Caitlin Mendenhall, a senior at the University of Denver, is Philanthropiece’s current Program Intern. She will graduate this spring with a degree in International Studies and Spanish. Check out this interview to learn more about this incredible changemaker!
You have held – and currently hold – a number of leadership positions at the University of Denver, including the Co-President of DU Service and Change, a student organization on campus. What are some of your responsibilities?
My main role as Co-President of DU Service and Change (DUSC) is to support the Project Co-Chairs. DUSC is organized as an upside-down pyramid, with the general member base (our volunteers) on top, the Co-Chairs of our various projects in the middle, and the Co-Presidents on the bottom. We think of it this way because the Co-Presidents support the Co-Chairs in whatever is necessary to run their projects for the volunteers. This mainly entails checking in with my peers by seeing how they are doing and helping them get what they need. My job entails a lot of logistics as well, such as creating and maintaining the budget, but my favorite part is definitely the connections I’m forging with the Co-Chairs. The kind of people who get involved with DUSC are always so caring and passionate, and I love getting to know each of them!
What’s a challenge at DUSC that you are facing currently?
On the flip side, sometimes working with others can be one of the hardest parts of running an organization! Everyone has their own leadership style and likes to be in control of the situation. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through DUSC is how to get along with different types of people. I’ve learned to adjust my own leadership depending on who I’m working with. There have been many times when my patience has been tested, but through those opportunities I’ve learned to stand up for myself when needed and to identify when it’s better to compromise. I’ve also been tasked with a lot of new projects through DUSC that I wasn’t sure how to do when I started out. However, learning to face the unknown and dive right in has helped prepare me for starting the brand new projects that I’m working on now at Philanthropiece. DUSC has taught me to embrace new things and see them as exciting rather than daunting.
What’s happening at DUSC right now that you are particularly excited about?
One project I’m really excited for right now is a new mentorship program DUSC is starting this February. Students at DU will have the opportunity to volunteer each week to mentor and tutor students that are refugees. We will be collaborating with the youth program at the African Community Center (ACC), Denver’s main center for refugees. As an international studies major, I’m especially interested in how cultural differences and human rights will play a part in this new opportunity. I’ve worked with ACC before and heard some of the refugees’ stories first-hand. I’ve been blown away each time, which is why I’m so excited for other students to have the same chance. This project has taken a long time getting off the ground. and I’m elated that it’s finally happening!
You are rocking as Philanthropiece’s Program Intern! What is a project that you are currently working on that is compelling for you? Why do you feel passionate about it?
I love getting to write the workshop curriculums for the third year Philanthropiece Scholars in Guatemala. At first, this was the project I was most nervous for because I had never done anything like it, but then I realized that the classes I take at DU aren’t that different from what I would be creating. I’ve also helped compose workshops through DUSC before. By combining that knowledge, creating a lesson plan for the Scholars didn’t seem so hard anymore. It was actually fun! Being the same age as the Scholars helps a lot since whenever I’m stuck, it’s easy to put myself in their shoes and think about it as if I were a participant in the workshop. I also love that I get to write the lesson plans in Spanish. I was so afraid that after fifteen years of learning Spanish, I would graduate college and not use it. So this is a big relief! This project has been extremely rewarding because I know that it’s important and is making a difference. I believe that education has huge potential to create real change in the world, with ripple effects in every area of development. Getting to contribute to education and development while using my Spanish is a dream come true!
If one of your friends asked you about your work with Philanthropiece and you only had a minute to respond, what would you tell him/her/them?
This is an easy question; I answer it almost everyday! I usually say something like, “It’s great! I get to work on a bunch of different projects, each one relating to a different interest of mine, which keeps things fun and engaging. And I’m getting to use my Spanish for most of it which is perfect for me. I’m already getting to do things that I hope I’ll be doing as a career. Every Thursday (those are my days in the office) I wake up and think, ‘Off to my dream job!’ I love it!”