by Brandie Jefferson

Alexandra Swanson is a PhD student studying English literature and — no surprises here — as with most PhD students, school has kept her busy.

She hasn’t had any experience in entrepreneurship or innovation, yet earlier this month, she found herself having lunch at the Skandalaris Center getting ready to learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship at a local startup.

“This is pretty new for me,” Swanson said. “Until this point, I’ve just been in school, but I was interested in going beyond what I usually do.”

This summer, Swanson is one of two PhD students participating in the Skandalaris Center’s summer intern program. Until now the program has only included undergraduate students. This year’s group is the largest ever; in all, 46 students will be working for 10 weeks at local, community-building ventures across the region. 

“I was interested in getting involved,” Swanson said. “This is a great opportunity for students to get out into the community.”

Alexandra will be working at GiftAMeal with another intern, Vicky Zhang, who is still at the beginning of her academic career, entering her sophomore year in the fall. Unlike Swanson, however, Zhang is no stranger to the start-up community.

She’s working at CIC@CET, a St. Louis coworking and shared lab space for startups and growing companies. She is also a co-owner of BearsBikes, a StEP business. StEP businesses are student-owned and operated with support from the Skandalaris Center.

Her intern role suits her. “I’m all over the place,” she said. She’s calling restaurants, doing design work, testing the GiftAMeal app and helping to develop business strategies, among other things. “It’s cool working with the CEO,” Zhang said. “And to work on something tangible is really satisfying.”

At the welcome lunch, interns had a chance to mingle and meet with some of Washington University’s entrepreneurship and innovation leaders, including II “Two” Luscri, the Skandalaris Center’s new managing director, who stopped by on his first day of work to address the group.

Funding for this year’s paid internship comes from the Office of the Provost and donors. The program accepts applicants from any and all departments. This year, nearly all departments are represented.