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Internship opens window on careers in development and nonprofit sectors

From May 24 to July 30, economics and sociology senior Caroline Williams worked as an intern with the Nationwide Development Resources team of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Nationwide Development Resources team is based at the ACLU’s national office in New York City; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams undertook her internship remotely.

woman with long hair seated at a wooden table while smiling and working on a laptop computer
Caroline Williams

This internship fit perfectly with Williams’ longstanding interests. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Williams was drawn to public policy and social issues. At The University of Tulsa, where she is pursuing a minor in political science, Williams has furthered explored these topics while getting involved with the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature, the TU Student Association and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority (of which she is now president).

The genesis of her ACLU internship arose during Williams’ junior year when she was a student in Civil Liberties in the United States, a course taught by Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Hockett. “This course really opened my eyes to the fascinating history of the ACLU and inspired me to see whether an internship with them was possible,” said Williams.

Turns out, an internship with the ACLU was not only possible but also highly rewarding – both for Williams and the organization. So much so, in fact, that the ACLU has hired Williams as a temporary worker until the end of September. Her focus will be on helping to plan the Nationwide Development Convening, an internal conference for development staff at the affiliate and national level. At present, her main projects involve increasing participant engagement and ensuring compliance with organizational inclusion policies, such as closed captioning requirements.

In this Q&A session, Williams illuminates the path she took to land the ACLU internship and the various projects on which she collaborated.

How did you find your ACLU internship?

Throughout my search, I relied heavily on the assistance of Brooke Smart, the arts and sciences career coach at TU’s CaneCareers. She encouraged me to find organizations I was interested in and search their career boards for internship opportunities.

When I found this position, I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine and use my degree skills while still working for a company advocating for broad social change. Brooke helped me throughout the entire process by reviewing my cover letters and practicing interviews.

What were the main projects you worked on with the ACLU’s Nationwide Development Resources team?

I spent a large portion of my internship working on an affiliate assessment grid. This research-based project involved creating a spreadsheet that cataloged development staff from across the country. The details I included were staff contact information, pronouns, employment dates and more. This spreadsheet will be the back end of a staff database, so I also standardized staff titles to match the job functions.


Throughout the year, each affiliate may present different pieces of information to their board, a practice that’s common among nonprofits. To help make this process easier for our affiliates, I created a slide deck that can be used to navigate dashboards in Looker, a business intelligence tool.

I also had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects centering around the Southern Collective. This ACUL initiative is aimed at uniting southern states to combat regional issues, such as voting rights.

What were some of the most satisfying elements during your internship?

One of the most satisfying elements of my internship was the ability to engage in so many different areas. The ACLU has a very well-rounded internship program that includes speakers, workshops and networking with individuals from many different teams across the organization. I had the opportunity to speak with both interns and staff who were working in legal teams, advocacy, communication, marketing and, of course, development. This gave me a comprehensive understanding of the ACLU as a whole and how each department is integral to its success.

Another rewarding aspect was the ability to connect with staff from across the country. The Nationwide Development Resources team has the opportunity to connect with affiliates in each state, so I was able to meet with a variety of different staff members and learn more about the work they are engaging with on a local level. It was especially exciting for me to be able to meet with ACLU employees from Missouri, which is my home state, and Oklahoma.

How did your internship change you and give you new perspectives?

This internship opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in development or nonprofit work. I had been considering many different career paths, but truly enjoying my work showed me that this may be a great fit for a career.

Caroline was instrumental in moving forward a variety of projects for our team this summer. Not only did she provide additional capacity, but she also brought a fresh perspective to our work. 

Caroline’s contributions made our team more efficient and better organized. She helped to develop our strategic plan, build out business intelligence tools and was an active participant in many important stakeholder meetings. Caroline was a complete joy to work with as well, diving into each task with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. We all think she is a rising star and we are excited to watch her career trajectory.

Pamela Zimmerman
Deputy Director, Nationwide Development Resources, ACLU

By working with a team focused on providing resources, I was also exposed to different strategies that can be used in capacity-building initiatives as well. I learned many different leadership and management skills that I will be able to use in my student organizations and future career.

What skills and knowledge did you acquire or sharpen, and how will they be useful for the rest of your studies at TU and career after graduation?

Since I had the opportunity to work on so many projects, I was able to learn such a wide range of technical skills. I was exposed to programs such as Looker and Salesforce, but I also had the opportunity to advance my Excel skills. Overall, the new knowledge I gained will be helpful in many different career fields, but especially development or nonprofit careers.

CaneCareers offers a lifetime of career assistance. Whether you are deciding on a major, exploring career options, finding an internship, planning for graduate school or landing that big job, get in touch and find out how we can help!