Fine Fellows

By Teresa Scalzo
Omaha won’t be changing its city slogan to “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment” anytime soon. But “Northfield 2.0” might be an option if the Weitz family continues to expand its pipeline of Carleton-grown talent to eastern Nebraska.
Photo: John Noltner
Photo: John Noltner
Photo: John Noltner
Photo: John Noltner
Photo: John Noltner
Photo: John Noltner

Working closely with Jack Becker ’86, executive director and CEO of the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha residents Wally Weitz ’70 and Barbara Weitz ’70 have established the Weitz Fellows Program, which provides a one-year salary for Carleton graduates to work at select nonprofit organizations in Omaha and nearby Lincoln, Nebraska.

In 2011 Becker established an internship for a recent Carleton graduate to spend one year at the Joslyn learning all aspects of museum management. He’d benefited from his own internship at the Minneapolis Institute of Art his first year out of Carleton and wanted to offer a similar experience to new grads. He approached the Weitzes with his idea to expand the program to other Omaha nonprofits and has been working closely with Barbara Weitz and her daughter, Katie White ’96, to manage and grow it. The program now encompasses between five and seven area nonprofits with missions ranging from the arts to public policy to social issues.

“The agencies get access to bright people they might not otherwise meet,” says Becker, “and we get Omaha on people’s radar. It’s a wonderful community.”

While there indeed might be an initial sense of “Omaha?” job-seeking seniors have been intrigued by the flexibility of a one-year commitment, says Kimberly Betz ’91, director of Carleton’s Career Center. They also benefit from belonging to a Carleton cohort, which makes moving to a new city less daunting and provides access to an expanded network of nonprofits.

“Students are increasingly interested in ‘gap year’ experiences at organizations such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America,” Betz says. “The Weitz fellows commit to a year. They get to try out a job or a career path and gain significant experience, all while knowing that they can still think about what else is down the road. That could be grad school. That could mean staying in Omaha.”

Executive directors from the fellowship sites visit campus each fall to host information sessions, establishing a personal connection with Carleton students right off the bat. This gives the program added heft, Betz says. The luxury to visit campuses personally isn’t often available to nonprofits given their sparse resources, which can put them at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting employees.

“Barb and Katie choose places where we know there’s good leadership and a strong mission,” says Betz. This year fellows were placed at the Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, OpenSky Policy Institute, University of Nebraska’s Service Learning Academy, and Women’s Fund of Omaha. “From day one, students get a real entrée into the nonprofit sector, which builds up their networks quickly and intentionally. They start work immediately on important projects. It’s not just, ‘Hey, come hang out with us for a year.’ ”

The Voice spoke with four of the 2015–16 Weitz fellows during a recent visit to Omaha.

Camille Coonrod ’15

Photo: John Noltner

“I don’t want to get emotional about it, but I’m so grateful and fortunate to have had this experience. I could not have asked for anything better.”

Major: Art history and studio art

Nonprofit: Joslyn Art Museum

I am whatever I need to be, depending on the day. I’ve done everything from dusting the Chihuly [Dale Chihuly’s glass sculpture] to developing reports on potential acquisitions for curators. I love research. There are so many layers to a painting, and so many backstories to discover.

Recently, I helped record an audio guide for the artist Sheila Hicks. She had us stand on her work with her. I could feel the environment around me change. It was phenomenal to feel this amazing energy from the artist and the work.

I’ve learned how I can be a better employee, how I can get the most out of things, and how I can contribute the most.

Photo: John Noltner

I use Carleton’s Career Center a lot. For awhile I was looking for curatorial work. The field is so saturated. You have to know people. I’ve used the alumni directory a lot. Talking to alumni curators and the Career Center staff has been really helpful.

My plans evolved over the year as I learned how I work best from talking with people at the museum: Joslyn executive director Jack Becker, the curators, development staff, and my supervisor in education.

Collaboration is really important to me. I learned that from Carleton, but my experience at the Joslyn solidified that.

I knew that people would be nice in Omaha, but people are so generous with their time and their resources. If you want to make something happen here, you can.

I’ve seen the potential nonprofits have for creating something within the community. I love working with people who are motivated and care about the issues. The nonprofits that the Weitz fellows work with are efficient and productive, and they are making amazing changes.

I’ve learned about politics and women’s health issues from my housemates, and I’ll take that wherever I go. I’ll be more informed and involved. I have grown up so much this year. I have realized my strengths and my weaknesses, in part because I made mistakes. I am a better person and much more knowledgeable about the museum world—and ready for whatever job is next.

Emily Scotto ’15

Photo: John Noltner

“Having some fight behind my work is really important for me. I think I knew that, but this experience solidified it for me.”

Major: Sociology and Anthropology

Nonprofit: Women’s Fund of Omaha, dedicated to improving the lives of women and children

We have a small organization, and I work on all the projects in the of ce. I’m most heavily involved in the Adolescent Health Project and the Sex Trafficking Response Initiative.

