Give Now

Theatre Students Launch Careers from Tennessee Williams Center

October 9, 2016

Deep in the bowels of the Tennessee Williams Center, Huntre Woolwine C’16 is leading a tour for the Class of 1965 at its 50th Reunion. Woolwine is engaging and the class members are impressed by the facility. “I had no idea this was here,” several exclaim. “We certainly didn’t have anything this impressive when I was here.” Woolwine leads the group through the labyrinth, showing costuming rooms, set construction and design, and the impressive studio theatre, reportedly the very first computer-assisted theatre design laboratory at a college in the United States.

When Woolwine graduates, he will not only have had the opportunity to act in and direct shows and learn design production at a state-of-the-art facility, he will also have built additional practical experience through summer internships. “Huntre has had two internships, actually,” says John Marshall, C’07, and Technical Director of Tennessee Williams Center. “One summer, he did an internship with Ensworth Academy’s theatre program in Nashville, and then last summer he did a pre-professional paid internship.”

Those internship opportunities are key educational assets that are of particular interest to the Class of 1965, which has raised nearly $400,000 in gifts and pledges for new endowment that will provide stipends to students who secure an unpaid internship during their time at Sewanee. In 2015, Sewanee supported an impressive 213 students by providing such stipends.

“Internships are a great way to validate future career plans,” says Kim Heitzenrater, C’89. “An internship can be an invaluable experience for a student whether or not they have a good experience. A good experience obviously gives you encouragement that your career preparation is on the right path. But sometimes it may be even more important to learn something that suggests you readjust or try something new.

“In addition to the learning experience, an internship is also a credential: more and more employers expect graduates to have that kind of practical experience when they graduate.”

The success of the Class of 1965 fundraising effort is due to broad participation by the class. J.F. Bryan, C’65, made a lead gift for the project, a gift he made as a challenge to his classmates. Bryan is deeply interested in great outcomes for Sewanee students and in making sure that students are exposed to positive models for considering careers in business.

“The only contact I ever had with a business person at Sewanee was with the beer distributor in Tullahoma when I was buying beer for Sigma Nu parties,” Bryan says with a laugh. “It seemed like students at Sewanee were preparing to be doctors, lawyers, priests, and professors, but not many were preparing for business.”

To alter that balance, Bryan has been a key supporter of the Babson Center for Global Commerce and the Business minor. He established the Bryan Viewpoints Series, a lecture series sponsored by the Babson Center, and he also hopes to designate his internship funds to students preparing for business.

“What I am trying to do with my support of the Babson Center is balance the scales a bit. The Bryan Viewpoints series brings successful and accomplished business leaders to campus, and the internships give students the kind of integrative, and real world experience that is necessary for them to succeed in business after college.”

Bryan is now delivering vocational experiences to campus even more effectively than he supplied beer in the early 1960s. The result: great outcomes for students in their post-college lives. “Sewanee has always been about the spiritual and intellectual development of its students,” he says. “Those goals are especially important now. At the same time, we need to be about the practical development of students, exposing them to good models in the business world, and giving them the opportunity for practical application of their intellectual and spiritual capacity in the world of commerce.”

Heitzenrater is grateful for the efforts of the Class of 1965, but she also hopes that others will see the need to support internships. “We always need more,” she says. “The number of students is growing as is the percentage who want to take advantage of this opportunity. With flat funding, we have to make some hard choices.”

Heitzenrater also hopes donors will be willing to provide flexible funds. “Student interest changes over time,” she says, “so if we have funding that is restricted to particular endeavors, it is difficult to match student interest with donor desires.” Currently, about half the internships supported by Sewanee come from annual sources: alumni, parents, and other friends who provide an internship each year or foundation grants that do the same. Another group of students receive funding directly from the sponsor in a paid internship.

The funds provided by the Class of 1965 will support in perpetuity 5-8 students per year, depending on the amount of time students dedicate to the opportunity. Their contributions will ensure that students will have a critical experience for their futures and that students such as Huntre Woolwine have access to the opportunities on which their careers may turn.

If you are interested in a gift that goes beyond current-use dollars, named endowed internship funds begin at the $100,000 level. Named endowed scholarship funds begin at the $150,000 level for the College and $75,000 for the School of Theology.