At the beginning of each summer, the Derby City gains a few dozen temporary residents. They come with different interests, different courses of study. They work for businesses across Louisville, learning about marketing, broadcast journalism or even engineering. The Bulldogs in the Bluegrassstudents come from Yale University with different goals, but leave with the same asset: an understanding of what it’s like to live and work in Kentucky.
“We’re inviting Yale students to an unexpected location, which they discover to be a gem,” says Rowan Claypool, a Yale graduate who founded the summer internship program in 1999. “This is social entrepreneurship. It’s seizing a community challenge—how do we attract bright, talented people who aren’t from this community?”
Thousands of college students across the country embark on summer internships each year. But Bulldogs in the Bluegrass goes beyond the stereotype of its interns spending their dog days answering phones, filing mail or fetching coffee. Bulldogs partners with 25 different local businesses and community organizations that need interns. The students apply independently to a list of employers—then the ones that receive those internships are accepted into the Bulldogs program.
The program includes shared housing at Bellarmine University and Louisville-centered activities with the group of about 30 Yale students. The Bulldogs are partnered with an adult mentor, who serves as a role model and friend to each student as he or she navigates the city. Claypool says the program also includes a curriculum that’s meant to leave the students with an understanding of what makes a community work.
“It’s a set of civics lessons that these kids carry forward wherever they land,” Claypool says. “An outcome is that they become citizens for life. It’s hard to know what that will land the city, but over time it makes a benefit to the community: people that are knowledgeable about Louisville that wouldn’t be otherwise.”
“It’s About Having a Career, Not Just Having a Job”
Yale junior Stephanie Rogers says her experience working as an external relations intern with Volunteers of America (570 South Fourth St.) part of the Bulldogs in the Bluegrass program was so good that she’s planning to return for a second summer.
“There’s this layer of fun that I don’t think happens at other internships,” says Rogers, who remembers a Louisville-based scavenger hunt being one of the first activities that the Bulldogs experience together. “It’s about having a career, not just having a job. Having other people there that can take that journey with you is just really exciting.”
Rogers says the Bulldogs program makes many of the interns into better communicators, building their conversation skills by pairing them with an adult mentor who’s older than their peers. She says the close-knit program gave her the tools to think more about the direction of her career.
“It felt really genuine, like we were actually getting a chance to meet and be a part of people’s lives,” Rogers says. “I got to be in the moment, think about what I wanted now and how that lined up with what I wanted in the future.”
A Taste of Heartland Living
Because many Yale students are from America’s coasts, Bulldogs in the Bluegrass and its counterparts in other cities, like Cleveland, St. Louis, Minneapolis and several others, give students a taste of what it’s like to live in the heartland of the U.S.
“Long-term I could really envision myself in Louisville,” Rogers says. “It opened me up to another part of the country I didn’t really think of.”
Teach Kentucky Prepares Educators
As Bulldogs in the Bluegrass enters its 18th summer, recent college graduates from across the country will be joining the interns at Bellarmine University for a month. Claypool is also the founder of Teach Kentucky, a similarly guided program with a different goal. Bringing a few dozen graduates to Louisville from many different disciplines, Teach Kentucky supports them as they find teaching jobs with Jefferson County Public Schools.
The program sets the grads on a path towards getting their teaching certifications at the University of Louisville and makes sure they have the resources they need to get started in the classroom. In return, the graduates make at least a two-year commitment to teach in Louisville.
“It’s a philosophy of bringing young, talented people to Louisville that have high content knowledge,” says Andrew Beaver, a Teach Kentucky veteran who graduated from Indiana University in 2009. Beaver says his interest in teaching started when he tutored younger students during college. Now, he’s a math teacher at Olmsted North Middle School with a master’s degree and an educational leadership certificate. “It felt like the right program. Louisville felt like the right city.”
Claypool is quick to tout the benefits that Teach Kentucky has brought to the city of Louisville, and for good reason. Since 2001, the program has recruited more than 200 new teachers, and more than two-thirds of them have stayed in the Derby City. More than half of them are teaching in STEM fields. Nearly three quarters of them are teaching students in JCPS schools that have been labeled “priority.”
“There’s a real professional network that can open up career opportunities once you’re here and established,” says Beaver. “Just having that has helped me access opportunities in teaching that I may not have had otherwise.”
Creating a Community of Support
Claypool says Teach Kentucky’s supportive setup sometimes makes the difference for grads who are just getting started in the workforce.
“With Teach Kentucky it’s about getting the very best raw talent in the nation that we can find, supporting them as they start their careers and then working with them to develop their futures in the community,” Claypool says, adding that the program gives Teach Kentucky participants a moving stipend of $1,000, free housing for one month and a six-week summer training program before they start teaching. “We’re the connective tissue that makes the system work.”
Teach Kentucky pairs each recent graduate with a leader in the Louisville community who isn’t involved in education. The program also matches them up with a retired educator, who sits in the teacher’s classroom during his or her first year—not to evaluate, just to help.
“They’re a shoulder to cry on when things are tough, they’re wise mentors and they’re the ‘Amen’ chorus when things are going well,” Claypool says. “We’ve really created a community within Teach Kentucky of mutual benefit and support.”
Moving forward, Claypool says he wants both programs to continue to grow. More than one hundred students apply for Bulldogs in the Bluegrass each year, and nearly 500 send in applications for Teach Kentucky. He says the high numbers ensure that the programs remain selective, but give several dozen students and grads the room to experience Louisville each year.
“So much of it is this intentional strategy. Nothing is accidental; it’s all purposeful,” Claypool says. “We’re really moving and changing people’s lives.”