Stanford Professional Women of Los Angeles

2014 Fellowship Recipient: Sonya Chaudhry

Sonya_Chaudry photo

Dear SPWLA Community,

First of all, I would like to thank you for this unique opportunity. Not only did I get a way to fund my summer work, but also I got to meet a group of inspiring Stanford alumni who gave me a better picture of what life after graduation could be like.

This fellowship allowed me to work with a wonderful organization called the Spark Program. Spark is a national non-profit working to combat the high school dropout crisis by pairing middle school students from underserved communities with working professionals for a unique mentoring experience. Students and mentors develop hands-on projects over the course of a semester while simultaneously learning and practicing 21st century skills, like goal-setting and networking.

I had the opportunity to engage students and mentors at corporate partners like Warner Bros., Gensler, Hulu, Deloitte, Union Bank, Latham & Watkins, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the end of every semester, students present their work at an event called Discovery Night. It showcases students’ achievements to family, friends, teachers, community members, and supporters to see what students have been learning from their mentors. My favorite part about this event is that students get to be in the spotlight while mentors stand back and let the students take leadership and ownership over their learning. These projects range from apps that plan your outfit to analyses on the costs of hosting the World Cup. The students never ceased to amaze me.

Needless to say, it was a little bittersweet when I had to switch gears as the summer season began. The best part about working with Spark was that my internship was formulated based on my areas of growth. Besides evaluation and classroom management skills, I wanted to work on the skills for developing a large-scale nonprofit. At the time, if someone were to ask what my strengths were, fundraising and cold calling would not have been among them. Consequently, I was assigned to two major projects: developing a student perspective pitch for potential partners and managing communications and outreach for Spark LA’s first annual fundraiser, Spark A Dream.

I can’t say that I am a cold calling expert, but I can say confidently that I won’t stammer through my requests. In fact, I helped to secure several thousands of dollars worth of auction items for the fundraiser and learned how to network and effectively communicate along the way. I am proud to report that this event raised $420,000!

By the end of my internship, I was feeling much more confident about my pitching skills. I had even helped to bring on new partners like Google, Pandora, ModCloth and many more. It was very empowering to learn the art of storytelling for a cause that I truly believed in. The more I perfected my craft the more I felt people responded to what I had to say.

This summer internship not only gave me many opportunities to develop professionally, but also it offered a chance to come full circle in a more personal way. Ten years ago, I was part of the inaugural class of students of the Spark Program. I can wholeheartedly say that it had an impact on me that many years ago. My mentor was a social worker, and at the time I couldn’t tell you that social work was a career I had even known about. However, part of coming full circle was recognizing that initial “spark.” After graduating Stanford, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Chicago.  So, thank you again, for allowing me to give back to this organization that inspired my career path so long ago, and stave off a little bit of my grad school debt.


Sonya Chaudhry


Please continue to support the SPWLA Fellowship by donating today! This year’s deadline is January 31, 2015.