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An experience of a lifetime: Terelle Robinson ’17 on D.C. Summer Institutes

July 10, 2019
By Erin Battle '13 M.Ed. '15

For Terelle Robinson ’17, the idea of doing a full-time internship in the nation’s capital was unfathomable. Not only was he a student-athlete on the Tribe track and field team, but he was also a transfer student. Knowing that he only had two years to maximize his William & Mary education, he chose his co-curricular experiences carefully. This is what led him to the William & Mary Washington Center and the D.C. Summer Institutes (DCSI) in 2016, one of four Study in D.C. opportunities.

Once admitted, Robinson became part of the 20-student Leadership and Community Engagement Institute taught by Drew Stelljes Ph.D. ’07. Students spend 12 weeks in Washington, D.C., interacting with leaders across many different sectors including nonprofit, government and international relations through speakers, site visits and a full-time internship.

“For somebody like me who previously only visited D.C. on a day trip, [the Washington Center] made me feel like, ‘wow, Terelle, you are not alone. You’ve got a unique, amazing internship, but before you do that, we’re going to show you the city in a way that you’ve never seen it before. Not just in a museum but sitting down with amazing leaders who are now shaping our minds’,” Robinson said.

Of course, doing a program like this comes at a cost. One Robinson wasn’t sure he could afford.

“I didn’t have outside help and support. I didn’t have anyone to lean on or to help with the money,” Robinson said. “Also, I was trying to be in a frugal mindset … as a young African American man who had very little means, it was kind of hard to think about taking out loans.”

That is when Robinson received wonderful news from Stelljes: he had received a scholarship covering the total cost of the program.

“I probably would not have chosen to attend DCSI without the scholarship money,” Robinson said. “It made me feel like ‘someone has invested in me and sees potential in me and now I’m going to make the most of it’.”

Then came the tricky part: finding a full-time internship. Students who participate in W&M Washington Center programs have the opportunity to work one-on-one with the Washington Center team to help look for and secure their internships. This includes everything from internship research to resume help to mock interviews. The staff is also able to use the more than 17,000 William & Mary alumni living in the D.C. area to help students identify and earn their internships.

Robinson knew that having an internship on his resume would help him when he graduated. He was shocked when he landed an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I had only held fast food industry jobs, grocery store jobs and labor-intensive jobs before working at the EPA,” Robinson said. “My EPA internship position stood out because I finally felt like my ideas and thoughts were valued and not just my ability to do physical work and take orders.”

Robinson says that his experience with the W&M Washington Center made his internship journey vastly different than going it alone.

“Participating in DCSI was one of the most beneficial programs I could have been involved with … The difference is that you had a team full of people that were willing to help,” he said of the support he received from W&M Washington Center faculty and staff. “[The W&M Washington Center] gave us training and every tool in the tool box to make sure we could be successful.”

Those benefits weren’t just limited to the internship experience. The in-class experience, led by Drew Stelljes, proved to be just as invaluable.

“Drew is a wonderful individual. He’s a caring and loving individual. When it comes to education, the professor holds the key and your mind is the lock. To me, it is the responsibility of the professor to figure out which key can unlock your mind. I believe that Drew has perfected that,” said Robinson.

Robinson also had the opportunity to have intimate conversations with prominent William & Mary alumni such as James Comey ’82, LL.D. ’08 and Michael K. Powell ’85. In fact, Robinson still remembers his class visit to see Powell at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

“He was phenomenal,” Robinson said. “He spoke about sculpting the mind and what makes great human beings.”

Now, two years after graduation and three years after his summer in D.C., Robinson serves as the personal aide to Richmond, Virginia Mayor, Levar Stoney. He credits much of his success to his experience in the Washington Center and looks back on that summer fondly.

“[There is] no summer program that does it like W&M DCSI,” Robinson said. “It was one of the best summers of my life and DCSI has a very special place in my heart. I’m just thankful and grateful.”