Anthropology in Action
Isha Shah ’22 discusses her Field Work Term internship for Lever’s Bennington County Intrapreneur Challenge.
By Mary Brothers '22
Although Isha Shah ‘22 has spent four years at Bennington and is currently in her last term, she realized she didn’t know much about the surrounding area. That all changed, however, when she began her internship with Lever, an organization that seeks to aid in the economic development of the Berkshire region and its entrepreneurs.
“I hadn’t really gotten around. I really didn't know what the region looked like. Getting to learn more about what people consume was a really great way into knowing more about the economy. One breakthrough [about this experience] was texturizing where we are,” said Shah.
Shah worked with fellow Bennington student Mirza Cevra '22 doing market research and consulting work for the five Bennington County companies competing as finalists in Lever’s Bennington challenge.
Shah describes Lever as “a mission-driven organization with a commercial focus.” Lever created the Bennington Intrapreneur Challenge, which is open to small businesses in the area, inviting them to participate in workshops and helping them form business pitches for investors, all with the goal of fostering regional economic development.
“Vermont has historically had steady, if not declining, economic growth. Stimulating economic growth is really Lever’s priority, and they do so by partnering with businesses that are mission-driven” said Shah.
During her Field Work Term internship, Shah worked primarily with Old Mill Road Media, a publisher of regional magazines, and Cevra worked with Grateful Dog Training Inc., a local dog training business. They both aided their clients in the challenge by conducting market research.
“One of the most important aspects of Lever’s work is doing market research and getting to understand the competitive landscape. [The clients] need to understand what other businesses are in the area. And, how do they introduce their product in the market? Are people going to buy it? Is there a market for it or not?” said Shah.
Shah and Cevra regularly met with the clients to share their research support. Shah was specifically helping her clients introduce an LGBTQ+ guide for the region.
“I was helping them figure out: What are the similar magazines in or around the area that have been successful or have not been successful? What are the avenues that they can pursue in putting forward this LGBTQ+ guide in order to make people more safe and stimulate tourism in the region?” said Shah.
As an anthropology and economics student, Shah found out about the Lever position from a school email. Her previous FWT experiences include an independent research project on women’s health and mental health back home in India, working with a Swiss impact investment firm, and interning for an asset management firm in New York City.
“You can really see how my focus shifted slowly from humanities and budgeting to finance space,” said Shah. “My focus has changed from qualitative to quantitative. Being able to parse through a bunch of information, select what's important, summarize it, and synthesize it is something I constantly do from anthropology classes and issue classes. When I realized that that's exactly what I was doing with [consulting], it made so much sense, and seeing that I could use these skills to make an impact and help a small business was rewarding.”
Shah's work with a local business helped her to contextualize just how interconnected the surrounding region is.
“This remarkable community around Bennington County is tightly committed to things when we’re talking about advertising and marketing,” said Shah. “People provide a lot of word of mouth recommendations, and they call around. It’s definitely a tight-knit community. It provided me with a lot more context than I could have ever gotten without having these interactions.”
Shah attended the ceremony to crown the winner of the contest, MSK Engineers, in North Adams. After graduating, she hopes to continue working in management consultancy.
Shah wants her fellow international students who want to stay in the States after graduation to know that it is never too early to start looking for jobs.
“As an international student, it's important to get a job right after college because if not, you may not be able to stay in the country,” said Shah. “Try and talk to people. Message people on LinkedIn. Pop into your professor’s office hours. Just a conversation with a person can go a long way. A lot of what I learned about management consultancy was through networking, and they gave me so many resources that I can use. I feel like I was prepared for this Lever internship in a way I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t tried to network and learn more about what I wanted to do.”