Lewiston-Auburn College

Becvar and Withrow

Nikki Withrow and Kathy Becvar

Internship and degree lead to opportunities

The nontraditional student, one who commutes to school instead of living on campus and attends school part-time while holding down a job and taking care of a family, has become the majority according to a 2011 study by the Complete College America organization which noted that these nontraditional students now make up 75 percent of all college students today.

Kathy Becvar had always wanted to attend college, but like many others, she waited until her children were grown before she enrolled in the University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College’s Leadership and Organizational Studies program in 1997.

“Waiting to attend college was a real advantage for me,” Becvar said. “I don’t know that I would have been as disciplined if I had attended college right out of high school. As an adult college student, I had a real drive to get my degree.” She was a part-time student with a full-time job and took two courses during spring and fall semesters and one course each summer over nine years until she graduated with her bachelor’s degree. Her tuition was reimbursed by her employers.

Before getting hired at Central Maine Medical Center as Director of Annual Funds almost seven years ago, Becvar had worked at another health organization for 21 years where she managed volunteers, did public relations, wrote newsletters, helped to organize board and staff presentations, did fund raising at town meetings, performed database administration tasks, managed medical records, and did human resource tasks. “When you work for a small nonprofit, you end up doing a little bit of everything. I researched and helped to develop policies – HR policies, medical policies, all kinds of policies. I supervised an administrative staff of eight at one point. But my title always stayed the same.”

Although Becvar loved what she was doing, there was no upward mobility at that job. “It was such a great place to work that no one left,” she said. When Becvar drew up a resume for herself, she focused on her leadership skills and not her job title. She was hired by another nonprofit organization in 2003 and worked on their fundraising campaign while still attending school.

In 2006, Becvar learned about a job opening for her position at CMMC and that a bachelor’s degree was required. “All the human resource classes I took in the LOS program were critical in getting into this leadership position. The courses covered organizational theory, interpersonal behavior, and so much more.”

Fast forward to 2012 when a serendipitous meeting took place. Becvar was looking for an intern to work in her office and Nikki Withrow was an LOS student looking for an internship.

During her first semester in the LOS program at LAC, Withrow discovered that the program was just what she needed to reach her goals. “I had only worked as a CNA, taking care of patients bedside, and had no schooling in administrative skills. The diversity of courses offered in the LOS program was a big plus.” In her last year of school, Withrow said, “Leigh Mundhenk, who teaches career development courses and oversees the internship program at USM LAC, required me to interview four leaders so as to get an idea of where to do an internship.”

Withrow sought advice from Betty Robinson, an associate professor in the LOS program at LAC, who suggested that she talk to Becvar. Robinson listed some of Becvar’s work duties including fund raising and working on the Dempsey Challenge. “Kathy’s work was the least interesting to me and so I scheduled her for my first interview. I figured I would just get that first interview over with,” said Withrow.

By the end of Withrow’s interview with Becvar, Withrow had changed her mind about Becvar’s job. “Kathy is just so amazing and I immediately wanted to work with her.”

After six months of setting up the internship contract, Withrow was hired as an intern in May 2012 and interned the entire summer at CMMC, 40 hours a week, while working full-time overnight shifts at her job, and going to school full-time with five classes.

“When Nikki started her internship, an employee left, leaving Nikki to manage a fundraising event taking place that day. She also was working with a new employee. They were tasked with numbering hundreds of golf balls for the helicopter drop,” said Becvar. “They also had to very quickly learn new auction software to manage a silent auction at the event.”

The fundraiser Becvar referred to was CMMC’s Arbor House Helicopter Ball Drop in which golf balls are dropped over a target and which raised nearly $11,000. Each raffle ticket sold was represented by one of hundreds of numbered golf balls. Everything about the fundraiser needed to be tracked in an administrative database which Withrow had to manage. “While I was numbering golf balls, while I was using database software I had never used before, my sister in another state was having an emergency C-section,” said Withrow.

