Perspective: Insights and Lessons from the “First Internship”

2021 Fellows Get Different View of Urban Debate Network

July 19, 2021 – If you have been following our work closely over the last 12 months, you will recall that  NAUDL was thrilled to host the inaugural year of the NAUDL Fellows internship virtually last summer. We are excited that this experience continues in 2021, thanks to a new three-year partnership with White & Case LLP.  Though our original plans for in-person student engagement and collaboration have not been possible, the program is still so valuable. The White & Case NAUDL Fellows Program offers an opportunity for Urban Debate Network alumni to develop key professional skills, while earning income and learning what it takes to support a thriving organization.  It also reminds me of how much I gained from my own first internship, and it is rewarding and to be able to provide similar opportunities for debate alumni.

In my junior year at the University of Tennessee, I knew I needed to gain real job skills and experience in my field of study before I graduated. So, I was delighted when I landed an industrial engineering internship at a small packaging company: Johnson Bryce.  Johnson Bryce was the first minority-owned flexible packaging company, an important partner to the larger Bryce Corporation and an essential supplier to the Frito-Lay® division of PepsiCo.  Co-owner Rhonda Johnson hired me as the company’s first intern.

My counterparts at Bryce that summer managed a few small projects.  However, since Johnson Bryce was a smaller and younger division (not unlike NAUDL), there were a number of critical projects in need of support. I was fortunate to be paired with a senior engineer who put me to work on these larger initiatives.  The projects were challenging, but I worked hard to do the best possible job. (I felt strongly that as the first intern, I also had to be a great intern.)  I received project-related mentorship to help ensure I stayed on track and had the resources I needed.  The real learning, though, happened outside of those projects.

Co-owner Bob Johnson took an interest in my development and shared leadership lessons from time-to-time.  Mr. Johnson had been one of the first African Americans to join the executive ranks at Sears Corporation and he was no stranger to hard work, challenges, or self-made success.  Our chats touched on topics like entrepreneurship, interpersonal communications, presentation skills, professionalism, and office politics.  He was gracious in sharing personal experiences from his rise to the top of the corporate ladder and I would draw from those early lessons for decades.

So, opportunities like working with our Fellows are always a full-circle moment for me. Through this program, my colleagues and I are committed to holding space for our Fellows to gain similar exposure.  Each Friday during the program, we host a Fellows Roundtable, with a goal of covering each facet of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Eight Career Readiness Competencies. Sessions, so far, have covered topics like career management, professionalism, and communications — all with the same candid environment for questions and answers I benefited from at Johnson Bryce.

During these afternoon sessions, friends of NAUDL, and volunteers from our partner White & Case, give an hour of their time to start a conversation.  Fellows get to ask questions and draw from the professional journeys of seasoned professionals who graciously share insights from past and current roles. As we near the half-way point of the program, we have four more topics to cover. These will then be followed by mock interviews, which will serve as the summer’s capstone.

Consider the benefit of an 18 to 20-year-old spending an hour on a single topic with someone who is objectively at the top of their career.  Now, consider the benefit of spending 10+ hours over the course of the summer with dozens of professionals sharing what they wish they had known when they started their first jobs after college. That’s what NAUDL is proud to do for our alumni Fellows, to offer these unique advantages.

I am energized every week by the dialogue we have as part of the Roundtables.  Hats off to the professionals who have far exceeded our expectations, as they have genuinely imparted valuable take-a-ways.  I cannot wait to see how our Fellows will capture and apply this wisdom and experience to their own bright futures.


The White & Case NAUDL Fellows Program is a 10-week internship with 10 students supporting NAUDL and two urban debate leagues (Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley). Fellows typically have at least two-years of college/university study and are selected through a spring application process. To learn more about the Fellows Program, click here. If you are interested in future mentorship/guest speaker opportunities, please send a message to Also, look out on our social channels and News page for personal essays penned by our Fellows in the upcoming weeks.

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