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Andrew Whitney ’12 directs program to pair Tacoma students with local internships

Andrew Whitney ’12 directs program to pair Tacoma students with local internships

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Image: Andrew Whitney ’12 poses on 11th with Tacoma behind, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Whitney is the Tacoma Site Director with Degrees of Change, an agency who’s missions statement reads “We prepare diverse, homegrown leaders to succeed in college and career in order to build more vibrant and equitable communities” . (Photo/John Froschauer)

March 16, 2021
By Rosemary Bennett '21
PLU Marketing and Communications

Ten years ago Andrew Whitney ‘12 was preparing for graduation, completing internships, and looking forward to starting a career in the world of business and finance. Now, it's his job to help place local high school and college students in internships with businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies in Pierce County, learning from his experiences, the good and the bad, in his own internships.

Whitney leads Seed Internships, a program dedicated to pairing Tacoma-area high school and college students from underrepresented backgrounds with local internships and working with students to improve their ability to communicate professionally and leverage the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in the classroom. 

Born and raised in Tacoma, Whitney majored in business in administration with a concentration in finance at Pacific Lutheran University. After graduation, he spent six years traveling and living abroad while working for Russell Investments, before seeking an opportunity to satisfy his passion for community and business back at home. Whitney launched and now manages Seed Internships, inspired by the internships he completed in college.

“The main themes are exposure, self-advocacy, and leadership. My goal is to help pair students with opportunities that are good for them and help them to get a taste for what it is that they really want to do. It’s important students get actual experience in their fields outside the walls of their schools,” Whitney said.

“I wanted local students to have the opportunity to work at home, if they wanted it,” continued Whitney. “If you go to UWT or PLU or wherever, and you want to go work in Seattle, Spokane, or San Diego, go, I will never tell you not to go. But if you want to do, say, architecture and you just don’t know any architectural firms locally, well here, let me introduce you to three great local firms and then you can figure out if it’s a good fit for you or not. I just want to provide exposure to students.”

One of many impactful programs managed by Tacoma-based nonprofit Degrees of Change, Seeds Internships also hosts a weekly class with participating students to track their progress and help them develop the professional skills they see in their internships throughout the week.This gives the students the added benefit of a mentor to aid in their adjustment to professional life. 

“With Friday professional development, we gather all the interns, regardless of their field, all together and we work on different development skills,” Whitney explained. “(Things like) self-advocacy, how to ask for more work without feeling overeager, how to say no without feeling lazy, how to manage one-on-ones, or communicate in an office setting. We do it with all the interns together, so they don’t just hear me monologue, but they get a dialogue with each other and share what they are learning in their placements.”

Recently, the pandemic has meant big changes for the program. Many local businesses and organizations have been deeply affected by COVID-19 and unable to host interns. “I think the biggest difficulty for most is just the uncertainty,” Whitney said. The Program has adjusted to a mostly online format, and is working to place students in internships that accommodate at home work to ensure safety, while helping students get the valuable experience of an internship, even as COVID-19 continues.

For students who will be graduating in the midst of the pandemic and entering the workforce for the first time, Whitney offered this encouragement, “If you want to be irreplaceable, go beyond your job description, learn more skills, apply more things. Show that you are eager to learn and contribute. These are the qualities that will help you stand out as you enter your professional field and in interviews.” 

“Another great piece of advice I like to give to our interns is to take a deep look at their skills,” Whitney continued. “What have you learned in school, what are your personal skills, what are they in need of for this position? Make sure these things are plainly present on your resume. It’s not bragging, its self-advocacy.”