Summer Spotlight: Will Calandra (B’23)

Will Calandra

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Each year, Georgetown McDonough students spend their summers working with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, volunteering, and pursuing their passions. While summer 2020 presented never-before-seen challenges, McDonough students rose above and made the most of an unprecedented summer.

Tell us about your summer.

This summer I worked for both Stepped In What Vegetables (SIW) and Leading Youth Through Empowerment (LYTE). SIW is an organic farm located in Chadds Ford, PA that delivers produce and plants across the country. LYTE is a nonprofit which provides top performing students who come from impoverished backgrounds access to quality schools and educational opportunities. 

At SIW, I was responsible for planting, weeding, pruning, and maintenance of the fields with organic materials. I had no prior experience with farming in general before this summer, so I enjoyed learning about the farming process and contributing to the food supply chain which had been strained from the coronavirus pandemic.

At LYTE, I assisted with their operational transition to the Salesforce platform and created a new ability to collect and analyze attendance data for their programs. I enjoyed working with the LYTE team and vendors to create new platforms and find solutions to operational issues by using technology. I had no familiarity with Salesforce before working with LYTE, so I enjoyed learning about the platform and applying my newfound knowledge to assist the organization’s operations.

How did your internship relate to your professional or personal interests or aspirations?

From SIW, much of my work at the farm was manual labor, so I gained a greater appreciation for the essential workers who are a part of the farming process. I also had no experience and exposure to farming, so I was excited to be constantly learning while on the job. I was thrilled to gain exposure to agriculture and participate in new tasks each day.

From LYTE, their passion for service and social impact fueled my motivation to work with them on various projects. LYTE’s mission statement is “to lead low-income, African American and Latino middle school students to top performing Delaware high school programs and then colleges through personal mentoring, rigorous teaching, and leadership.” I believed this internship was a perfect opportunity to make an impact in my local community. A catchphrase that was often used by LYTE employees was to “change the trajectory” of their students, and I saw firsthand how they have changed the lives of students and given them an opportunity to maximize their potential. In a nonprofit organization that operates on a small budget, I enjoyed helping them use technology to improve the efficiency of their operations and house their data in a safe, organized, and accessible platform. As a student who takes an interest in data and statistics, this was a unique way to combine my academic interests with my passion for community service.

How did you find these opportunities? 

For SIW, I was a frequent customer at their farmstand during the past few years. I admired that SIW took the extra measures to protect our environment and sacrifice some profits for quality, organic, and honest produce. I called the owner of SIW back in February and secured the position shortly after contacting him.

For LYTE, I knew that I had extra time after the farm to work a few hours a day from home. I had known that my neighbor worked for LYTE, and I was interested in talking with him about his work, and how I could be of assistance to his business. When my neighbor told me about his commitment to helping underprivileged students gain access to opportunities, I knew I wanted to find a position in his organization. With my interest in data and analytics, I offered to help him with technology to allow his business to grow and offer services to more students. 

What was the most interesting or impactful thing you worked on?

At LYTE, the most impactful thing that I did was assist the organization by fully transforming their operations from Google Docs to the Salesforce platform. I helped create a way for teachers to log into a website portal to take attendance for their classes and to automatically track attendance data and prepare reports for the LYTE executive team. Keeping organized records and tracking attendance data is vital for LYTE, because participation and engagement are key drivers for a student’s success. 

Furthermore, utilizing the power of technology, LYTE was able to become more efficient and dedicate more time past administrative work. As a result, LYTE was able to grow and accept more students into their program, which widens the scope of the organization’s impact on my community. 

How was your internship adjusted because of coronavirus?

My summer plans adjusted by taking advantage of remote work that was available in my area. While I was able to secure a paying job on a farm, I originally envisioned working in-person for a company in a standard internship format. However, due to the virus, most companies cancelled their internships, so I decided to work on the farm because it was a safe, outdoor environment that was still open for business. In terms of advancing my career interests, I chose to work for LYTE because I believed that I could use my technological and analytical skills to help bring insights and solutions to an organization focused on impacting my community.

What did a typical day look like?

A typical day on the farm was an early wake-up call followed by mainly planting, weeding, and pruning the plants and produce in the fields for most of the day. Often, I would be called on for special jobs as needed during the day, so I was completing new tasks each day.

A typical day at LYTE consisted of sorting through Google Docs and migrating the information into the Salesforce platform. I did a lot of programming work to get the attendance portal up and running, and when the organization ran into issues with Salesforce, I would participate in teleconferences to help troubleshoot problems and create solutions. Often I would work with LYTE vendors to learn about and apply new and unique technological capabilities to the organization, one of which was the creation of an external website portal for attendance tracking. I would also coordinate calls with LYTE’s executive team to communicate my progress and take on new projects and directives based on brainstorming sessions and feedback from the team.

Any advice for other students?

I would advise students to leverage your connections close to home if you want to stay with family during your summer! I would also keep your options open because things can always change. I was very happy to have secured the farming job back in February before demand was high, and I was glad that I still reached out to my neighbor in the middle of the summer to gain more work experience!