Scott DeVault ’09 paints a vivid picture: it was only a few months into his internship at Atlanta-based Porsche Cars North America, and he had all eyes of senior management staring at him expectantly.
An intern with the marketing department of the iconic brand, Scott was participating in a strategy session for future marketing tactics. He had just been asked his opinion for which strategy he thought would best reach the company’s target market. He had an opinion, but certainly didn’t expect the experts at the famous automaker to ask for it. However, this was a familiar scenario; Scott had experienced it many times during his classes at Oglethorpe. That gave him the confidence to speak up and deliver an intelligent, thoughtful response that he was proud to contribute.
Scott is not alone in that internship scenario, or at Porsche. Ryanne Arola ’10, who in 2010 was the first Oglethorpe student to secure an internship with Porsche Cars North America, had helped Scott get his foot in the door by suggesting that he apply for an open internship. He impressed his supervisors and was hired as a marketing analyst, and is now one of 10 Oglethorpe alumni working at Porsche, six of whom started out as interns. That’s no coincidence. Porsche’s corporate culture and Oglethorpe’s education seem to complement one another perfectly—and the word is out.
Perhaps one reason that Oglethorpe students fit in well at Porsche is because the two share a similar philosophy. “Internally at Porsche, we use the term ‘entrepreneurial spirit’,” Scott says, “and to me that sounds a lot like what Oglethorpe wants their students to possess upon graduation.” At Porsche, everyone’s opinion is considered and every student and employee is expected to share their unique thoughts. “At Oglethorpe,” Scott says, “it’s not just the curriculum that’s different, but how you are asked to learn it. It’s not about taking notes and regurgitating it on a test—you are asked questions and are expected to provide intelligent answers.”
“(At Porsche) everyone is very interested in what interns bring to the table,” agrees Alexandra (Lexi) Vassell , a 2013 graduate and new permanent hire at Porsche Financial Services. “From day one you are at meetings, they are asking you questions and they want your input. I was never once referred to as an intern; I was always referred to as someone’s colleague.
For Lexi, being a former OU soccer player was the key to helping her land her internship with Porsche just before she graduated. “I received an email notification about an open position in the COO’s office from the career services department at Oglethorpe,” Lexi says, “and I recognized the name of the person who posted the listing as a former teammate from OU.” Lexi reached out (via text message!) to Jamie Dillon ’08, an event marketing specialist at Porsche Cars North America, and soon landed the position. In fact, seven of the ten OU alumni working at Porsche were Stormy Petrel soccer players.
Lexi, now a remarketing advisor for Porsche Financial Services, says that she is confident in recommending Oglethorpe students for open internship positions with her employers, sometimes even when she doesn’t know them all that well. “A student I was familiar with through playing soccer at OU contacted me about an internship position, and the first thing I did was contact Dr. (Lynn) Guhde at Oglethorpe.” After receiving a good reference for the student from her former business professor, Lexi felt comfortable suggesting him for the position. “I’m putting myself out on a limb, recommending someone I don’t really know,” she admits, “but I can trust that since he attended Oglethorpe he clearly has the work ethic that we are looking for.” Lexi has been responsible for the hiring of four Oglethorpe students, whether as interns, contractors or full-time employees.
For Scott, one of the most important aspects of an Oglethorpe education is the close relationships that students form with their professors. “They know the name of everyone in the class and about their career goals and can present opportunities when they arise.”
Scott and Lexi have seen the value of the liberal arts and sciences and Oglethorpe’s Core curriculum in action. Scott transferred to Oglethorpe from a large university, and says, “all I had been studying for three years was business and marketing, and all of the sudden I’m thrown into the Core classes, reading things I never thought I would read and having discussions I never thought I would have.” Those discussions proved to be valuable in his workplace experiences, both as an intern and as an employee at Porsche. “After completing the Core curriculum you likely have a base knowledge about whatever topic is being discussed, and if you don’t, you feel confident that you can learn it because you’ve been in that position before. Knowing a little bit about art, music, business and economics has helped me relate to a wide array of people that I have met while representing Porsche at trade shows.”
“When I was a freshman,” adds Lexi, “some of my friends were at big colleges just sitting in the back of the classroom and felt like they were just a number. Meanwhile, I was presenting to my class a 20-page paper that I wrote about a philosopher or space travel, and my major was in behavioral science and HR! Because of that experience, I was able to walk into my internship with the mindset that whatever they throw at me I’ll be able to conquer.”
At the same time, having a group of fellow Petrels in the workplace has also been helpful for new interns and employees at Porsche. “It’s nice to have several people who know your background that you can go to and not have to feel embarrassed asking ‘dumb’ questions. They will often understand because they had the same questions when they were interns” Scott says. He laughs that new hires from Oglethorpe sometimes get good-natured razzing from other employees: “They say, ‘who the hell are you, and how do you know everyone already?’”
“My boss teases me and has asked if I’m trying to start a ‘cult,’” Lexi says with a smile. “He says that I should work in HR, because anytime there is an open position, I bring him a stack of resumes. Then when someone gets hired and the email announcement goes out, everyone replies with ‘another one from Oglethorpe? How many of you are there?’”
Scott is no longer surprised when asked for his opinion in meetings. Porsche is a good fit for him, and it seems as though his superiors agree. When a position recently opened up in his department, Scott’s supervisor asked him to bring in five résumés. When Scott asked why, the answer was simple: ‘because I want more people like you.’