Students Realize Dreams Through Innovative Summer Internships Grant funding through W&L's Johnson Program allows student recipients to pursue passion projects and career development around the world.
“In true W&L fashion, there is a way of finding support for what you want to do — all I had to do was find it.”
~ Liv Ullman ’25
Foster Harris ’24 knew he wanted to spend his summer pursuing his political passion. Harris — a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, majoring in American politics and minoring in philosophy — serves as political chair for the university’s 28th Mock Convention, a student-run, simulated presidential nominating convention held every four years. Harris was looking for a summer experience that would inform his upcoming role in the Mock Con 2024 process, which he found through funding provided by the Johnson Opportunity Grant.
Harris landed at Ogilvy Government Relations in Washington, D.C., as a legislative intern. Harris was promoted to an entry-level role while still completing his internship, and he will continue to work for the firm on a part-time, remote basis this academic year. He said the guidance, support and resources provided through the Johnson Program and the Office of Career and Professional Development helped him make vital professional connections.
“I knew that being in D.C. would be the best way to get connected and forge relationships with folks who have boots on the ground in this primary process,” Harris said.
The Johnson Opportunity Grant program provides funds to support W&L student projects worldwide. The grants, which are awarded on a competitive basis, are open to any Washington and Lee student. By limiting financial restrictions, Johnson Opportunity Grants give students the ability to pursue academic and personal passions that will enhance their education or career potential.
“When we think about recruiting students to our campus, we know these kinds of experiences are so transformative for them,” said Elizabeth Knapp, director of the Johnson Program. “Internships are an opportunity for students to figure out what they like doing, or perhaps what they don’t like doing, which is equally important. This helps them navigate and narrow down their future interests. Seeing them venture out into the postgraduate world with these rich professional, volunteer and research experiences is exciting to watch.”
Johnson Opportunity Grants are typically awarded in a monetary range of $1,000 to $6,000 to support internships and summer projects that would have otherwise been inaccessible to students. Student proposals include a wide array of opportunities including volunteering, further study into a particular research topic, or gaining work experience in a career field of interest. Exactly half of this year’s recipients received grants to pursue domestic opportunities including attending conferences, participating in internships with political offices, medical research at national hospitals, and scientific research with faculty mentors.
Through the grant, Kelly Hayes ’24 was able to craft her own internship with the West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia Department of Economic Development, and Legal Aid of West Virginia. The experience included job shadowing and conducting shorter interviews with other organizations in West Virginia that deal with the intersection of economic development and education, such as the Randolph County Housing Authority and the National Youth Advocate Program.
“I used this opportunity as a way to discern my future career goals, gain professional experience, and do preliminary research for my upcoming education policy and poverty studies joint capstone,” Hayes said. “It was a unique experience that I certainly do not think I would have been able to do without grant funding.”
Hayes, an economics and politics double major with minors in education policy and poverty studies, is drawn toward education policy, economic development, social justice and public policy. She has long been interested in working within the West Virginia government and said the summer opportunity provided helpful intel on her intended career path.
“West Virginia is very special to me, as I grew up in Charleston, and I’m excited to serve as West Virginia’s state chair for Mock Con 2024,” Hayes said.
Johnson Scholar Summer Enhancement Funds exist to decrease financial barriers so Johnson Scholars may access a variety of domestic, international and virtual internships and research opportunities. The funds are intended to provide freedom for students to guide their own career and professional development while exposing them to new cultures, making them more competitive job applicants, and allowing them to develop personal passions.
Avani Kashyap ’25 used her enhancement funding to spend seven weeks in Bangalore, India, as an intern for Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT). KHPT is a national not-for-profit organization that works to improve healthcare outcomes in India within vulnerable communities, focusing on tuberculosis research. Kashyap’s responsibilities included evaluating interventions that address social barriers to tuberculosis care. She said her hands-on fieldwork led to the development of analysis metrics that will help improve the efficacy of interventions for patients in the future.
“The funding allowed me to dream big and pursue an internship abroad,” said Kashyap, a biochemistry major and a poverty and human capabilities studies minor from Dallas, Texas. “As my family is from Bangalore, I had the unique opportunity to explore my Indian heritage, immerse myself in the culture, and converse in the local language, Kannada — all while having a transformative public health and research experience. I am deeply grateful to the Johnson Program for helping me make this dream a reality.”
One of the most popular summer options for students is participating in programs approved by W&L’s Center for International Education that provide total cultural immersion; these can involve elements of in-class study, community service, research and internships. The cost of these programs has continuously increased in the past 10 years, with prices averaging $8,460 for a two-month experience in summer 2023, though this price tag excludes cost of living expenses.
The university plans to increase funding for both programs for the 2024 grant cycle. The Johnson Opportunity Grant Program will double the maximum value of the grant to $6,000. The Johnson Program expects a significant rise in the number of applicants and will be able to award five to 10 additional grants. The maximum Enhancement Fund award will increase to $10,000 for four years of undergraduate education. Knapp said this change aligns with offerings at W&L’s peer institutions.
“We’ve done a lot of research on the level of funding similar universities are able to provide for students, and we recognize that especially for traveling abroad, $3,000 for some students really isn’t enough,” Knapp said. “We want to make sure that all our students can participate fully in all of the wonderful career development opportunities available to them.”
Johnson Scholar Liv Ullman ’25, a chemistry major from Atlanta, Georgia, had the unique opportunity to combine a CIE Summer Grant, Johnson Opportunity Grant and Johnson Enhancement Funding for a summer experience that took her to Kisumu, Kenya, to work at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in the institute’s HIV and tuberculosis research labs. Ullman said that her time with the institute sparked a love of global health work, as well as an interest in studying infectious disease. The program also included daily Swahili classes and public health discussions with experts in the field. On the weekends, Ullman volunteered with a local orphanage.
“My volunteer experience was an amazing opportunity to meet locals, find something that I was passionate about, and just make a community there,” Ullman said. She hopes to return to Kenya and remains connected with her professional and volunteer network there.
“Everyone involved in supporting me through the application process did such an amazing job at helping me have an experience that my family would not otherwise have been able to afford,” Ullman continued. “In true W&L fashion, there is a way of finding support for what you want to do — all I had to do was find it.”
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