Leadership and Collaborative Problem Solving

Darionne Williams
Emphasis Area
Business Administration

Darionne Williams applied leadership and collaborative problem solving strategies to make important contributions to the Sugarhill Community Land Trust.

Why did you choose this internship and what was the focus of the experience?

Truthfully, I had submitted tons of applications and received no replies. I formed relationships through networking with my professors and even landed a couple of externships with Eller (just because you’re a College of Humanities student, doesn’t mean you can’t form relationships in other colleges!). The companies I externed with were very interested in furthering communication with me but unfortunately my schedule was too full to meet their summer internship opportunities. So, when I was advised of the Design Projects internship that was during the fall semester, I applied immediately. When I interviewed for the position, I learned about the community work and positive impact the internship has had in the previous semesters. It was definitely a cause I wanted to be a part of. When they offered me the position, I had no hesitations in accepting.

We were assigned to help a nonprofit in Tucson obtain a sustainable source of capital. We needed to meet weekly to come up with a pitch and be ready to present it by the end of the internship. We learned that our client was one of only two historically Black neighborhoods in Tucson and they formed a nonprofit community land trust to fight back against gentrification and keep the legacy of the neighborhood alive. I was excited to learn more about the neighborhood, its residents, its history and do all that I could to help it. I conducted research on the two historically Black neighborhoods in Tucson, red lining, gentrification, community land trusts, and applicable funding options. My mentor offered guidance and setup interviews with potential resources as well as recommended valuable readings to develop my understanding of oppressed populations and their culture. I led my weekly team meetings and typed up the minutes for our google drive folder. I helped my team with research ideas and dividing up work. In the end, my team and I were able to come up with a pitch that focused on buying back the neighborhood using donations, grants, and special financing for nonprofits then renting the properties out to obtain steady revenue and maintain affordable housing.

What new knowledge and skills did you develop in your internship?

During my internship, I was able to apply real-world context to empathy. A part of our client’s neighborhood, which is located very close to the U of A was purchased and replaced with apartments and condos. While others saw a great place for students to live near campus, this historically Black neighborhood experienced yet another example of gentrification and the domino affect it has on community life. I used qualitative research skills by watching and listening to many interviews with residents which gave me insight to how the neighborhood had changed over time as well as how the residents felt about the changes. This was the most fulfilling and meaningful skill I developed as a White privileged individual. I was also able to utilize and develop skills in collaboration, leadership, brainstorming, critical thinking, presentation, written and verbal communication, delegation, and many others.

How was the internship related to your Applied Humanities degree?

The Applied Humanities degree develops skills in improving the human experience in our community as well as in our personal and professional lives. My internship focused on the human condition and ways to improve it. The community partner we were assigned to assist, is a community land trust for one of two historically Black neighborhoods in Tucson. The neighborhood has been, and continues to be, purchased by investors and organizations which has raised rent and forced families to relocate out of the neighborhood. I was happy to use the knowledge and skills I’ve obtained in this degree program to help fight back against gentrification and raise funds to support the neighborhood. This utilized everything that the Applied Humanities degree offers in addition to the Business Administration emphasis that I partake in.

What did you find most challenging about your internship?

The biggest challenge with this internship was working on a problem that didn’t have a straightforward solution. Being more of an analytical and quantitative person, I had to do qualitative research and really utilize critical thinking skills. I was happy to be assigned to a mentor who is a social practice artist and already had connections to the community partner. I learned so much from the research I was assigned as well as the research I conducted. In the final weeks, I had a lot of data but I still hadn’t decided on a final pitch. I really had to think outside the box but in the end I was able to locate some homes for sale in the neighborhood and developed a plan to purchase and utilize them for the community. I think the challenge made the end result more rewarding.

What advice do you have for other students as they search for or begin their internship?

I would recommend that students develop and utilize their network. Life is about meeting people and forming relationships, especially ones that could help you in your career journey. When you talk to your peers, professors, ambassadors, and other support within the university, you have individuals who may think of you if they come across an opportunity that fits your wants and needs. This is how I was able to obtain my internship as well as several externships. I connected with individuals in not only the College of Humanities, but Eller College as well. I then connected with them via LinkedIn and made sure my profile was up to date and had effective information about myself. Your options are limited if you don’t connect with people!