Internship opportunity allows students to contribute to a higher purpose

July 17, 2020
Alumnus opened his agency's doors to students during COVID-19.

“It all started at Richmond,” said Drew Train, ‘03, of his motivation to address societal issues through personal and professional purpose-driven work. During his senior year on campus, Train, along with other student leaders, organized an event that brought together 1,100 volunteers to build a Habitat for Humanity home in five days. “Everyone came together to serve, and that experience really stuck with me,” he shared.

After graduation, Train joined J. Walter Thompson Worldwide (JWT), a marketing and communications agency, as an account director for an investment banking client in New York when the financial crisis hit. Attending an Occupy Wall Street protest while news was emerging of the banking industry’s misconduct, Train shared that “the dissonance became too loud to ignore.” He encouraged the firm’s leadership to launch JWT Ethos, a social-good practice to drive change on big-picture societal issues, which he led until branching out on his own with colleague Bill Oberlander.

The co-founders brought together a passion for serving the common good with their expertise in the creative field to launch OBERLAND, an agency focused on elevating purpose-driven brands to create a more conscious and prosperous future. A location in the German Alps, Oberland translated means Highland. “We liked the double meaning—our agency is a place where the higher purpose rules the day,” Train said 

OBERLAND operates out of an office on Canal Street in New York City, working with nonprofits, institutions, and corporations. Drew keeps busy as president of the organization in addition to his positions on board of directors including NAMI NYC, and the board of directors of Summer Infant (NASDAQ: SUMR).

However, he still finds time to stay connected to his alma mater.

During an annual “Spiders in New York” trip for marketing students, Joel Mier, lecturer in marketing, led 25 students to the OBERLAND headquarters where Train shared the agency’s history and ethos, and insightful perspectives on the industry. “I have been beyond impressed with the passion, dedication, and willingness of Spider alumni to give of themselves. Spider alums consistently go above and beyond to help their fellow arachnids,” said Mier. “And Drew exemplifies this commitment.”

When COVID-19 began to upend many students’ summer internship and job plans, Mier reached out to Train who volunteered to share his experience with students. “We had over 40 students on a call with Drew. He went well over time, answering question after question, giving generously of himself,” Mier said.

“I shared my contact information with students and encouraged them to follow up,” Train said. Several students did just that. “I was really impressed with their hustle. Since the world went sideways, we hadn’t planned on an internship program this year, but we quickly decided to create an alternate experience for them.”

The students have been gaining experience through project-based work, including the design of an internal data analytics dashboard and contribution to market research thought leadership efforts. “It’s really a win-win situation,” Train said. 

Sela Betz, ’20, agrees. She is a member of the team working on the dashboard for OBERLAND. “I was attracted to advertising because it’s a big platform capable of making meaningful connections in society,” she said. “And OBERLAND is built on purpose to grow a more conscious capitalist society. The biggest takeaway for me has been to be comfortable with learning what I don’t know on the go.”

“Your ability to connect with others will leave more of a legacy than simply completing the assignment you are expected to finish,” said Jay Do, ’20, who is also interning with OBERLAND this summer. “I could tell Drew was very knowledgeable about purpose-driven business and passionate about the agency’s credo to uphold purpose at its core. While back then, I had no idea how this idea was integrated throughout the agency itself, working with OBERLAND has shown me that it’s possible. Especially during a time when ignoring a business’ purpose is no longer an option, OBERLAND is doing very well because its people have always had a drive for purpose, and I see that.” 

Train is glad to have the opportunity to provide experiences for students in a time of uncertainty and unrest, and allowing them to be part of the OBERLAND team. “Moving to a virtual workspace has challenges—we miss each other and the comradery we share. But we’ve learned how to maintain empathy and the team spirit even while physically distant.”

OBERLAND is continuing to accept internship applicants for summer 2020. To learn more, visit their website.