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nonprofit sector

Internship opens window on careers in development and nonprofit sectors

From May 24 to July 30, economics and sociology senior Caroline Williams worked as an intern with the Nationwide Development Resources team of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Nationwide Development Resources team is based at the ACLU’s national office in New York City; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams undertook her internship remotely.

woman with long hair seated at a wooden table while smiling and working on a laptop computer
Caroline Williams

This internship fit perfectly with Williams’ longstanding interests. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Williams was drawn to public policy and social issues. At The University of Tulsa, where she is pursuing a minor in political science, Williams has furthered explored these topics while getting involved with the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature, the TU Student Association and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority (of which she is now president).

The genesis of her ACLU internship arose during Williams’ junior year when she was a student in Civil Liberties in the United States, a course taught by Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Hockett. “This course really opened my eyes to the fascinating history of the ACLU and inspired me to see whether an internship with them was possible,” said Williams.

Turns out, an internship with the ACLU was not only possible but also highly rewarding – both for Williams and the organization. So much so, in fact, that the ACLU has hired Williams as a temporary worker until the end of September. Her focus will be on helping to plan the Nationwide Development Convening, an internal conference for development staff at the affiliate and national level. At present, her main projects involve increasing participant engagement and ensuring compliance with organizational inclusion policies, such as closed captioning requirements.

In this Q&A session, Williams illuminates the path she took to land the ACLU internship and the various projects on which she collaborated.

How did you find your ACLU internship?

Throughout my search, I relied heavily on the assistance of Brooke Smart, the arts and sciences career coach at TU’s CaneCareers. She encouraged me to find organizations I was interested in and search their career boards for internship opportunities.

When I found this position, I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine and use my degree skills while still working for a company advocating for broad social change. Brooke helped me throughout the entire process by reviewing my cover letters and practicing interviews.

What were the main projects you worked on with the ACLU’s Nationwide Development Resources team?

I spent a large portion of my internship working on an affiliate assessment grid. This research-based project involved creating a spreadsheet that cataloged development staff from across the country. The details I included were staff contact information, pronouns, employment dates and more. This spreadsheet will be the back end of a staff database, so I also standardized staff titles to match the job functions.


Throughout the year, each affiliate may present different pieces of information to their board, a practice that’s common among nonprofits. To help make this process easier for our affiliates, I created a slide deck that can be used to navigate dashboards in Looker, a business intelligence tool.

I also had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects centering around the Southern Collective. This ACUL initiative is aimed at uniting southern states to combat regional issues, such as voting rights.

What were some of the most satisfying elements during your internship?

One of the most satisfying elements of my internship was the ability to engage in so many different areas. The ACLU has a very well-rounded internship program that includes speakers, workshops and networking with individuals from many different teams across the organization. I had the opportunity to speak with both interns and staff who were working in legal teams, advocacy, communication, marketing and, of course, development. This gave me a comprehensive understanding of the ACLU as a whole and how each department is integral to its success.

Another rewarding aspect was the ability to connect with staff from across the country. The Nationwide Development Resources team has the opportunity to connect with affiliates in each state, so I was able to meet with a variety of different staff members and learn more about the work they are engaging with on a local level. It was especially exciting for me to be able to meet with ACLU employees from Missouri, which is my home state, and Oklahoma.

How did your internship change you and give you new perspectives?

This internship opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in development or nonprofit work. I had been considering many different career paths, but truly enjoying my work showed me that this may be a great fit for a career.

Caroline was instrumental in moving forward a variety of projects for our team this summer. Not only did she provide additional capacity, but she also brought a fresh perspective to our work. 

Caroline’s contributions made our team more efficient and better organized. She helped to develop our strategic plan, build out business intelligence tools and was an active participant in many important stakeholder meetings. Caroline was a complete joy to work with as well, diving into each task with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. We all think she is a rising star and we are excited to watch her career trajectory.

