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An Olympians First Internship

Neha Aggarwal, Table Tennis Olympian and WSF Summer Intern

Back in October 2015, barely two months after arriving in New York and starting as a student of Sports Management at Columbia University, I had the honor of attending the most celebrated night in women’s sports – 36th Annual Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation. I also had the opportunity to attend the Foundation’s Athlete Leadership Connection a day before the gala, where I was in the presence of an esteemed group of women. Some of the most accomplished women in American sports were present including the legendary Billie Jean King. She told me that after tennis, table tennis was her favorite sport.

It’s not every day you hear such legendary women in sports talk about creating leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports. That night, I left the ballroom with a lot of inspiration.  As a female athlete from India, where girls are not really encouraged to play sport, I had always dreamt of working in this type of space. Thus, I knew how I wanted to spend my summer with the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2016.

In May 2016, I started my summer internship with the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) at their New York City headquarters. At the age of 26, after retiring as an Olympian in table tennis, I started my first ever full-time internship. I was excited, yet nervous, as first-time situations can bring a lot of anxiety.

As I entered the office, I was greeted with a big, warm hug from Lindsay Kist, Senior Manager, Leadership Services, which made me feel much less anxious. I was then introduced to the WSF team and given my own desk. As I began settling in, somehow, the anxiety faded away and the determination to give this my best shot took lead.

My internship was structured in a very comprehensive way. I was to work with five departments in five “mini sessions.” The departments were Grants, Advocacy, Leadership Services, Development and Marketing & Communications.

It is hard to pick which department was the closest to my heart, as each day I learned something new while having fun at the same time. The two areas that I enjoyed working in the most were Leadership Services, the Foundation’s dept. serving champion athletes, and Marketing & Communications.

While working with the Leadership Services, I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone the most. I had to do a lot of outside reading and research to create marketing plan for the Foundation’s athlete programs. With Marketing & Communications, I was introduced to a whole new world of social and digital analytics, which I enjoyed the best.

Deborah Slaner Larkin, the CEO of the Foundation brings so much energy and positivity in the office. She would greet you with a big smile and her enthusiasm will pump you up as well. The work culture at the Foundation helped me learn better. It is an honor for me that my opinions were appreciated by this incredible team. I was included in team meetings and thus felt a part of the WSF family.

At the end of my ten weeks with the WSF, I can proudly summarize my five key takeaways:

  1. Understanding the structure and functioning of a non-profit organization
  2. Adding new skills such as marketing, Google analysis, problem-solving and research.
  3. Time management as I balanced both my internship and classes at Columbia University.
  4. Confidence to work professionally in the United States
  5. Understanding of how my skills as a professional athlete are transferable to the workspace.

As I successfully end my first-ever internship, I feel I am a new person. Each day at the Foundation introduced me to something new about the industry. But more than anything else, I learned more about myself. As I was given new tasks every day, I also understood my own capacity to work and deliver on time. The feedback from my supervisors helped me understand my strengths and areas for improvement.

Needless to say, I made the right decision on October 20, 2015 by attending the WSF’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports. The stat “three in five girls still do not participate in sports” still echoes loud in my head.

Being a part of the WSF family was a great honor. The anxiety I had about being an Indian Olympic athlete working at an American organization for the first time has now turned into confidence.

Thank you WSF for an incredible summer!