I’ve been working since October on the Women in Leadership Report, which we put out every 10 years. We interview leaders in Omaha, mostly women. My role was to go through the interview transcripts, analyze them, and pull out themes. With the help of the research committee, I wrote a literature review and a report that we released in June. That was a big thing.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska interviewed 22 survivors of sex trafficking. I adapted their findings into a large executive summary that we’re releasing as a report. I also wrote communication documents that are going to be used by folks who are thinking about Nebraska’s process for responding to sex traffickers. We’re making sure those initiatives are informed by what survivors say they need.

The future is still fuzzy in terms of my career path. I want to do research, or something similar to what I’ve done at the Women’s Fund for a nonprofit in the Twin Cities. I enjoy working for a cause. I don’t think I can easily transfer to the for-profit world.

Photo: John Noltner

I’ve really liked working in collaboration with other nonprofits. I want to make sure that whatever I do in the future, I’m directly interacting with members of the community.

People are very spirited here. I don’t know that I’ve met an unenthusiastic person in Omaha. There’s a great sense of community and people are committed to making Omaha a good place to be. People have been very welcoming. It’s definitely been a nice place to spend that first transitional year after Carleton.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to throw myself into things in Omaha. I’ve made a couple of friends and I really enjoy them. I wish I’d had those connections earlier.

Tori Ostenso ’15

Photo: John Noltner

“It was hard to start over in a new city after having such a strong community at Carleton, but I’ve made wonderful relationships this year.”

Major: American studies

Nonprofit: Nebraska Appleseed, a nonpartisan organization that works for justice and opportunity, tackling such issues as child welfare, immigration policy, affordable health care, and poverty

I work on the economic justice and health care access programs.

I’ve enjoyed my fieldwork in rural communities, talking with people about issues their community is facing and bringing that back to the capitol. It was rewarding to use the ethnographic research skills I gained at Carleton to promote public policy and legislation. I interviewed people who had borrowed money from payday lenders. Their stories were included in a report we gave to senators so they could see how payday lenders are affecting people in the state. I’m really interested in ethnography and how it applies in the real world.

I never want to spend six hours of my day sending email. Because our outreach in rural areas is a very new part of the economic justice program, it required a lot of email to plan these trips.

Photo: John Noltner

I’ve learned how the funding we get determines the work we can do and how important development is for a nonprofit. It means we can be less stressed about funding and more focused on the issues.

Lincoln is a hidden gem. It’s got a small-town feel but because there’s a university, there are a lot of events. There are great bike trails and a nice food co-op. It’s like Northfield on a larger scale. It was a good transition for me. I’m from a small town, then I moved up to Northfield, and now Lincoln is just another step. I’m easing myself into an urban lifestyle.

I’m going to Vancouver on a Fulbright. It’s a master’s program in integrated studies in land and food systems at the University of British Columbia. My research is a continuation of my comps project, which looked at how the food culture of Mexican immigrants changes after they come to the United States. This project looks at how government programs can better facilitate food access for immigrants in Vancouver. Immigrants are perceived as a high-risk group for food insecurity, but a lot of studies are not sensitive to the ways different cultures deal with hunger. Maybe they don’t access the food pantry because that’s not where they feel comfortable, but they have other resources to combat hunger. My research looks at the intricacies of the ways immigrant communities combat hunger and find ways to feed themselves even if they are low income.

Long term? I want to be a farmer and a community organizer.

Micaela LaRose ’15

Photo: John Noltner

“I never want to sit at a desk all day and crunch numbers. I most enjoy the work we do collaborating and strategizing with other stakeholders.”

Major: International relations

Nonprofit: OpenSky Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fiscal research and analysis

This job involves looking at policy and how it works with budget. Specifically, how different proposals will affect education funding and property, income, and sales tax. I have realized that I love policy and strategizing and advocacy.

Nebraska has a unique unicameral legislature. I’ve liked getting to understand the government process and how advocacy works within it. We’re a small organization, so it’s been interesting to see OpenSky’s influence. Often, our analysis provides data where there wasn’t data before.

In college, I was set on med school, but I was also interested in policy. I just wasn’t sure how to get into it. My boss and our executive director have been great resources. I see how that career path could unfold if I choose to pursue it. I’m still having a hard time letting med school go, but it’s great knowing that this career is out there.

Omaha has everything Minneapolis has—minus the lakes. There are great museums, an independent movie theater, concert venues.

Photo: John Noltner

The progressive community in Omaha is small and well known, and we’ve had amazing opportunities through the fellowship. The nonprofit organizations work closely together, and there’s a lot of collaboration among people who want to do good work in Nebraska.

The people in your organization really matter. Many of these organizations are so small and they depend on the work everyone does. OpenSky staff members work hard and care so much about Nebraska. I’d like to run a nonprofit someday and I see how important it is who you hire.

I’m staying at OpenSky for another year. We’re looking into expanding into heath care financing, so I’m going to research and write a background primer on how Medicaid works in Nebraska and how it interacts with the budget. And then it’s grad school of some sort. I’ve been on the fence between medicine and policy my whole life. But working at OpenSky has shown me that I want to be involved with policy in some fashion and, more importantly, how I can accomplish that goal. I love what I’m doing every day.

My advice for next year’s fellows is to take advantage of every opportunity and go to every meeting or event that you’re invited to. This community has a lot of connections.

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