For Duke senior Elle Pishny, entering the corporate world doesn’t mean abandoning her social conscience. Instead, she has found ways to make it possible for Duke students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to volunteer at nonprofits over the summer.
A public policy class with Tony Brown, professor of the practice of public policy, first sparked Pishny’s passion in social entrepreneurship. Many nonprofit organizations are based in major cities -- New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C -- with expensive housing rates and high costs of living, she realized. These internships tend to be unpaid, and the combined financial burden forced many students at Duke -- where about 40 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid -- to abandon those internship possibilities.
Pishny, a varsity distance runner, began researching ways to remove the financial barriers to nonprofit internships, and found inspiration from a program run by the University of Notre Dame. Working with the Duke Alumni Association and Sheila Curran, executive director of the Career Development Center, Pishny created a program that matches students with an alumni host family during their internships.
“The perception is that every Duke student only wants to do investment banking during the summer,” Pishny said. “In reality, there are so many who have a passion for serving others, but the only way they could do it is if housing costs were covered.”
Pishny devoted herself to implementing and institutionalizing the program, treating her class project “like a full-time job,” Curran said. After the first year, Pishny helped expand Summer of Service to include helping students find internships. She has also identified student leaders to continue the program after she graduates.
“One of the first questions we got from alumni was about sustainability and we realized it would be one of our greatest challenges,” Pishny said.
“Elle found a cause that she was absolutely passionate about,” Curran said. “She made Summer of Service happen by leveraging the financial and personnel resources of the entire Duke community, including alumni.”
Buoyed by the success of Summer of Service, Pishny went on to spend a summer working at Common Impact in Cambridge, Mass., where she helped match skilled corporate volunteers from leading companies to community nonprofit organizations in need of assistance in marketing, information technology and human resources. She also formed a lasting bond with the alumni host family with whom she lived – they intend to come to her graduation. “Even more than providing housing, which is crucial, the host families are tremendous mentors,” she said.
Pishny thinks she may take a job with a high-tech company when she graduates, but her public service work at Duke has reinforced a desire to continue to be involved in her community.
“Every one of our participants is thrilled to be able to give back,” she said. “Some are going to law school, others to med school, some to the private sector and others into social work. They’re all grateful for the opportunity to make the most of their Duke experiences, and programs like Summer of Service help them to do their best to be prepared for whatever they choose.”