Dr. Hill and students

Meeting world influencers

Aspen Institute interns have experiences of a lifetime

Aspen interns 382x255

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The sea of influential people from around the world that Wofford seniors Brandon Goodson, Roderick Todd and Sami Bernstein have seen or met this summer is too full to even begin to name them all … but here’s a sampling: Steve Case, founder of AOL; Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks; Secretary of State John Kerry; former presidential nominee Mitt Romney; former First Lady Laura Bush; Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first discovered and published research about traumatic brain injuries suffered by football players … and the list goes on.

Then, there’s Caitlin Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, a transgender woman who is executive producer and star of “I Am Cait.” All three of the Wofford students, who are serving this summer as interns at the world-renowned Aspen Institute, which produces seminars, conferences and festivals attended by leaders from around the globe, met Jenner and, clearly, all were impressed.

Calling Jenner her “favorite famous person” that she’s met so far, Bernstein says, “She was very genuine” and her “awareness of the importance of mental health really stuck with me.” Jenner was at the Colorado institute’s 10-day IDEAS Festival, speaking in the Spotlight Health section.

“The best part,” says Todd, from Camden, S.C., majoring in international affairs and Chinese, “was meeting those who don’t have the recognizable names. I learned so much from so many different people. Our environment here in Aspen is perfect for casually meeting people, and I found out that most people are interested in what we, as interns are doing.”

Todd’s favorite encounter was with Dr. Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, and her “expression of joy when I told her I went to Wofford. It was actually right after she gave a talk about the importance of the humanities in the college experience, so I told her that her talk was extremely applicable to where I am in my life currently.”

The Aspen Institute internships aren’t only about meeting celebrities and world influencers for these students. They’re also learning skills that will carry them from their college careers into their professional careers or graduate school.

For Goodson, who is working in the information technology department “dealing with all technology involved in the institute,” that means learning more about IT, mobile app service, communication, how to inventory, and “of course, time management with the crazy schedules we have to work during events.”

Bernstein, from Boca Raton, Fla., and majoring in psychology with a philosophy minor, says working for the institute’s Office of Institutional Advancement, which involves contact with its most generous benefactors and planning their exclusive events, is giving her experience as a communicator and teaching her the importance of customer service. “Most importantly, my summer in Aspen has taught me the significance of always going the extra mile to ensure the satisfaction of not only the customer, but for the amazing people I work with as well.”

Todd works for two departments – Office Services and Aspen Community Programs. In Office Services, he has worked with Jonathan Franklin, a 2016 Wofford graduate who was an intern last year and is on the summer staff this year. They are “making sure things operate smoothing around the institute’s campus.” For the community programs, Todd works with a team that executes about 20 events throughout the summer, bringing in many of the aforementioned high-profile visitors. “I have become more proficient in branding and marketing,” he says, “and how important it is to uphold the brand of a particular institution or group. I’ve also learned about people. We deal with very influential guests who sometimes have very busy schedules, so it has been interesting to experience the amount of work that is done to make their experience at the Aspen Institute great.”

For the three interns, the experience began at the first of June. Todd and Bernstein will remain in Aspen until mid-August, but Goodson must return early – July 22 will be his last day – because he plays football for the Terriers and needs to get back to campus for practice. Goodson, who is from Dacula, Ga., is majoring in computer science with a minor in accounting.

In the meantime, they are looking forward to not only their work with the Aspen Institute, but experiencing more of the Aspen area – hiking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and possibly even some paragliding off Aspen Mountain.

The students’ internships at the Aspen Institute are unpaid, but each year, Michael S. Brown, an Atlanta businessman and a 1976 Wofford graduate, funds all of the expenses – including travel, housing and meals – for the Wofford students so they have the opportunity to participate.

All express their gratitude to Brown, who has made their once-in-a-lifetime experiences possible.

“Mr. Brown’s generosity and support have provided me with the experience of a lifetime,” Bernstein says. “I could not be more appreciative and grateful. I feel so fortunate to have such an inspiring and compassionate mentor, and I hope to one day give back the same way Mr. Brown has.”

Goodson agrees. “I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for me and the others here by giving us this opportunity. This easily is one of the greatest life-changing events that has happened to me.”

“Mr. Brown has done so much for us,” Todd adds. “This summer really would not be possible without him. It’s great to know that even after this internship and this summer are both over, Mr. Brown will continue to be a mentor and friend to the three of us.”