Pamela Zimmerman
Deputy Director, Nationwide Development Resources, ACLU

By working with a team focused on providing resources, I was also exposed to different strategies that can be used in capacity-building initiatives as well. I learned many different leadership and management skills that I will be able to use in my student organizations and future career.

What skills and knowledge did you acquire or sharpen, and how will they be useful for the rest of your studies at TU and career after graduation?

Since I had the opportunity to work on so many projects, I was able to learn such a wide range of technical skills. I was exposed to programs such as Looker and Salesforce, but I also had the opportunity to advance my Excel skills. Overall, the new knowledge I gained will be helpful in many different career fields, but especially development or nonprofit careers.

CaneCareers offers a lifetime of career assistance. Whether you are deciding on a major, exploring career options, finding an internship, planning for graduate school or landing that big job, get in touch and find out how we can help!


MBA students develop plan to grow educational opportunities for vulnerable Tulsans

During the final semester of the full-time Partnering with Business MBA program, students form teams and undertake a consulting project for a real-life organization in the community. Most often, these projects involve clients in the for-profit sector. In fall 2019, however, a team of five students spent four months developing a robust plan to help Tulsa Hope Academy build on its success and expand to meet the educational needs of more people.

Tulsa Hope Academy is a private, accredited, Christian faith-based secondary school that opened in September 2005. It is located in the SpiritLife Church complex near 51st Street and Peoria Avenue. A nonprofit organization, Tulsa Hope Academy enables youths as well as adults who have found it highly challenging or even impossible to stay in the public school system to learn, thrive and complete their high school diplomas. There’s a pressing need for such safety-net education, given the 7.56% dropout rate among Tulsa Public Schools students and the 13% dropout rate across Tulsa County.

Forty students are currently enrolled at Tulsa Hope Academy. The school’s founder and current executive director/lead administrator, Debra Mann, along with her board would like to increase that number.


That’s where the TU MBA team came into the picture. The five diverse, ambitious individuals who comprised that group were Alyssa Bolliger, Grey Howard, Megan Senol, Yoeri Sijbers and Katarina Webster.

The faculty member who led the capstone course and oversaw the students’ work was Brice Collier, who has been directing the course ever since its inception. “The students get a real confidence boost from the experience,” he said. “This course uniquely and powerfully positions our alumni to hit the ground running in their careers. It’s good for the clients, and it’s what differentiates our program from the rest. Time and again, I’ve heard from employers that TU’s MBA grads possess real-world knowledge and skills.”

Statistics regarding the Full-time MBA: Partnering with Business program's capstone courseWhen it comes to putting together each semester’s teams, Collier aims “to create groups that not only bring the skills needed to the table, but likewise have diversity in education, personal background and thinking style. I also try to match students with clients that fit with what they hope to do in their careers.”

To help understand these dimensions of his students, Collier has each one complete a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment. “The diversity of styles creates a powerful team if they use the diversity to their benefit, and most of the teams do,” he said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for their careers.”

Read about another team of MBA students who a couple of years ago generated a 10-year business plan for Cherokee Heritage Center, the premier cultural center for Cherokee tribal history, culture and the arts.

Hope for the best

For the Tulsa Hope Academy project, Collier observed, the two key disciplines the team had to address were strategy and marketing. Throughout the semester, team members met several times with Mann and her leadership team to understand their problems and goals, observed classes at the school and gathered twice each week as a group to share ideas and work on the project. “Our principal aim,” Senol noted, “was to provide Mann and Tulsa Hope Academy with the materials and resources to grow the business over five years in order to serve more students in Tulsa and beyond. These largely pivoted on fundraising, raising awareness and franchising.”

