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This Class is Always Greener

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Megan Smith in garden

ALE program blends the classroom and the workplace together for Megan Smith ’18

by Jeremy Gerlach

Call it a classroom, a workplace, or a garden: This summer, Megan Smith ’18 is growing in a greener space.

Smith, an environmental science major and communication minor graduating in December, is spending her break working for Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, a local nonprofit dedicated to urban nature conservancy. But this isn’t just a traditional internship—it’s a full-time, professional position funded by a $4,000 stipend from Trinity’s one-of-a-kind Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) program.

What makes the ALE program so unique?

“You’re taking your education and going out into the workforce and doing something real with it while you’re still an undergraduate,” Smith says. Smith and other ALE students, regardless of their major, take on a rigorous, interdisciplinary course load with the rest of Trinity’s student body. But ALE’s unique networking resources—and specialized cohort of faculty fellows—help to merge their academic and professional development throughout their time at Trinity.

Smith’s “official” role with Green Spaces Alliance is as a social media intern, which means she handles the nonprofit’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, along with normal office duties such as sifting through emails and sorting projects. But Smith also gets to work on a number of sophisticated tasks, such as developing the Green Spaces Alliance website, assisting the group with donor development, preparing master plans for various community gardens and land parcels, and even helping her director with grant writing and analyzing data.

“An ALE internship is actually more like a normal, corporate job,” says Smith. “You have a dependable schedule, you’re developing real skills out in the business world, and expectations for the quality of your work are high.”

In short, an ALE internship “isn’t the type of internship where you’re just getting coffee or making copies, or doing menial labor,” Smith continues. “I mean, I get to go out and water our office garden—but I asked to do that myself.”

Kelly Carlisle, English professor and author, serves as Smith’s ALE mentor. As an ALE Faculty Fellow, Carlisle is one of several Trinity faculty members who interface with local nonprofit heads and entrepreneurs, serving as specialized liaisons between ALE students and potential career fields.

“We give liberal arts majors business skills,” Carlisle says. “For instance, our humanities students have always become adaptive employees, bosses, or entrepreneurs, but the ALE experience helps them shift from saying ‘hey, I can do this,’ to ‘hey, I have done this.’”

This makes an ALE position a win-win for both student and employer, according to Carlisle.

“Getting a paid employee is a huge deal for any nonprofit,” Carlisle says. “And the student gets all this experience in a professional environment—which their professor monitors, to make sure the student is getting the chance to do real work—all while they’re getting real-time feedback from their boss.”

And while Smith spends most of her summer days—which in San Antonio can reach upwards of 105 degrees—in the cool comfort of her Green Spaces Alliance office, she also loves getting the opportunity to work outside.

Smith has assisted with events such as the Secret Garden Tour, which takes visitors through 14 area homes and businesses in San Antonio’s picturesque King William neighborhood that save water in innovative ways. Smith took pictures, documented the event, and helped oversee an outdoor luncheon and auction— not a bad way to spend a workday.

“I love being able to see results that don’t just take the form of a piece of paper,” Smith says. “Being outside and seeing the effect of your work—that’s such a different experience.”

These results, Smith explains, can have a two-way effect on her studies at Trinity. As a communication minor, her work at Green Spaces Alliance has given her a powerful demonstration on the nuances of social media platforms. And her multifaceted work on projects ranging from grant writing to budgeting and web development gives her an adaptable mindset when navigating Trinity’s rigorous and diverse Pathways curriculum.

According to Carlisle, San Antonio and the rest of the “real world” needs more students like Smith: undergraduates who are already brimming with business experience before they even leave Trinity’s campus.

This year, ALE students partnered with more than 20 nonprofits, ranging from arts enterprises such as the San Antonio Symphony, Art Pace, and Opera San Antonio to political offices such as Sen. John Cornyn ’73 (R-TX) and Texas state Rep. Diego Bernal (D).

“Whatever a student’s interests are,” Carlisle adds, “we can probably find an ALE internship to meet it.”

And while Smith is keeping her career pathways open—she’s currently considering options in the energy field—the ALE program has her ready to hit the ground running after graduating.

“ALE is a direct connection,” Smith says, “between what I’ve learned and what I want to do.”