The beauty of a network

With the DAA's help, alumni are helping students find opportunities during these tough times.

Samantha Lowe was hoping to spend her summer at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. But when the rising sophomore learned that the internship would be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she logged onto Ask a Blue Devil to ask for help.

The Duke Alumni Association platform matches Duke community users who need help with those who can provide advice, internships, and mentors. Lowe sent a message asking whether there was anyone who knew of remote internships related to conservation biology.

Nearly 1,000 miles away, Terry-René Wiesner Brown M.E.M. ’95, a natural-resources manager in a Florida parks and recreation department, replied. She offered Lowe an opportunity to work remotely with her over the summer. “I had just about given up hope on having a summer internship,” Lowe says. “When I got a response, I was thrilled.”

Lowe’s scenario has been replicated tenfold over the last few months, as more students have tried Duke’s network. What they’re learning is that they can make some strong connections.

That certainly was the case for Edem Asamoe, a rising junior majoring in neuroscience who also has a “deep-rooted passion for music…freestyling, instrumentation, music production, and attempts at audio engineering.” He sent a message about how to find a mentor in a studio manager or audio engineer who could help him explore his musical interests.

Asamoe got several responses, including one from George Graham ’72, the director of artistry and repertoire for a fifty-year-old jazz label specializing in classic jazz in northern Pennsylvania, and another from John Gromada ’86, an award-winning Broadway composer and sound designer in New York. They both offered to help Asamoe.

“It’s getting harder and harder for my friends who have studios to make a living at it, because everyone is producing music in their home studios these days,” Gromada told Asamoe honestly. “But here in New York, I have connections to studios that might be able to help. I’ll poke around and see who I can find to refer you to.”

Seeing alumni jump at the opportunity to help students isn’t surprising, says Susan Gordon, senior director of career and professional development at DAA. Alumni are “rising to the occasion with the energy and creativity we associate with Duke,” because they themselves have been the recipients of help from the worldwide alumni network, and they want to pay it forward.

And Gordon says she keeps seeing it happen. She recently helped organize an initiative that mobilized alumni to help students with more concrete summer opportunities—everything from a paid summer internship to a project that could be completed in a month or two—and the response was overwhelming.

Nearly 1,000 alumni e-mailed saying they could help. And, out of the more than 400 students who requested help, nearly all of them were granted an internship or mentorship.

“As a result, we’ve been able to match students with everything from a research project on coastal management in West Africa, to building a start-up, to a mentorship with an intelligence officer,” Gordon says.

Back in her Bethesda, Maryland, home, Lowe says she’s felt a lot of energy working remotely on projects with Wiesner Brown, who is sheltering in Pasco County, Florida, on the state’s west coast. She’s putting her intended minor in environmental science and policy to work—developing a sustainability plan for the county and researching ways to make the environmental footprint of one of the county’s new parks low-impact.

“I wasn’t expecting there to be any available remote internships related to my interests,” Lowe says. “But getting an opportunity from a fellow Blue Devil has made me feel very connected and supported by my Duke community.”

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Pamela Hawley, A.B.'91's picture
What an excellent article. At UniversalGiving®, we have been providing Internships and Returnships for more than 20 years. We have had more than 20 Duke students intern with us. Our CEO also has more than 10 Duke mentees. We would love to help any student!