Knight Internship Profile: Jen Vliet

Communities / Article

Applications are now open for Knight Foundation’s summer internship program, which offers competitive, paid 10-week internships for college students and recent grads.

A former Knight intern turned Knight employee, Jen Vliet, talks about her experience as an intern in summer 2017 and her current role as an assistant in Akron for Knight’s Community and National Initiatives program.

What were your responsibilities as an intern for the Akron program team? How did your internship experience help you gain a better understanding of Knight’s work?

As an intern in the Akron office, my main responsibility was to discover a way to connect students at The University of Akron with downtown Akron in hopes of attracting and retaining talent.

Downtown Akron is one of the 26 communities where Knight invests, and the university’s campus sits just three blocks from downtown. Although very close in proximity, students are rarely seen in downtown enjoying its amenities. This is due to a number of factors, such as limited restaurant and retail options, lack of knowledge on amenities in downtown, poor lighting and the perception that the area is unsafe.

In order to attract and retain talent here in Akron, we needed to expose young adults to the amazing amenities and opportunities that the city has to offer. I came up with the idea of doing walking tours.

In partnership with Downtown Akron Partnership, a grantee of Knight Foundation, we provided free walking tours that began on campus and led into different business districts of downtown for every tour. We coordinated with small businesses to participate as destinations along the tour. Business owners were able to talk about their business and even provided students with treats and/or free coupons to come back. 

We got students, faculty and staff involved in the tours and exposed them to the amazing amenities that downtown has to offer.

In addition, I also attended Reimaging the Civic Commons (RCC) meetings and served on the Communications Committee to help generate ideas on how to share the stories of Summit Lake residents, as well as share the work that was being done.

My internship helped me gain a better understanding of the neighborhoods that make up Akron. Akron is one city with many neighborhoods, and I think that is one of my biggest take-aways from being an intern. Every neighborhood has a story, and they’re all important pieces of the city’s larger story.

As an intern, I gained an understanding of Knight’s inclusive culture, its heart to support their communities, willingness to try new things, and the support they provide their grantees.

Did your experience at Knight relate to your studies in school?

In some ways yes, but not directly! I graduated with a degree in integrated social studies education. The internship related to my field of study because I became very educated about the history of Akron as a whole. I learned about the bustling rubber industry after WWII and the effects of the industry’s exodus. I learned why neighborhoods matter, how our city has been shaped, what led to disinvestment and population decline, and so much more. I believe everything mentioned above is important to educate students and adults in Akron about the history of their city and why it matters.

How did you end up working for Knight Foundation in Akron? What are your responsibilities as an assistant in the community and national initiatives program?

My name got thrown into the applicant pool from a previous mentor of mine when I was a student. He has a relationship with Kyle, the Akron program director,  and mentioned my name for a potential summer internship. During that time, I had recently started a nonprofit program and gained experience in nonprofit work and became very involved in the community. From there, I stay connected to Knight’s work and the community. When the program assistant position opened, I was made aware and applied.

My responsibilities are to work with Kyle to support and promote the city of Akron, our grantees, and advocate for the people and places that make Akron, Akron. Those duties vary from administrative work, serving on committees and attending external community events.

What was the most valuable part of your internship experience?

The most valuable part of my internship experience was getting to meet so many people that truly care about this city and where it is going. I was exposed to parts of Akron that I didn’t even know existed and got to see the people, the work, and the strategies that went into the planning of the spaces. Although I did not grow up in Akron, it truly was great to see how much people love this place. I was included in conversations then about things that are currently in the process of taking place.

Any advice for our future interns?

Put yourself out there! Knight’s internship provide you the opportunity to work with and be surrounded by experts in a variety of fields. Don’t hesitate to ask to schedule coffee meetings to ask questions and get to know other people on the team. Everyone is very willing to chat and provide insight. Create networks and try to soak everything in!

What’s the first thing you do in the morning when you get to work?

I plug in my laptop and open up my emails. Since I am part-time and in the office for part of the day, I like to catch up on emails first so I am up to speed. That usually leads into future tasks for the day.

How has your role at Knight transformed since becoming an intern?

When I was an intern, I was included in on calls, plans, tours of the city, etc. Now as a program assistant, I still get to do all of these things, but I am now informed on a deeper level. I’m included in conversations and meetings that I was not previously involved in. I am also exposed to a lot more behind-the-scenes work of how grants are given, the cycles it takes to get them to the grantee, and more administrative tasks when it comes to our processes.

What is one of the most enjoyable parts about being a part of the Knight team?

Being a part of a work culture that encourages teamwork, open arms, and questions from the top down. I truly admire and appreciate the care the whole team gives to each individual staff member and the willingness to support everyone regardless of their positions. I’ve always felt welcomed and like I’m a part of the team, even when I was an intern.

Tell us one fun fact about yourself:

I love playing sports and board games!

Interested in applying to Knight’s internship program? See openings and details here.