“We changed how we used the software for the event that afternoon, too,” laughed Becvar.

That day’s event made Withrow more determined than ever to get through her internship, graduate with a degree in leadership and organizational studies, and continue to do the type of work she saw Becvar doing. Fortuitously, a few weeks after starting her internship at CMMC, a position opened up in Becvar’s office and Withrow applied for it and was hired in August 2012. “Kathy left me hanging a little bit because she couldn’t tell me if I had the job,” said Withrow. “She couldn’t tell me if maybe I had the job. I wasn’t sure if my internship would be considered enough experience.”

“During the internship, Nikki didn’t just work on the ball drop. She also worked on the Dempsey Challenge, a golf tournament, and an employee online auction,” said Becvar, who listed other events, too. “Nikki gained the most amazing work experience during her internship. We didn’t know what to expect since it was our first time working with an intern. Nikki set the bar for future interns.” Becvar noted that Mundhenk is currently in the process of finding another suitable intern at LAC for CMMC’s office of development.

“People have the misperception that all we do in this office is fundraising, but that’s not the case,” said Withrow, listing some of the tasks that office oversees including managing volunteers.

Becvar said it was very refreshing to have Withrow come into the position with lots of energy and interest in the event planning aspects of the job which frees time for Becvar to devote to managing and recruiting donors and volunteers. “Nikki has been assigned some leadership roles such as overseeing the membership committee so that we can continue to grow our volunteers and keep them engaged.”

One of the events that Withrow worked on was subjected to a software update that didn’t go smoothly. People who were interested in participating in or donating to the event were unable to do so. “I’ve always joked that I have trouble turning on my computer and here was this major software problem that I needed to solve as the database manager,” said Withrow.

Troubleshooting the software and helping the staff who were responding to the people who wanted to participate or donate but were unable to because of the software problem fell on Withrow’s shoulders. Withrow said that the LOS program prepared her for that type of scenario by teaching her leadership skills.

Both women agree that the LOS program at LAC can open doors for students, “But they have to apply themselves. Graduating with a degree is one thing, but the accomplishment is more than the degree. That sense of accomplishment leads to other things. The LOS program provides an educated workforce and that really helps the community. Now the trick is keeping people here in our community,” said Becvar.

The LOS program sets up its students in such a way that the students can feel confident that they are qualified to apply for leadership positions because they have been taught skills by the best educators. “Kathy and I know that any LOS student intern sent to us by Betty or Leigh is going to come highly recommended and have the needed leadership skills for a corporate environment. When I stepped into this position, I knew I had the resources I needed, I knew I had the knowledge I needed, and that in itself is beneficial to the community,” said Withrow.

The LOS program promotes a connection between its students and the community. “I started with  a project for Tree Street Youth and I am now a board member. LOS instructors push you out into the community; they want you to experience things hands on,” said Withrow.

For Becvar, as an LOS student she was encouraged by Robinson to join the Lewiston-Auburn Rotary. She has been a member, sat on their board, managed their speakers, became their vice president, and then president. Rotary is entirely run by volunteers whose skills are valuable to the success of the organization. “It’s been both a great experience and a challenge. I’ve learned a lot, but I also give back to them at the same time.”

Speaking of great experiences, opportunities, and challenges, Withrow laughed, “Last week after clearing it with everyone, Kathy handed me the planning notes for the gala and said, ‘Here you go. I’ll be with you at the first meeting.’ ”

“But when I handed it to her she asked if she could have the golf tournament, too,” quipped Becvar. “There are some things that I have a hard time giving up, like the membership committee, because I love the volunteer piece of it. The other side of delegating is that I love helping people grow through experience.”

“As Kathy hands more and more duties to me so that she can do some of the higher management tasks, I’ll hand off some of my duties to other staff,” said Withrow. “This is also where my leadership education has been key. I have been able to see in myself how I’ve changed and grown.”