Reflections on EXPLORE

July 31, 2018

by Mark Blekherman, EXPLORE Extern

When I stepped into IEA’s Barder House on June 18, I did not know what to expect. While I had researched the mission and programs of IEA, I was not sure what exactly the term “non-profit management” encompassed, nor was I familiar with the inner workings of non-profits, despite my experience volunteering with non-profits in the past. But having matriculated through gifted programs before, I was deeply moved by IEA’s advocacy for gifted education and focus on the “whole child.” With my interest in entrepreneurship and economics, I wanted to learn about the origin and development of IEA, and understand what makes a non-profit a non-profit.

I came upon EXPLORE after my friend told me about his experience as a Caroline D. Bradley sSscholar. After researching IEA and the mentors and sites at EXPLORE, I was drawn to the program’s career-oriented philosophy. I had taken courses at local colleges during previous summers, so I yearned for a more hands-on experience.

Here are three themes that defined my externship and made my EXPLORE experience unforgettable:

  1. Community: Throughout my externship, I felt like a true member of IEA’s staff. Six weeks may not seem like a long time, but my mentor Abby and her colleagues welcomed me as an integral part of their team. From our July 4 potluck to our light hearted conversations during meetings, I appreciated the sense of unity and camaraderie within IEA. I was also fortunate to connect with IEA’s close-knit community of gifted students, parents and educators at the annual Summer Spotlight event. And I cannot forget Not to mention the Friday workshops—every Friday morning EXPLORE externs came together to connect with each other and learn about career and college readiness. It is truly a small world that I got to meet fellow boarding school peers with whom I shared mutual friends. During our educational workshops and lunch breaks in Little Tokyo, we shared stories about our schools and became friends over udon soup and ice-cold lemonade.
  2. Hands-on: In addition to learning about the fundamentals of marketing, development, and programming, I enjoyed applying my skills to worthwhile projects. By analyzing the history of donations to IEA, for example, I not only honed my statistics know-how, but also gained and shared valuable insight on areas of strength and weakness in our development strategy. For my Google Analytics project, I delved into Google’s helpful tool for tracking a website’s traffic. Besides mining through the labyrinth of stored data, I harnessed my findings to formulate recommendations for possible future improvements. I discovered that IEA has untapped potential to attract more Spanish speakers and implemented this recommendation by translating a few of our program flyers to Spanish.
  3. Revealing: My externship shed light on the skill sets necessary for various careers. While working on my Donor Analytics project with Abby, I discovered the importance of statistics in data-driven fundraising, where past trends inform future strategies. It was also exciting to use my Spanish to translate flyers; I came to realize the significance of the language in marketing and communications-based careers. While my interests and goals may change over the years, at least I now have a grounded impression of what careers in the non-profit sector entail.

Rather than hammering concepts in a lecture hall, I fell deep into the weeds of informative projects and learned about marketing and management in an engaging way. No course or tutorial in non-profit management could have given me the same level and depth of knowledge.

Mark Blekherman is an EXPLORE extern at IEA this summer. He is a rising senior at Phillips Exeter Academy.

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