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Perspective: Reinvesting Time to Cultivate Talent

When Giving Back Gives Back

August 1, 2022 – In late 2019, NAUDL embraced a vision to make alumni relations a priority. With so many urban debate alumni in college and contemplating career plans and aspirations, I felt that we could offer unique training, navigation skills, and mentorship to those now working to apply the formative skills they learned in debate to college and professional development activities. The NAUDL White & Case Fellows program was launched in the summer of 2020 as a result of these strategic efforts.

As is often the case, what was intended as a “give-back” experience to network alumni, has ultimately brought as much value to me as it does them. Because of our Fellows program, the summer months now have special meaning  for NAUDL staff and our league partners. (Fellows are placed directly with NAUDL or a participating league.) These young leaders bring an energy and enthusiasm to our work when we need it most – lending us their talent, creativity, and productivity in completing projects that help enable the quickly approaching debate season.

Each Fellows class of 10 selected alumni commits to a 10-week paid internship where they gain valuable work experience and develop essential career-readiness skills. (All are currently enrolled, and have completed at least their first year, at a college or university.) With guidance from NAUDL and league staff, Fellows complete special projects that support critical debate programs, data systems, fundraising efforts, marketing and communications plans, and engagement initiatives. In addition, they benefit from networking opportunities and weekly Roundtable sessions (based in the National Association of Colleges and Employers Competencies for Career Readiness), with professionals volunteering their time and sharing insight and advice from their respective career journeys. These Friday Roundtable sessions are surely a highlight of each week for me. Not only do our students gain new perspective and inspiration from our engaging volunteer panelists, but I learn right alongside them.

Personally, I feel such a sense of pride in how the Fellows prepare for each of these discussions. They show up every Friday fully locked into the topic and ready to ask the most thought-provoking questions — eager to apply new approaches and best practices to their respective career journeys. This level of assertiveness is quite impressive given the achievements of our panelists (global CEO, tech founder, journalist, and top litigator-types, for example) and the fact that the Fellows are just beginning to build their professional portfolios.

The Fellows program allows NAUDL to expand our impact, ensuring that debaters are prepared to leverage the life skills they hone through debate in service of their careers. When I observe Fellows in action, I see sheer talent, not raw talent. For every coach who is spending the extra hour, every staff member who is developing new programming, and every partner, donor and volunteer who contributes their dollars or time, know that your investment casts a ripple across a sea of possibilities — not just for the Fellows, but for all of our bright alumni who have high aspirations for their careers and beyond.

Special thanks to White & Case LLP for its outstanding support of the Fellows program.

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