Nicola is a Berkeley-bound senior from Bronxville, NY, with a passion for politics and human rights.
I felt perfectly equipped to deliver coffees. Not much more. As I looked around the conference table at the dozen MBA students, I was pretty sure I was in the wrong place.
I had expected a more traditional internship at a social impact startup. Somehow, my summer experience with Inspiring Capital became something quite dramatically different.
When I arrived in June, I was thrown into the SESTI program, joining a cohort of MBA students who were paired with undergrads, all from impressive-sounding schools like Stanford, Harvard, Wharton and Kellogg. Each MBA-undergrad pair was assigned to a nonprofit or social venture and tasked with completing a consulting project over ten weeks from June to August. My assignment was to develop a financial model and monthly report for the CFO of The Doe Fund, a New York City nonprofit that employs ex-cons. My partner for the project was a Wharton MBA student, thirty, and married with two kids.
I felt lost. I entered an alternate reality where I was regularly referred to as the “fellow,” consulted for advice on financial modeling, and asked to present in staff meetings. I became accustomed to conference rooms and security desks and traveling between Midtown and East Harlem as if I belonged in both places. I attended events and happy hours, and I perfected the art of drinking Perrier with dignity. My daily encounters in a variety of professional settings inevitably ended in awkward conversations where I was forced to admit that I was a high school senior, and not—as my coworkers so readily accepted—an elite MBA student.
My new routines were a world apart from what I was accustomed to. I raided my mom’s closet, borrowing starched linen knee-length dresses I’d never imagined myself in. Monday through Friday, nine to five, I scheduled meetings, analyzed financial statements, and tried to teach myself the hundreds of things I was presumed to already know. Every Tuesday I traveled with the other students to a series of fascinating companies around the city, from Bloomberg to Citibank to Warby Parker, and heard from dozens of people working in the social impact space.
It was new and exciting and constantly uncomfortable. Growing up in a rather homogenous suburb, I developed a strong predilection for order and familiarity. Suddenly, I was thrown into a world where I had to adjust—and readjust—on an almost hourly basis.
So I adjusted. I quietly delighted in being mistaken as older and more experienced, and I began to mold myself into the new role I had assumed. I indulged in that prevalent childhood fantasy of fast-forwarding to being a grown-up, and soon found myself contributing something worthwhile rather than just struggling to keep afloat.
My experiences last summer do not fit neatly into my life back home. And that’s okay. As I move away from what’s familiar and become exposed to new worlds and new challenges, I expect—and hope—that they will not all seamlessly fit together. My summer experience was simultaneously jarring and encouraging. I look forward to finding myself in places and situations, and among people, that expand, distort, conflict, and continually butt heads with what is familiar in surprising and sometimes uncomfortable ways.
The product I helped create—a monthly financial report—has real, applicable value. So does every uncomfortable, exciting, terrifying, and sometimes overwhelming experience I had this summer. I’m excited for the multitude of similarly unnerving experiences to come.
I may have been content delivering coffees. But after this summer, I want to feel more than complacent comfort in my undertakings. The alternatives—variance, a bit of chaos, a world of unexpected challenges—have proven far more rewarding. Because now I feel empowered.