Economics major navigates nonprofits with Argosy internship

The best job, Neriah Olson has found, is the one where you get to see how much you’re helping other people.

Olson is an Economics major completing an internship at the Argosy Foundation, a nonprofit that funds other nonprofits. It’s opened her eyes to an aspect of economics she’d never considered before.

“One of the reasons I was really excited about my internship at Argosy is because I don’t know exactly what I want to do,” Olson said. “I was able to narrow in on what I wanted to do, and I found out that I really enjoying nonprofit work, especially dealing with family planning and environmental and issues like that – which also ties into my interest in public health.”

The Argosy Foundation was founded by John Abele, the co-founder of Boston Scientific. The Abele family, including Chris Abele, the county executive of Milwaukee County, serve as the Board of Trustees. At the behest of the board, Argosy staff search out nonprofit organizations that the Foundation can partner with to provide funding to further the nonprofit’s mission and goals.

That’s where Olson comes in.

“About 60 percent of my time is reviewing grant proposals that nonprofits have submitted to Argosy. If we find an organization, or the board decides they want to pursue a certain organization, they reach out and have them submit a grant proposal,” Olson explained. “I review those grant proposals and make sure everything checks out. Then I go to my boss with my questions and my concerns that she can review and then bring to the nonprofit and ask them.”

She also makes sure donations are being used as promised, as well as researching nonprofits that fit within the vision the board has outlined. If the Argosy board wants to pursue a certain cause – say, environmental protection – Olson will find an organization that contributes to that mission and recommend it to her supervisors.

That research has taught her some valuable lessons.

“What I learned is to have an open mind about things,” Olson said. “I have to go in with an unbiased look and come up with an opinion only based on what I’m seeing, and not what I’ve heard about this organization. I’m able to come up with much better results and much better questions and feedback for my bosses by not having any biased opinions.”

She’s also perfected her time management skills and work-life balance. Juggling a part-time job, classes, and a social life is difficult, but it’s “definitely worthwhile.”

Olson is set to graduate in May. She’s still not entirely sure what kind of job she wants after she has her diploma in hand, but she’s looking at another internship for the spring semester to help her figure it out. This time, she wants to try a position in the corporate world to see if she enjoys the private sector.

“I’ve really enjoyed Argosy and my internship,” Olson said. “It’s very rewarding working at Argosy, because I felt like I was actually doing something to help someone. My work was actually going somewhere.”

– Sarah Vickery