Tonya Internships

 Career Prep student

Building resources for a vital internship program is critical for Sewanee students, especially for a liberal arts college on a mountain fifty miles from the nearest city. In the summer of 2012, the University provided nearly $400,000 in internship funds to over 200 Sewanee students to carry out otherwise-unpaid internships. These internships were carried out in 10 countries and 21 states.

Sewanee's internship program is funded by around 30 named endowed internship funds, foundation grants, and gifts from individuals, including alumni-sponsored annually funded internships. Donors have helped establish internships in the arts, medicine, business, conservation, the sciences, and international studies.

The very first of these 30 endowed funds was created in 1981 with a grant from the Tonya Memorial Foundation of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Foundation was created by the late Burkett Miller, a Sewanee alumnus and distinguished Chattanooga attorney who was in discussions with Sewanee to establish such a program at the time of his death. His Foundation followed up with Sewanee and fulfilled his wish.

Since its beginning, the grant has funded the Tonya Public Affairs Internship Program, overseen by the University’s Political Science Department. Over 1,000 students have participated in this program, interning at places like congressional offices in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court, the Smithsonian Institute, the White House, National Public Radio, the English Parliament, HUD and the National Women’s Business Council.
In 1985, another grant from the Tonya Memorial Foundation established the Wilson Memorial Fund, in honor of the late Judge Frank W. Wilson, Chief U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee. This Fund provided the initial funding for the Tonya Economics Internship Program, administered by the University’s Economics Department. This Program Fund has sponsored almost 450 business and professional internships in the private and non-profit sectors, including internships at Merrill Lynch, Bell Capital Management, Ernst & Young, BMC Capital, Siemens, Sotheby’s, various Federal Reserve Banks, the NY Stock Exchange, Grameen Bank – Bangladesh, Chambers of Commerce, Conservation Corporation and Sequatchie Cove Farm, to name a few.

“The Tonya,” as the internships are called, has now been joined by general endowments as well as endowments for environmental studies, the sciences, the arts, community service and ministry, and undergraduate research.

These opportunities provide students with great experiences and credentials, but not everyone can take advantage. According to Melissa Webb, internship coordinator, in some years as many as half the qualified applicants for an internship stipend are turned down. “Some people don’t turn in a strong application, so we are happy to ask them to try again next year. But some years, we have to turn away people who have really interesting projects. That means an experience that is increasingly seen as vital to student success after graduation is unavailable to great students doing outstanding work.”

Last fall, the Sewanee Advancement Office asked recipients of the Tonya internships to give back to the Fund, so more students can participate. “It would be wonderful if anyone who received any funded internship would help today’s students,” Webb said.

Visit to learn more about Sewanee's internship program.