As the executive director of P.G. Chambers School, Susan Seamans is confident her staff can handle the challenges of providing special education and therapy services to its students, many of whom have disabilities.
But while her teachers and therapists are talented and dedicated, it takes more than their expertise to fully meet the mission of the private nonprofit school. For Seamans, the answer has been student interns from the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Stevens interns have helped the school better target its fundraising through a blend of management training, marketing skills and technology expertise, allowing them to support website development, social media strategy and even event management.
“These things come naturally to Stevens students, but are not too natural for special education teachers or therapists,” Seamans said. “The combination of those skills and talents really enhance our programs.”
Verica Nakeva, now a sophomore in the Business & Technology program at Stevens, completed an internship for the development department at P.G. Chambers School this summer that was sponsored by the Summer Scholars Program, run by the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Stevens. A Macedonian native who moved to New Jersey with her family when she was 3, Nakeva has past internship experiences in office administration and law, but called her experience at P.G. Chambers School “amazing.”
“They took so much of my input seriously, as opposed to just having me sit in the room,” she said.
While working with the development team, Nakeva saw staffers struggling to use a vital database used to search for grants. She took it upon herself to contact other companies to research different options.
“I found a new database that they could use that didn’t have as many problems,” she said. “And they are actually now using the one I suggested.”
Interns ‘envision possibilities and execute very well’
That attitude and enthusiasm sets Stevens students apart, said Andrea Quigley, director of development at the school.
“Stevens students approach things very logically,” said Quigley, who managed Nakeva and other Stevens students who have interned at P.G. Chambers School. “They can analyze things very quickly, understand priorities, envision possibilities and execute very well.”
Some of Nakeva’s work built upon past efforts by School of Business interns. The relationship between the schools goes back to 2008, when Dr. Donald Lombardi, a management professor at Stevens, was researching leadership development techniques effective in healthcare. That helped connect Lombardi and Seamans, who wanted to establish an online presence for the school. Two Stevens interns, Tyler Courter and Nick Walsh, used their classroom training to build a social media strategy for the school.
“They really got it,” Quigley said. “Many of our students can’t verbally communicate, it’s hard for them to move. Nick and Tyler used social media to celebrate our students, their successes and their achievements, instead of focusing on their disabilities.”
Nakeva wanted to update that social media strategy, now five years old.
“The school is so forward-thinking and innovative in integrating technology, and using that technology to help children with disabilities to develop their skills,” she said. “But their website and Facebook were outdated and didn’t really reflect that.”
Nakeva attended classes and visited students with her camera, taking pictures and creating short, inspiring videos that built awareness. From about 600 followers when she started, the school’s Facebook page now has more than 1,000 followers, and posts attract many shares and comments.
“She brought such a combination of creativity and organizational skills to her projects,” Quigley said of Nakeva. “When it comes to technology, Stevens students aren’t intimidated or in awe, just very comfortable using these tools in ways that make our work smoother, more efficient and more effective.”
Applying classroom lessons on the job
Nakeva said her Stevens coursework helped her establish herself on the job, particularly lessons from a project management class with Dr. Lombardi, who recommended her to P.G. Chambers School for the internship.
“A lot of the things we learned in his class were so applicable to what I was doing in my internship,” she said. “In meetings about development strategies, they would ask if I was familiar with SWOT analyses, and I could say yes, because of Dr. Lombardi’s class.”
It’s also clear the experience of working with a nonprofit rubbed off on her. Nakeva came to Stevens to study business to prepare for a career in corporate law, but after classes in quantitative finance and her work with P.G. Chambers School, she’s not sure what the future holds.
“It was so rewarding to be working to raise this money and to see what it was going toward,” she said. “I got to interact directly with these kids, and gained so much respect for them — how intelligent they are and how hard they work. And the teachers work hard to make sure no one is left out, no matter their disability.”
Dr. Lombardi said he hopes exposing students to the challenges faced by organizations like P.G. Chambers School gives them added perspective on how to use their talents to make the world a better place.
“We have so many talented, enthusiastic students like Verica who learn just how valuable and adaptable their skills are through internships like this,” he said. “We’re fortunate to be able to work with partners like Susan to give our students different kinds of experiences that other schools aren’t able to offer.”