March 30, 2022

Learn to Pay

Sam wasn’t your typical architect. But I didn’t know that.

We were first introduced by my good friend JP — one of the 200+ friends who had graciously chosen to support my self-designed Master’s through a $10 monthly subscription to my writings. And like all of the other amazing people in that network, JP was interested in helping me figure out how I could find 12 projects around the world in 12 months focused on design, business, and social impact.

Meeting Sam
One day, JP mentioned that I should meet a fella named Samuel Stubblefield, a somewhat eccentric artist and architect at top-ten architecture firm, NBBJ.

Standing at a slender 6’2” with long, disheveled hair and sharp features, he looked like the main character in a hip animated film. With a mix of rebellion and kindness, he had built a portfolio of remarkable projects across physical and digital art. A few days after being introduced to one another, Sam was listening to me tell him about my Leap Year Project. I asked if he thought we could work together for a month. With zero experience in his field, he told me to get to Seattle and he’d make it work.

Getting to Seattle
Within the first days of arriving, Sam brought me into the office to explore how to create a one-month, paid work experience at NBBJ. Nothing about this would be easy or conventional. He gathered his team and asked me to present some of the work I’d done with other companies (copywriting, communication plans, user research projects, etc). By the end of my presentation, the team was, surprisingly, on board for a 4-week engagement. They were a little perplexed by how I got there, but on board.


First days at the office with Sam, June 2012


I told Sam he wouldn’t need to pay me. I was just happy to be there. But he balked at the idea of me working for free. It took him a week of back and forth with HR, but he managed to get me $3,000 for a 1-month internship!

I couldn't believe it. This near-stranger found a way to pay me, a kid with little-to-no experience in his field, to work for one month. I was so grateful.

Learning on the Job
I worked as hard as I’d ever worked that year — studying, reading, writing, presenting. Sam even looped me into a project for a new onsite healthcare facility on Microsoft’s campus. I had the chance to contribute to a real installation and wayfinding project for the main foyer and lobby. I was getting paid to do something I found incredible!


Working on the project at Microsoft's campus


The story has more twists and turns than we have time for. But I’ll never forget Sam’s efforts. Or the efforts of any of the leaders that year. Each person found a way to do something to recognize my work and signal that my time was worth something to them. I felt more empowered and supported to contribute to their projects. It was a two-sided relationship.

Learning to Pay
Now with the summer drawing near, internships around the world will pick up steam. And today internships look just as unconventional as ever. You might work with students entirely remotely, or hybrid — for 1 month or 1 year. And the idea of what defines an intern has changed. With so many students taking gap years or reconsidering college entirely, the old familiar paths no longer lead to finding, training, and onboarding the best people.

How to Change the Script
First, the position of an “intern” carries such a wide spectrum of meanings, that it’s nearly lost all meaning. Generally, many leaders feel the term means low-value work, by someone who’s going to take a lot of management. Ouch.

At Ei, our challenge to any leader or student is to begin considering projects rather than positions. Instead of seeking to just fill a role, a project starts with asking questions — What is the purpose of bringing someone in? What needs to be accomplished? When does it need to be completed? etc.

A Tool You Can Use Today
Over the past several years, I’ve had the chance to build and lead a class at Stanford called Design Summer. It’s a series of workshops to help undergrads reimagine their summers as a season for personal and career exploration. As we built the class, we saw the need for a tool to help individuals design better internships on both sides, student and company. It's called R.U.N and it stands for: Research, Understand, Next Steps.

If you're a student, R.U.N includes questions you can ask before and during your conversation(s) with a team. And if you're on the company side, these are helpful questions for structuring how you might work with someone of any age on a short-term project basis.

We’ve updated the design and the blog post below. And recently, we’ve even been supporting companies in creating onboarding workshops for young, new talent. This tool continues to be helpful across students and leaders. Download R.U.N here.


A free download for designing meaningful internships and projects


Finding Great Young Talent
Ei continues to work on two sides of learning: Higher Ed & Workplace Learning. One of our largest projects in the higher ed space is a 6-month career-launcher called Experience Lab.

Currently housed at University of Pennsylvania, recent graduates from any part of the world can enroll in one of three tracks: digital marketing, data analytics, and business development. After Exp Lab Fellows complete core coursework, they’re matched with companies for a full-time, 3-month Field Experience.

All of the Host Companies pay varying levels of stipends with the goal to make the program as accessible as possible for the fellows. And if one of the participants works well for your company, you can keep them on board with no recruiting fees.

If you’re needing young, rockstar talent, just click here and we’ll follow up with more information.


Request more info about becoming a host company


Opportunity & Generosity

If we're going to build a thriving society, healthy work lives, and more capacity to solve pressing issues, the bridge between companies and students must get shorter and easier to tread. A large part of that work is rethinking how we design experiences between the classroom and the workplace.

And if the value of great teammates ultimately benefits the workplace, all companies and leaders must develop a generous point of view with how they work with budding talent. Compensation is just one part of that equation, but it's a large one. Starting there has the power to create more accessible launching points for people of all backgrounds to launch their careers or transition from one career to the next.

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