Internship gives Uplift Williams alumna a new view of possibilities

Silvia Ayala
Silvia Ayala attends Salem College in North Carolina where she is currently studying accounting.

When Silvia Ayala’s high school guidance counselor called her to ask if she would be interested in a business internship last spring, she didn’t know what to think. Silvia, an accounting major at Salem College in North Carolina, wasn’t afraid of numbers. She’d taken AP Calculus at Uplift Williams Preparatory before graduating in 2012. She had done well in her accounting and calculus classes at college. But she didn’t know a thing about business.

“I was a freshman. I hadn’t taken any business classes. I was afraid I wouldn’t have anything to say to them in the interview,” she recounted.  But Silvia wasn’t about to walk away from the opportunity. Even if they said no, she’d learn something from the experience.

At her interview with Tony Dona, a real estate investment manager and Board member at Uplift Education, Silvia heard words like cash flow and equities for the first time. “I had no idea what he was talking about, so I mostly nodded and told him my story. He obviously liked something he heard because he offered me the job,” Silvia says.

The internship involved learning about how Tony and his partner, Mary Hager, evaluate, package and market commercial real estate investments to university endowments and US family offices. Her main role would be to shadow one of their associates and learn the business. One hurdle she did not have to overcome was how to be comfortable in a professional environment.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but Uplift and my Williams teachers did an amazing job preparing me this opportunity. My teachers taught me how to speak and dress and how to learn. And our Road to College counselors actually helped me with things you don’t always think about, like how to interview and how to eat at a business lunch. I had no idea what fork to use. At my first lunch meeting, I spent the entire time trying to remember all of those rules I’d learned over the summer,” she recalled while laughing out loud, “You know, don’t reach across people, use the outside fork for salad, how to drink. My friends and I never thought about those things.”

Tony and Mary were both impressed with how well Silvia expressed herself at the interview and once she started the job. He describes a young woman eager to tackle the hard stuff.

“We were introducing Silvia to complex things. One of our associates, Robert Taylor, worked with her on cash flow analyses. She always let him know when she didn’t understand and worked hard to grasp the concept,” he says.

Silvia Ayala and the Thackeray Partners team.
Silvia Ayala and the Thackeray Partners team.

Thackeray Partners is located in a small office building just north of Downtown Dallas near I-75. Their workspace is open, egalitarian, and relaxed. For much of the internship, Silvia occupied a table near Robert. Despite not having her own space, Mary noted the extent to which Silvia went to make herself a part of the office culture. Though she was initially worried she wouldn’t be accepted because she is Mexican, Silvia quickly discovered the team was genuinely interested in her culture and began asking her questions about Spanish, her family, and the food she brought to work. Silvia found working there remarkably easy and quickly made herself part of the firm.

“We loved having her here. She brought a lot of life and was genuinely excited to be here. It was a pleasure to have her working with us. She tackled the tasks we gave her and strived to understand what it is we do” Mary says.

Even as hard as it was for Silvia to learn the complicated business principles involved in real estate investing, she still could barely believe she had landed such a great internship. “I used to pinch myself and ask if this job was real. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the preparation Uplift Williams gave me and the support Tony and Mary provided,” she notes.

Silvia says the internship had a significant impact on her future plans. She is still studying accounting at Salem College, but she enrolled in her first marketing class this fall and thinks she’s found a new passion. She hasn’t decided if she will change her major from accounting. She’ll wait until the end of the school year to make that decision. She has, however, gained valuable exposure to other opportunities in the business and financial sector.

According to Tony, the next step for Silvia will be to being pursuing other internships and begin building her network. “Thackeray Partners is just the start for her. I want to see her get internships next year that will help her continue to grow. She’s going to have some great opportunities ahead of her,” Tony says.

Uplift encourages business leaders to get involved in its internship program. It is an essential way Uplift helps its students be successful in college and in their careers. If you would like to provide an graduate like Silvia with an internship opportunity, contact April Bowman in our Road to College office.

See the full interview with Tony below.

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