For Jaya Todai, Chattanooga isn’t just a city, it’s a center of people she loves and admires, and she wants to have a part in helping it grow. That’s what interested her in the internship position at Causeway.
Todai began her work with civic engagement at UTC when she designed the curriculum and began teaching a class called Civic Engagement in the Brock Scholars Program in her sophomore year, continuing through the next year.
“It was this idea to get the incoming freshmen to think of themselves not just as individuals with grades to maintain, but as people within a community. I was challenging my fellow Brocks to really think civic mindedness. UTC is really working on how to bring the city and the university together, because we are a metropolitan university, but there is always room to do better,” said Todai.
Todai continued her involvement with civic engagement by becoming an intern at Causeway, a resource hub helping Chattanoogans develop innovative solutions to some of the city’s most pressing civic challenges. Through a variety of programs, such as Cause Mobs and the Causeway Challenge, causes are able to receive support, resources, and funding necessary to make the city a better place.
“A friend of mind told me about Causeway, this cool new organization that deals with connecting people and organizations and getting good, socially minded ideas off the ground. So I went in to apply for an internship with Causeway, and I was very lucky and very excited that I got hired,” Todai said.
Initially, Todai worked as campaign manager.
“Causeway has this online platform where if you have a great idea about how to address a gap or problem in Chattanooga, you can post this idea, and crowdsource locally. I was the first point of contact after someone filled out the application online. I was there every time a campaign went live, and I was always more excited about that one than the last one,” Todai said.
One of Todai’s major responsibilities was to help programs strengthen their social media presence.
“It’s like Kickstarter, but socially minded, and you can crowdsource for things other than money – volunteer hours, facilities, materials, or tools. People assume that crowdsourcing is very easy and very democratic, but it’s also about how many people can reach on social media. You have to strategize, to think about your audience, your goals, and how to spread your cause, and it was my job to help them do that. And that was so fun, because I could be there, helping this nonprofit behind the scenes as they make these cool things happen,” Todai said.
In March, Todai took up a more writing intensive position utilizing her English Creative Writing major to create a toolkit for Causeway.
“I’ve been reaching out to the Causeway community and asking how different people interacted with Causeway: some used our crowdsourcing platform, some were challenge winners, some volunteered through Cause Mobs. I want to learn what they learned through us. I’m compiling all these interviews and writing up this kit that will go live in a few months,” Todai said.
In particular, Todai learned a lot about working with a startup company.
“Causeway is still growing and developing, and it has been really cool to be a part of it at this stage. Working at a startup, no day is like the last day. You have no idea what you’re walking into, and that’s why I love it. It’s so amazing to be around people who are so good at what they do and so ready to roll with things, to listen, and to shift to meet challenges,” Todai said.
After May graduation, Todai plans to stay in Chattanooga.
“This city is growing, and I want to be involved with that. I hear the word ‘progress’ and I want to be one of the people with a say in what that progress looks like, because I think we need to be mindful of how it affects people, who we’re leaving out, how we are maximizing talent and diversity, how do we listen to the people in our community? I want more people to be invested in Chattanooga, not just in seeing it grow, but being a part of that, helping it develop positively,” Todai said.
“Causeway has opened up a lot of doors for me in Chattanooga. I got to meet all these amazing people and really spend my time working with amazing causes that really mattered to me,” Todai said. “This experience validated so many of those things I have been thinking about since I was a sophomore, and gave me the boost to want to keep working in this area. I want people to think critically about volunteering, where things are lacking, why certain problems come up. I want people not just to give in a specific way they’re told, but to think about what they can do to meaningfully change things. And we can be those people – we can change the community.”