Landing a top-notch internship is never an easy feat, and for international students, residency restrictions can pose an extra hurdle. But Blessing Gandawa, a business administration and management major at Cottey and an international student, was determined to make it happen. Her persistence finally paid off with a summer internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and a horizon-expanding, career-building experience more than worth writing home about.
Gandawa’s quest to find the right internship began in August 2017, her junior year, when she started applying for positions in Nevada and Kansas City. Throughout the fall, she continued to apply at relevant firms — but no one was hiring. “By December, I’d almost given up hope,” she says.
Then, she decided to visit a friend in St. Louis for winter break. The Federal Reserve Bank’s website said it was closed to applications, but Gandawa’s friend suggested she give it a shot anyway — and apply in person. Gandawa made an appointment, met with Human Resources, and met the internship recruiters. Afterwards, she kept in touch.
In February 2018, there was an opening. They set up a video chat interview with the supervisor of the department, but technical difficulties put up yet another obstacle; the video chat malfunctioned and the interview did not go smoothly.
In May, the director reached out with another position. This time, leaving nothing to chance, Gandawa planned a face-to-face interview. She told the hiring managers about her focus as a business administration major; her background and her family in Zimbabwe; and her experiences at Cottey, particularly the school’s emphasis on leadership.
“At the Federal Reserve, the main objective is to broaden employees’ leadership skills, as well as diversity and inclusion,” she says. “They really liked how I portrayed what I’d learned, my journey coming here, and how I adapted to a different culture.”
She landed the position — and just in time, because summer had arrived. Gandawa worked closely with her Cottey support team to finish all the necessary paperwork and get everything in place to spend a summer in St. Louis.
From June to August, she worked 40-hour weeks in the Federal Reserve’s financial management department, focusing mainly on procurement. “That means different business areas in the Federal Bank would send in requests — if they wanted to buy software, or furniture, or anything else — and we’d make sure the requests were entered into the right accounts.”
Gandawa helped with tasks such as risk assessment, vetting potential vendors to ensure they are reputable and reliable. She got to meet with different departments to help them figure out what, exactly, they needed to purchase and what vendors offered the best options. She checked orders to make sure they were correct and within budget.
“I had a lot of autonomy,” she says. “They would give me a task for the day, or project to work on for the week, with an understanding of exactly what was needed. But how to go about it, I had to figure that out myself, and find my own way of working.”
In addition to the day-to-day duties, she participated in the internship program, which offered special events and career building opportunities. “Every week we’d do networking events,” she explains. “People from different areas of the bank would come and talk to the interns. They’d tell us about how they got to where they are. We could ask them anything and they would answer.”
And, she says, they even got to meet with Jim Bullet, the President of the Federal Reserve of St. Louis.
These “popcorn sessions” — where popcorn was typically made and served — inspired Gandawa to revisit some of her own career goals. There, she heard from the IT team, who detailed their work in business analytics, combining data analysis and high-tech tools. “I could see myself doing this in the future,” she says.
Gandawa set up a meeting with one of the professionals who spoke that evening and asked to learn more about her story — and what a typical day-in-the-life looks like for a business analyst. Now, the woman has become her mentor.
The internship program culminated in a one-week competition where interns put their newly acquired knowledge and skills to work. The interns were assigned to seven teams of five members each and assigned real-life problems to solve, all from the daily challenges of the Federal Reserve.
Gandawa’s team’s challenge came from the Human Resources Department. HR was searching for a more effective and accessible way to distribute resources and information for employees with marginalized identities, including women, veterans, LGBTQ colleagues, and others. Gandawa’s team came up with a plan to rebrand the Fed’s library.
“The library was mainly viewed as a hangout for economists,” Gandawa says. But making it a friendlier space for everyone would put the information and resources in a more visible spot. Her team brainstormed events and activities that could increase traffic and bring more people into the library all the time.
The results? “The bank liked it so much that it’s being implemented as we speak!” Gandawa says. “It makes me feel really proud.”
Now a Cottey senior, Gandawa plans to stay in the U.S. for a while after she graduates. “I want to start my career here and develop more skills, experiences, and relationships. But eventually, I hope to go back home and use the different experiences attained here to better my country.” One idea she has is a center where underprivileged children in Zimbabwe can explore the arts and learn more about the educational and artistic resources available to them around the world.
Her biggest lesson from the summer at the Fed? “My main takeaway was to not be afraid to just take that leap. Because you never know what might happen. Nothing comes easily. You really have to put yourself out there.”