To that end, the team focused on several core activities:

  • Researching high school education trends and issues in Tulsa and Oklahoma
  • Consulting with the client to understand Tulsa Hope Academy’s needs and objectives
  • Creating presentation templates for fundraising requests
  • Assembling a database of foundations that might support Tulsa Hope Academy
  • Developing a franchise model that captures Tulsa Hope Academy’s vision and mission
  • Formulating recommendations and tools

The team delivered its five-year strategic plan report to Mann and several members of the school’s board in person on Dec. 11. The main elements of that plan were identification of growth areas for expansion, collaboration opportunities (e.g., with Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Public Transit) and fundraising strategies and tactics. The report included a financial plan and recommendations that projected out to 2025. Among the recommendations were the gradual creation of additional learning “pods” within Hope Academy’s current building and, beginning in 2023, opening additional locations – first in east Tulsa and then in north Tulsa.

For Sijbers, the most rewarding aspect of working on this project was “to have an impact on the students directly involved with the Tulsa Hope Academy’s programming. The results are so tangible, and it wasn’t about a corporate bottom line in this case. Yet, I was able to use all my business skills, especially my quantitative and analytic abilities, just in a completely new setting. When you are consulting, whether for a for-profit company or a nonprofit organization, you always have to keep in mind that every recommendation you make must align with who your client is and what they want to do.”

Client satisfaction

One of the consistent dimensions Collier has noted during the past seven years leading the consulting course is the fact that clients so often receive “fresh perspectives – things they never would have thought of on their own.” This result was evident in the case of the Tulsa Hope Academy project.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with the TU MBA students,” Mann commented during a post-presentation conversation. “The students’ plan will have a huge effect on Tulsa Hope Academy over the next five years. That’s because they listened, they understood what we are about, they were thoughtful and they were very professional. It was so useful and exciting to have a fresh set of eyes on all aspects of our organization.”

For Mann, one of the “home run” elements in the final presentation was the fundraising toolkit, as one of her main duties is to spearhead the quest for donations. Mann was also strongly drawn to the students’ proposals for collaborating with other education providers in the city and noted that is one of the action items she will address earlier rather than later. “The idea of replicating a second pod here at the church and maintaining that consistency is also very attractive,” she commented. “My next steps will also be, as the students recommended, to raise awareness of what we are offering.”

Student development

Each team of students wants to generate ideas and plans that will advance their clients’ objectives. But these capstone projects are, of course, aimed at giving TU’s MBA students experiences that will help them build successful careers. So, how did the Tulsa Hope Academy team fare in this regard?

MBA students working on their consulting projectFor Senol, one of the major elements the team had to tackle was defining the project’s scope. “That was where a lot of our effort went in the beginning,” she said. “There was so much potential to cover, and we didn’t want to miss anything. However, we needed to be realistic, for both the client and ourselves.”

Thinking more about scope, Senol commented that “The business skills I acquired during this course were all related to project management in some shape or form.” For Howard, project management is a “universal skill” that entails “taking the bare bones of a project and fleshing them out into something that’s a lot bigger than you expected. That’s useful for any career. When the path isn’t clear on a project, you need to be able to figure out with your teammates where you want to go.”

Along the same lines, Senol noted that “Creating the timeline and avoiding bottlenecks was key to accomplishing what we set out to do.” Webster concurred, adding that “It was really challenging to schedule everything out across an entire semester-long project. Time management was also very important, and these were valuable skills to learn.”

A further benefit for Webster was the development of her communication skills and ability to work as part of a team, elements that had not figured largely in her previous undergraduate accounting studies. “If those are things you want to hone, this is the program for you,” Webster concluded. Similarly, for Bolliger, valuable new tools she acquired were presentation and communications skills: “We also learned to gather huge amounts of information and then to sort through it to identify the most meaningful parts and what we could do with them in order to provide a solid plan for Tulsa Hope Academy to get to the next level.”


Catch a glimpse of a couple of other recent MBA consulting projects:

TU MBA students worked with calibration and measurement company J.A. King.

TU MBA students worked on a project for Volkswagen parts manufacturer MST.


The full-time Partnering with Business MBA program is part of a suite of seven MBA programs offered by TU’s Collins College of Business. Whether you are interested in a career in the for-profit or nonprofit sectors, you are likely to find a program that suits your ambitions.