James Freymuth sat at a round table in a spacious office on the 20th floor of an investment management company’s sleek postmodern skyscraper overlooking downtown Los Angeles.
The undergraduate was poring over neatly stacked piles of charts with his new boss Michael Reilly at the TCW Group.
To a casual observer, the scene may have looked like everyday, mundane work. But Freymuth was gathering invaluable experience during a paid summer internship through the USC Dornsife Gateway Internship Program.
While many undergrads may take a vacation, Freymuth is spending his summer shadowing Reilly, chief investment officer of the company’s equities group and director of U.S. equity research.
“I don’t come from a finance or business background so it’s definitely been a lot of learning on the job,” said Freymuth, a philosophy, politics and law major.
While the two examined the charts, Reilly, a USC Dornsife alumnus and member of the USC Dornsife Board of Councilors, showed his intern how he uses the graphs to make complex financial information easily accessible to an average person.
Then, Reilly and Freymuth headed into a meeting with the company’s portfolio analytics group.
“During my internship, I shadow Michael [Reilly] occasionally and am allowed in most all of the meetings that go on here, including those that feature management from large companies that come to speak with our equities analysts.
“But mostly I work independently on actual projects for Michael [Reilly], though there is constant communication and dialogue between us.”
Six weeks into his internship, Freymuth is now completely comfortable with investment management terminology and talks confidently to Reilly about his research findings.
Freymuth said Gateway has given him a sense of real achievement in an atmosphere where the overwhelming majority of employees have an MBA under their belt.
“Gateway has instilled confidence in me, because despite not having the same qualifications, or decades of experience, I realize that as a USC Dornsife major, I, too, have something to contribute.”
The Gateway Internship Program was launched last year, led by Donal Manahan, vice dean for students and professor of biological sciences. The program offers paid summer internships in banking, finance, entertainment, education, law, insurance and real estate in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
Taught by Manahan, a “Career Leadership” course provides students with insight from expert guest speakers. A few include Reilly, who in 1985 earned his bachelor’s in Spanish and business administration and was USC valedictorian, then earned his MBA from USC in 1986, and Robert Osher, USC Dornsife Board of Councilors member and president of the digital productions division of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Individualized support is offered through mentor matching with a distinguished business professional who can provide valuable one-on-one advice and support. Students in the program must be at least a sophomore with a declared USC Dornsife major or minor and have been on the previous Fall’s dean’s list.
“There is much public discussion at present about the value and cost of a college education,” Manahan said. “Programs such as USC Dornsife Gateway provide students with unique opportunities to enhance their college experience and be prepared for the next step in their professional development.”
Fourteen students took part in the program’s first year. This year, 26 students participated and Manahan expects the program to grow.
“In particular, we wish to engage a diverse group of students who are eager to expand their knowledge beyond the classroom,” he said. “Bringing together students with very different backgrounds offers exciting potential for students to learn from each other as they prepare for the next step in their own professional development.”
Freymuth had never considered a career in business before he signed up for Gateway. Now he said his positive experiences interning with TCW have inspired him to seriously consider pursuing an MBA.
“Participating in the Gateway program confirms what USC Dornsife taught me this year — namely, not to count anything out until you’ve actually tried it.”
Other participants are also thriving.
Gillian Miller, a double major in international relations and theater, is interning in the original programming department at Starz Entertainment in Beverly Hills. Miller, who is aiming for a career in the entertainment business, said she loves her internship at the company, which owns premium cable channels.
“I am doing lots of script coverage, reading submissions, giving my thoughts on them and writing a synopsis for the executives,” she said. “What’s really cool about being an intern at Starz is that they actually do read your coverage and value your input.”
Like Freymuth, Miller has found that the skills she learned at USC Dornsife are proving crucial in the workplace.
“I was in Thematic Option [honors program], which is reading and writing intensive,” Miller said. “That has really helped me be able to get my thoughts down quickly in a clear and concise manner. Also, my research ability has helped me be able to talk about the writer and material in a broader sense.”
Miller’s mentor, Ana Marie del Rio, is chief operating officer and general counsel with Irvine-based real estate company Steadfast. (Mentors assigned to students are not usually associated with the students’ internships.)
“She is so warm and welcoming and it’s so helpful to be able to discuss careers with someone who has had several different career paths.”
As a result of her internship experience, Miller has begun looking at law or business for grad school. “I have asked my mentor, who has degrees in law and in communications, which degrees she would recommend. Even if I don’t want to become a lawyer, I realize how helpful a law degree can be in other arenas.
“The working world is such a different experience from college,” she said. “Nowadays you really do need internship experience. I feel I have mentors at Starz who are helping me acclimate to the professional world.”
Emmeline Hoang, a junior majoring in neuroscience with a minor in business, is interning with Steadfast, where she works in property management and assists with special projects in legal and corporate accounting.
Hoang appreciates the two-hour weekly class on campus where she can draw upon the support network of her peers as well as the expert advice offered by Manahan and the guest speakers.
“One of the big challenges that comes up when you start an internship is adapting quickly to your workplace so that you can be effective and make yourself available even if you don’t know anyone yet,” Hoang said. “So in our class we really focused on networking and how to be proactive. It’s definitely been one of the big takeaways from this course.”
Hoang has enjoyed putting her research skills to work by helping draft a company-wide document retention policy and summarizing loan agreements.
Hoang’s mentor, Long Kim Duong, a senior facility planner at Loma Linda University, holds a bachelor’s and a master’s from the USC School of Architecture. Hoang describes Duong as “a really valuable resource.”
“He’s already gone through many of the things I am going though now so it’s really easy to talk to him,” she said. “Since he has a family, he emphasizes the work/life balance, especially as I’m just starting out. He advises me to always keep a level head and not to forget that my career doesn’t have to be my entire life.”
Duong volunteered as a Gateway mentor after noting that the program emphasized work/life balance — something he feels strongly about.
“The application of concepts in school to real life examples is valuable,” Duong said. “I’m happy with my current work/life balance and I’m hopeful that my experiences can help Emmeline identify her own path.”
With her mentor’s help, Hoang is exploring future career options including becoming an optometrist or a move into health care administration. “But I’m still open to other possibilities, which is why I took this internship this summer,” she said.
Freymuth also appreciates the one-on-one input he gets from his mentor, Richard Flores, a senior vice president/regional manager at Bank of the West, and recently sought his advice on business etiquette.
“I had sent out some research reports to senior colleagues and Richard advised me how best to follow up. My initial assumption was that I should try to be as deferential as possible, but he encouraged me to add a deadline so I would get the result I needed.”
Students said they particularly value the class with Manahan. Assignments and discussions focus on preparations needed to become a leader. Students examine leadership styles ranging from Walt Disney to Nelson Mandela. They benefit from the insight of five senior-level professionals who visited the class as guest speakers. Each provided a unique perspective about their educational background and how they attained their current positions. During question and answer sessions with students, they provided recommendations about skill building.
“Surprisingly many of them spoke about how failure played a role in how they got to be where they are today,” Miller said. “It’s a cliché that you hear but never really believe, so it’s great to be able to talk to these people and learn from their experiences.
“As an intern you are not always thinking about leadership but ultimately that’s what you’re striving for — to be a leader in your field.”
For more information on the Gateway Internship program and how you can get involved, visit dornsife.usc.edu/gatewayinternships