When talking about full circle moments, Women Employed’s Efrata Sasahulih is the perfect example. The Program and Research Coordinator was first introduced to WE in 2019 when she was encouraged to apply for The Pattis Family Foundation Summer Leadership Program―a program for undergraduate college students looking to gain insight into nonprofit work and receive professional skill-building, leadership training, front-line research, and awareness of the barriers low-paid workers experience. Little did Efrata know that her experience as a Summer Leader would open the door to her to become a WE staff member four years later―a moment that she says makes her feel wanted and valued for the skills that she possesses. It also serves as a reminder of the impression she left on staff members during her time as a Summer Leader, an experience she will never forget.
In this month’s edition of “She Says,” Efrata Sasahulih shares what stood out to her about the Summer Leadership Program, how it prepared her for life after college, and what advice she would give to future Summer Leaders.
Tell me about yourself.
I always like to tell people that I am an immigrant. That’s important to me and my identity. I was born in Ethiopia and came to the U.S. with my parents and my younger sister when I was five years old, and we have been in Chicago ever since. So, I consider Chicago to be my second home and I love it here.
I attended Loyola University in Chicago for both my undergraduate and graduate studies, receiving a bachelor’s in African Studies and Psychology, and a master’s in Applied Social Psychology. And because I live so close to Loyola, I was a commuter student. So, while my experience was different from my not being on campus all the time, I still had a great community.
While attending Loyola, I was part of the Achieving College Excellence (ACE) Program, which was under the TRIO program on campus. The TRIO program is a federally funded grant program for first-generation college students, low-income students, and/or students with disabilities, and I felt right at home. Sometimes in a classroom, I didn’t always have a sense of belonging. But through ACE, I was able to find my people―so other low-income students, other first-gen students, other immigrants, and other people of color. Being with my fellow scholars, I felt like I had people to rely on. I couldn’t go to my parents with questions since they weren’t familiar with the American college system. So, participating in ACE was especially helpful for me while attending a predominantly white institution.
Also, through ACE, I found out about America Needs You (ANY), which was a two-year professional development, training fellowship for first-generation students. And that is how I was introduced to Women Employed (WE) and learned about their Summer Leadership Program.
What about the Summer Leadership Program stood out to you?
I was introduced to Women Employed’s Summer Leadership Program through one of the coordinators at ANY. She knew I was applying for internships with my mentor coach and personally reached out. I had already indicated that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector and women’s issues were important to me. So, the coordinator suggested that WE would be perfect and encouraged me to apply.
As I learned more about WE, I instantly fell in love with the organization. I worked with my mentor coach on the application and wrote about how much I wanted to help people, how passionate I was about issues that women face, that women of color face, and what I have experienced, as well as my peers and parents. I saw the disparities that were out there and wanted to know how to better advocate for people like me.
After applying, I had my phone interview with Sarah Labadie and it was the greatest 20-minute conversation. Then, I received an in-person interview with Mary Kay Devine and Amanda Sousa and had a great interview with them as well. They were so welcoming and understanding and made the interview feel more like a conversation. I appreciated how relatable Mary Kay and Amanda were, and that they made me feel comfortable. That was my first impression of Women Employed. And when I was selected for the internship, I was so happy.
How did being a Summer Leader prepare you for life after college?
It was great to see what nonprofits were like. I didn’t exactly know what went into working in a nonprofit, so it was great to have an insight as a Summer Leader. I enjoyed working on projects that directly contributed to what staff members were working on, and it prepared me for leadership, developing time management skills, taking on different projects, working with a team, and communication. It also helped me to better understand the mission of Women Employed and get a sense of the types of nonprofit organizations I would want to work for in the future.
What were some of your most memorable moments as a Summer Leader?
I liked that we were able to bond and learn from one another. Also, we met with the staff individually. We got a chance to swap stories and have our questions answered. That was especially important because, at the time, I was interested in going back to school for my master’s degree. The staff members who I met with gave me insight into going into the workforce first and figuring out if I wanted to get another degree after. But what was really impressed upon me was that life isn’t linear and that made me feel more confident.
We were also there for the No Salary History bill signing, and it was a surprise. Mary Kay invited us to join the staff in attending the signing of the bill and it just so happened to be on a day when we were all in the office. So, it was great being a part of history.
How did you find your way back to Woman Employed?
After obtaining my master’s degree, I went into program evaluation. My master’s is really research heavy and I wanted to find an application of the research skills that I had built up in the classroom. And program evaluation was a great way to do that because I would be able to work with nonprofits, foundations, etc.
My previous jobs that did program evaluation were usually short-term projects. We would work with a client and do whatever data analysis to produce reports. And I never knew what happened after.
At the time, I missed working with one organization and knowing that the work I did went directly into the mission of that organization. So, I started looking for a program coordinator role because I thought it would be a fantastic way for me to support an organization’s mission. All the skills that I built up were transferrable and important anywhere, and when I saw that Women Employed was looking for a Program and Research Coordinator, I knew the job was mine because it made sense for what I wanted to do.
How does it feel going from being an intern at WE to now being an employee?
It feels amazing. It makes me feel especially good knowing that I was wanted. I knew that a lot of the staff were still here from when I was a Summer Leader, but I didn’t think I made that much of an impression on them. So, when I started, it was nice that the staff remembered me and said how happy they were that I was back. Everyone was just so enthusiastically welcoming, and it was proof that I made the right decision.
Women Employed walks the talk, and as an intern, it was a great learning opportunity. The Summer Leadership Program is not a typical internship. It is so well structured where you work on projects, have a direct supervisor, and have professional development opportunities, unlike others where there are only one or two other interns. At WE, I was surrounded by many of my peers from varying life experiences and I was able to learn a lot from them.
The Summer Leadership Program made such an impression on me that it made me want to work here. And when I reached out, it felt good to know that I was valued. Women Employed knew my work and felt that I was deserving enough to work here full time. And that says a lot about the program. It opens you up to a great network with a solid support system that enables you to stay connected with staff.
What advice would you give to future Summer Leaders?
Just apply and see what happens. I was hesitant in applying because of how competitive it was, but I’m happy I did. It was such a wonderful opportunity. And I think if anyone is lucky enough to get it, they will be exposed to so many learning and growth opportunities in professional development. You will get more hands-on experience and a deeper dive into Women Employed’s work. Of course, you can do that through volunteering with the Advocacy Council or subscribing to WE-Zine, but being a Summer Leader is how you can get that close insight.
And for those who are selected for the Summer Leadership Program, take advantage of every opportunity to connect with staff and get to know your fellow Summer Leaders. It’s a great way to learn from your peers and contributes to your overall growth and progress.
Summer Leadership Program applications are open from now until March 27th. For more information and to apply, visit https://womenemployed.org/summer-leadership-program/.