My Summer of Innovation at CfSI!

by Chapin Atwood

Chapin enjoys the winter months before a summer of innovation at CfSI!

Chapin enjoys the winter months before a summer of innovation at CfSI!

On the morning of June 12 I arrived at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham to hear Eric Schwarz speak at the annual Massachusetts Service Alliance conference. Not entirely sure of where I was, and nervous to be in a room full of strangers, I started off my summer as an intern with College for Social Innovation feeling uncertain and intimidated. However, any bit of hesitation I was feeling that morning was eliminated once Eric began to speak. At a time in our country that is full of uncertainty and doubt about the progress we are capable of making, Eric brought light to the immense amount of social improvement we’ve experienced. He discussed a massive decline in global poverty and how we’ve come close to closing the college access gap in the U.S. and now have a substantial platform upon which we can continue to build.  He explained the way that political engagement and citizen service can combine to create “the twin engines of social progress” to address huge challenges that remain, while also highlighting the importance of celebrating our successes as a country. Suddenly, I began my summer with College for Social Innovation feeling inspired and motivated.

The summer flew by in a flurry of meetings, interviews, trips to University of New Hampshire, and spreadsheets. Nine weeks later I find myself wrapping up final projects and reflecting on what I’ve learned. What I can say for certain is this: this internship has allowed me to learn and grow in a unique and wholly engaging way. One of the main projects I was working on was one titled “Doing Well While Doing Good.” With this project, we aim to shift college student’s perception of the social sector by bringing light to the feasibility of having a successful career while also making a positive impact in the world. In an effort to do this, I interviewed 14 different social sector professionals from across Boston. From philanthropy with The Boston Foundation to a focus on sustainability with Freight Farms, there was an immense range of talents and passions. Through my interviews with these social sector professionals, I aimed to illustrate these career paths in a tangible way so that college students could visualize themselves pursuing similar paths.

 After I explained our goal for the project, nearly every person we asked agreed to be interviewed. Through meeting each of these people, I was drawn to different parts of their organizations in multiple ways. I loved the work environment at Freight Farms, where Rick Trenchard explained that people arrive each day energized and passionate about their mission and purpose. I could feel this positive energy bubbling from the moment I arrived. I loved the sense of collaboration between employees on the frontline of service and those working on more of the background/human resources end of the organization at places like Playworks and Citizen Schools. I was inspired by the close relationships developed with people in the communities served at organizations like Union Capital Boston (UCB). Laura Ballek, UCB’s Chief of Networks, excitedly told me about how these community members were some of the first people invited to her birthday party.

As a whole, these organizations were full of passion and purpose. However, the 14 people with whom I spoke with were truly the ones who brought light and energy. I came to realize that lofty mission statements are important, but don’t carry nearly as much value without the employees who embody those missions day in and day out. Andres Mejia and Yoelinson Castillo (with UNH and Citizen Schools respectively) spoke to the sense of responsibility they felt to support their communities and backgrounds, which were predominantly low-income people of color. Andres spoke about the importance of being a leader for future generations, saying “MLK did everything he did so that I can be here today, so I want to continue the work for future generations.” Similarly, Yoelinson returned to work at the Edwards Middle School through Citizen Schools. This was a school that he attended at a child, and one that stood out to him due to the way it helped him get where he is today.

I came to realize that lofty mission statements are important, but don’t carry nearly as much value without the employees who embody those missions day in and day out.


Paul Epstein, a Social Worker at Brookline High School, spoke to the importance of learning through frontline, grassroots experiences. He explained that he learned more in one eight-hour shift at The Home For Little Wanderers than he did in two years of graduate school. The internal awareness that Stephanie Guidry (with The Boston Foundation) expressed was admirable. She explained the importance of being aware of the problem you’re trying to solve and working hard to insure that you really know what the issue at hand is so that you are capable of solving it most effectively. Nicholas Rizzo and Chama Saissi (with the Governor’s Office and Citizen Schools respectively) spoke to the immense value of hard work and determination to get you where you want to be. They both embodied an extraordinary work ethic that continues to lead them through their careers in the social sector. To learn more about the amazing social sector careers of all 14 interviewees, look out for our upcoming “careers in the social sector” page on the College for Social Innovation web site.

Wrapping up the summer, not only did I learn immensely from those I interviewed but also from those within College for Social Innovation. I experienced the importance of open communication, as all our desks sit right next to each other and all chatter big and small is heard throughout the office. This made for a comfortable, easy-going work environment that was a blessing to me when I arrived as an unfamiliar summer intern. I gained professional development skills that will continue to support me as I delve into my own career. Most of all, I experienced each day the value that comes with doing what you truly love. It is evident that those employed with College for Social Innovation have a real passion for what they are doing. This was a reminder to me of the importance in tapping into your passions and figuring out the best way to bring those passions to fruition. As a college student myself who has just finished my first internship, this experience has served as the first building block in my career and it has strongly contributed to my ambition to promote social change in an impactful way. I look forward to watching the story of College for Social Innovation continue to unfold as I know it will impact so many others in the way it has impacted me.