Aspen, Colorado is a place well known for spectacular natural beauty and inspiration for diverse ideas.
This summer, Roderick Todd, son of Rick and Lisa Todd of Camden, enjoyed a unique opportunity: an internship with the Aspen Institute, an international organization that describes itself as a think tank that fosters ideas that matter.
More specifically, the institute brings together world leaders from all walks of life, from government and business to science and philanthropy, to discuss world affairs and issues and works to start conversations and generate ideas with the goal of fostering positive change.
Todd, a rising senior at Wofford College majoring in international affairs and Chinese, was one of three Wofford students chosen to go to Aspen for this program. And while the rising senior has done other internships – he spent a semester in China his sophomore year – the Aspen Institute, to him, impacted him on more levels than anything else he has ever done, he said.
What made this internship so unique from others?
“Well first, it’s in Aspen, which is another world unto itself,” Todd said. “We got to experience a lot of things outside the institute – natural wonders, outdoor activities – that were just amazing.”
But the internship program – and the Aspen Institute itself -- is truly unique in a number of ways, he said.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said of the Aspen Institute. “They are really able to start conversations that may seem like they’re out of touch with the world, but they’re really not. You have to ask yourself, is it better for the world to start a conversation about a certain issue or not? They believe it is.”
And while some of the conversations may seem a little lofty, the fact is, the Aspen Institute showed him that the world is a small place, that everything really is connected and that any work for the common good is going to accomplish good – and it will eventually trickle down to the micro level, Todd said.
Wofford enjoys a special relationship with the institute; Wofford alumnus and businessman Mike Brown, CEO of Health Care Capital Consolidated Inc. became involved with the Aspen Institute through the Liberty Fellowship, which started in Greenville, and was so impressed and impacted by his experience that he arranged for the institute to reserve three intern slots for Wofford students. The institute has 15 intern slots per year worldwide.
“He (Brown) felt this was such an outstanding experience and such a powerful opportunity that he told them he would pay stipends for three students to go and work there each summer,” Todd said. “He’s truly an incredible person. The thing is, the Institute brings so many people together like him – people who have truly achieved amazing things and bring incredible energy to it.”
Todd was one of eight Wofford students to apply for this year’s internship. There are no hard and fast criteria to qualify; the application process largely consisted of filling out paperwork and interviewing with Mike Brown, he said.
Nonetheless, Todd said he made sure faculty, alumni of the internship program, and of course, Brown all knew he wanted to do it. As he expected, the experience was probably the most profound of his life, he said.
The Institute has a number of events it hosts throughout the year – symposiums, workshops, convocations, lectures – many of which are open to the public, Todd said. But the institute does more than just talk about issues; it mixes its approach with a firm grounding in classical works of philosophy and literature – a truly liberal arts approach to the world – and strives to show why those things matter and how they are relevant in today’s world.
The people who are involved in these events are truly some of the top thinkers, influencers, achievers in the world today, Todd said. While he was there this summer, the institute hosted a variety of top flight personalities, from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Harvard President Drew Faust. He noted that so many of these people seemed far more at ease and willing to talk frankly about subjects and issues in this setting than in the general public world of political alliances and media driven diatribe.
In fact, one of Todd’s most profound experiences was meeting Faust, not just because of who she is and what she does but because of what she had to say and how it connected with his personal experience.
Faust was talking about the importance of liberal arts education and the need for young people to get out and experience life before throwing themselves into this headlong race to achieve so much so early, Todd said.
“What she said really resonated with me, with where I am right now,” Todd said. “I think I would like to maybe ultimately work in some sort of diplomatic role – I am an international affairs major – but what form that will ultimately take I don’t know.”
Todd said he introduced himself to her and thanked her for her words. As it turned out, she was not only gracious and easy to talk to but knew of and had high praise for Wofford, he said.
Ultimately, the experience showed Todd how important the perspective of experience an internship – any internship – is to a student’s overall educational and life experience. He said he wants to become involved in the Aspen intern program at Wofford not only helping to promote it but encouraging and recruiting students to apply for it.
“It was such a unique glimpse of the larger world,” he said. “I really felt like what I was doing was important, that I was part of something that really matters.”