some cases is complemented with an MBA degree. Increasingly,
the focus for EI has been the infusion of successful ideas
and concepts from the business world in to the realm of public
education. And this, in many ways, is what I attempted to
accomplish during my internship - to marry the worlds of business
and education with a view to create sustainable, impactful
Having worked previously in a large consumer products company,
I had virtually no perspective on working in a small, non-traditional
firm. Hence, every little experience added value and opened
my mind to multiple possibilities. Some of the things I found
appealing were o The sheer novelty of being 10% (to 15% depending
on the point in time) of the total staff at EI. This was a
refreshing experience in terms of being a part (even as an
intern) of all the interesting things that were going on.
I attended weekly staff meetings, sat in on presentations
by other EI members and read updates on key projects that
were ongoing. o Being given a very high level of autonomy
in carrying out my projects. Except for the project briefs
that were given to me at the beginning, I carried out most
of the work independently, with occasional suggestions and
guidance from the EI staff. Being a person who likes to be
more entrepreneurial and innovative in his work, I found this
approach quite refreshing. o The openness to my suggestions
and recommendations, both from the EI staff as well as from
the education officials that I worked with. The fact that
a 'rookie' MBA intern with no background in education was
taken quite as seriously as I was amazed me endlessly!
To state that the internship experience added tremendous
value to me as a person would be an understatement. It exposed
me to a sector that I hadn't had any experience with and it
taught me that successful management concepts are workable
not only in the business sector but also in education. The
most important learning for me, however, was how it changed
my perspective on the kind of full-time career I wanted to
pursue, or in the words of the Foundation's Executive Director,
'what I wanted to be when I grew up.'
Somewhere between implementing a school based budgeting
system for an Illinois school district, suggesting better
means of collaboration for a collection of Michigan school
districts and writing a paper on productivity benchmarking,
it hit me - this was way more than a regular job. And in my
mind, it became clearer that I wanted something similar for
a full-time job. Some of these values got corroborated when
I took an intensive career aptitude test with Career Vision.
Called the 'Ball Aptitude Battery (BAB®)', it involved
everything from GMAT style math questions to finger dexterity
tests to memory games. When the feedback was administered
to me, it helped clarify some of the notions that had already
formed in my mind regarding the ideal career for me and it
helped me get in touch with facets of my personality that
had been relatively remote. It was a great bonus in addition
to the rewarding experience that the internship itself had
As I proceed with a full-time job search this fall, I intend
to be more focused on job content, rather than on the industry.
My attempt would be to look either for large companies that
have strong entrepreneurial culture or small companies that
engage in interesting work in emerging segments. My long-term
goal is to work in developing markets and I'm hoping that
carrying out more 'greenfield' projects like the ones I undertook
over the summer would position me advantageously to assume
positions of responsibility in emerging economies.
Irrespective of whatever happens this fall, I can say with
conviction that working for a non-profit organization in the
U.S. has been an immensely enriching experience and has helped
me greatly in moving closer to figuring out what I want to
be when I, eventually, grow up.
Direction. Decisions. Satisfaction.