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By James Dowd - The Commercial Appeal -
Not even a little rain -- OK, not even a lot of rain -- could dampen the spirits of organizers and participants at Monday evening's "Memphis: The Summer Experience" held Downtown at Felicia Suzanne's restaurant.
The kickoff event for the Leadership Academy's fourth annual college intern immersion program drew scores of young professionals, mixing and mingling with one another and with established business professionals like Bruce Hopkins, president of the West Tennessee Region for First Tennessee Bank.
"Memphis is a perfect place for young people to launch and continue their careers," Hopkins said. "Our position is to highlight our positives and offer them compelling reasons why they should live here."
Launched in 2009, the program has steadily grown in profile and popularity, thanks to the participation of Memphians such as Hopkins who are passionate about promoting the positive side of their city, said Leadership Academy CEO and president Nancy Coffee.
Leaders in at least one other city agree.
Crediting Leadership Academy's innovative program as a model for its own, organizers at Campus Philly in Philadelphia adapted the Summer Experience for use in the City of Brotherly Love.
"They got wind of our program a couple years ago and started their own version in 2011," Coffee said. "It's encouraging that others are copying what we're doing in Memphis."
Boasting a record student enrollment, the 2012 Summer Experience cohort includes nearly 500 students and almost 100 participating companies. Registration for the free program is open throughout the summer and, as always, participants are welcome to attend as many programs as their schedules allow.
"We offer a variety of activities for the interns, from networking and social events to sessions with local officials to volunteer opportunities," Coffee said. "We've got hundreds of young people from across the country and around the world living in Memphis this summer and we want to show them the variety and diversity of options available to them."
According to annual surveys conducted by Leadership Academy, Coffee said, the program is on the right track. Of last year's participants, 97 percent indicated that they were likely to begin their careers here after participating in Summer Experience.
One of those, 24-year-old Amanda Wheeler, served an internship last year at St. Jude and decided that she wanted to move to Memphis after graduation. A few weeks ago she did just that, relocating from her home in Kirksville, Mo., to the Bluff City to take a job as community relations manager at Literacy Mid-South.
"I'd never been to Memphis before last year, and to be honest, some of the things I'd heard about the city weren't so great," Wheeler said. "Then I got involved with this program and I learned about this city and how much the people here love it. I knew I wanted to live here because Memphis is a city where people really care about their city and they're working to make a difference."
Memphis native Michael Gatewood II, a sophomore at Morehouse College, enrolled in Summer Experience to make new friends and enhance his career prospects.
"There are a lot of opportunities to make connections here that will help me after I graduate," said Gatewood, 19, who's interning Downtown at the local branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "I feel like this is helping me hone skills that will contribute to my success in the future."
Next on the schedule is a service project from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday at Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. Upcoming events include a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, a conversation with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and an evening of socializing at the South Main Trolley Tour and Young Professionals Mixer.
For details, call (901) 527-4625, Ext. 14, or go online to leadershipacademy.org
-- James Dowd: (901) 529-2737
Memphis: The Summer Experience by the numbers
493: Student participants
10: Scheduled events
$0: Cost to participants
97: Student hometowns represented, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Montreal, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan
93: Colleges and universities represented, including Iowa State, Morehouse, Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee, Wellesley, Wesleyan and Yale
84: Employers engaged in the program, including AutoZone, Baker Donelson, Baptist Memorial Health Care, Dixon Hughes Goodman, Duncan-Williams, FedEx, First Tennessee, International Paper, Medtronic, Nike, ServiceMaster, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Youth Villages