A surfer, a seamstress, and a storyteller. The three Putnam siblings diverge when it comes to their passions and strengths. But their interests align through the Ballard Center for Social Impact at the BYU Marriott School of Business, where they’ve each found their own way to help businesses do good.
Growing up in El Segundo, a suburb of Los Angeles, Rett, Areaya (Rae), and Shayauna (Shay) Putnam had different hobbies. While Rett, the oldest brother, always found his happy place in the great outdoors, Rae developed her sewing skills through a small business sewing masks and hoodies. Meanwhile, Shay poured her creativity into writing.
One interest the three siblings enjoyed together as teenagers was entrepreneurship. Together, they created a small business called “Shay and Rae’s Leis,” selling candy leis for graduation. This early business taught the siblings how to grow ideas and collaborate—skills that would follow them to college and shape their experience.
When the twin sisters joined their older brother at Brigham Young University in the fall of 2022, they learned that he had found a way to stay connected to the outdoors, learn about business, and serve others—all at the same time. Rett had discovered the Ballard Center’s Social Impact Projects (SIP), a program that matches students with on-campus internships for companies committed to making a difference.
“I’m big into nature,” says Rett, an economics major who is pursuing a minor in strategy. “I’ve spent a lot of my life surfing, and I’ve seen beaches get pretty messed up. I want to prevent that from happening on a corporate level.” The SIP program enabled Rett to tap into his love of nature through an internship with Kodiak Cakes, a local packager of flapjack mix. Rett explains, “My team looked at the environmental impact that is happening at the Kodiak headquarters in Park City, and I did environmental research for them.”
Rae and Shay—both pre-business majors—also pursued internships through the center’s SIP program. Rae worked on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at tech powerhouse Intel, and Shay partnered with humanitarian nonprofit APOPO, an organization that trains rats to find land mines, allowing for safe removal of the mine and repurposing of the land for locals.
These projects gave the Putnam siblings opportunities to learn from and network with top executives. Rett and his team collaborated with the CEO, the chief marketing officer, the chief legal officer, and the creative director of chief strategy for Kodiak Cakes. “It was just an amazing experience,” he says, “because these people were all experts in their field and really kind. They respected us because we were part of BYU. We learned so much from observing them, talking to them, and being able to help them and add value to their company.”
While Rett and his team were making presentations in Park City, Shay and her team were waking up at six in the morning for their weekly conference call with an APOPO director in London, who gave them direct feedback and direction on their project. “She really appreciated the work we did,” Shay says. “Being able to collaborate, especially with the leaders of these companies, was awesome.”
Working on an employee retention program for Intel gave Rae connections inside one of the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturers. But she quickly realized that the connections she forged with her Ballard Center team members were equally valuable. Rae shares, “My whole group was older than me—juniors and seniors—so it was really cool learning from them and seeing how they research and how they solve problems.” As a new freshman, Rae says that collaborating with these seasoned students on the SIP team taught her “how to do college.”
Creating bonds with other Ballard Center students was also a highlight for Rett. “The SIP group was amazing, uplifting, just a really great group of people to build each other up,” he says. “You grow a closeness with these other students that you otherwise wouldn’t in a normal class setting.”
“People who work with the Ballard Center are really focused on improving the lives of other people—not just in my group, but in all the groups,” Shay adds. “I’ve seen some really selfless people, and their dedication to what they’re doing is amazing.”
Rett, Rae, and Shay had different work experiences as they interned at different companies, but they shared the common goal of creating positive impact. That goal was modeled for the Putnam siblings long before they ever stepped into the Ballard Center.
“I think one connecting factor we have is that our mom is just a really caring, loving person,” Rett shares. “Our whole life, she’s been just trying to help people in the community and through the church. She’s been a great example of doing good and trying to be a good person.”
After finishing a year of school, Rett, Rae and Shay are thankful for how the Ballard Center helped them follow in their mother’s footsteps and open new doors for them. “Through BYU,” Rett says, “it’s all possible.”
Written by Shannon Keeley