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‘Intern’-generational intern buddy program sees priceless impacts from program alumni

by Shareholder Development Intern Evan Roberts

Pictured left to right: Interns Shaelene Moler and Muriel Reid along with Bethany Goodrich and Kaylah Duncan of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. Duncan served as an “intern buddy” for both Moler and Reid, along with Chet Russell (not pictured).

Sealaska’s intern program is structured to provide support to every intern as they begin their new positions – for many, this is their first full-time job experience. This summer, through the intern “buddy” program, a number of interns had the opportunity to pair up with Sealaska intern alumni as their buddies, a full-circle experience that left both sides feeling fulfilled.

“We strive to create an enriching experience for our interns through career development and cultural events as well as through our intern ‘buddy’ program,” said Senior Shareholder Development Manager Kayla Roberts, who oversees the intern program. “Every intern is paired with a buddy who can provide more informal support and answer day-to-day questions, someone who isn’t their direct manager but instead more of an approachable co-worker, a friend. We were really excited that, this year, some of our buddies were former interns themselves.”

Heidi Perkins was a Human Resources intern for Sealaska in the summer of 2019. This summer, she served as an intern buddy for Vanessa Auth, Sealaska’s Finance and Investment intern. “Heidi has made sure my workplace experience is positive and welcoming,” said Auth. “She has helped immensely to answer my questions and make sure I have access to information I need. She has been a wonderful resource this summer to get me through my internship.”

For some, like Perkins, the path from intern to employee is seamless, as she received a full-time offer to work with Sealaska directly following her internship. “I was intrigued by working for a company with ties to my cultural background and had a yearning to continue to grow my knowledge of Southeast Alaska and its peoples,” said Perkins. Values alignment is another benefit Perkins saw at Sealaska: “I also strongly align my personal values with those of the company… [especially] when it comes to ocean health and sustainable seafoods.”

Josh Quinto, right, assists his buddy, intern Taylor Natkong, in planning changes to the MySealaska site.

On the other hand, Joshua Quinto, a former intern and summer 2023 intern buddy to Applications Development intern Taylor Natkong, had a path back to Sealaska that was “a little roundabout.”. For Quinto, exploring different jobs in Alaska and beyond following graduation helped him figure out his calling. Quinto was working at another Alaska Native corporation when Sealaska came knocking. “I actually met [my current manager] during my internship,” said Quinto. “I guess I had left a big enough impression that when my current position opened up, they decided to offer it to me.”

Kaylah Duncan is a former Sealaska intern now employed by Sealaska partner organization Spruce Root. This past summer, Duncan served as an intern buddy for three interns working for Spruce Root and Barnacle Foods. She provided valuable insight and support as a recent alumna of the Sealaska internship program. From Duncan’s perspective, her path to her current position was built upon the valuable experience she gained from her time spent with Sealaska internships.

“It has been wonderful to continue learning and growing,” said Duncan. “As an intern, you get a taste of what the work is like. As a full-time employee, you get to apply what you learned from the internship and put it into action. It feels great to take on big projects and build relationships within your organization and across Southeast.”

Chet Russell, Kelp Management Plan intern for Barnacle Foods, was one of Duncan’s intern buddies over the summer. “[Kaylah] is most definitely the reason I did the Sealaska internship last summer,” he shared. “I probably wouldn’t even have considered the Sealaska internship without hearing from Kaylah about what it was all about. The mentorship value that previous interns bring to the program is tremendous.” Russell hopes to see mentorship through the buddy program expand in future years, emphasizing the benefit that interns can find with buddies who are recent alumni like Duncan.

As Sealaska continues to support and expand internships both at Sealaska and partner organizations, the powerful, connection-building work of this part of the program will continue to help interns find even greater meaning in their summer experience. Intern alumni provide invaluable support to the “buddy” interns they mentor, says program manager Roberts, who is optimistic about the future of the buddy program: “As more and more interns return to Sealaska as full-time employees, we are thrilled to continue growing this incredible generation-to-generation mentorship cycle with different generations of interns working together.”