Crazy for Internships and for Academic Excellence
Joanna Lund-Pops QC’12 and Jim Stellar
Joanna is an undeclared upper sophomore intending to double major in Political Science and Anthropology, a transfer student from U. Maryland, and a holder of a 4.0 GPA. However, what is perhaps most remarkable about her is the number and types of experiences she has undertaken so far in her College career. The combination of academic excellence in the classroom and a quest for experiences outside the classroom is something we should explore. So, let’s begin by asking … How many and what types of experiences are we talking about?
I’ve been involved in a wide array of activities since high school. The summer before twelfth grade, I had a very rewarding experience interning for the Queens Courier newspaper. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed trying to delve into and get a sense of as many different career paths as possible. For instance, I’ve gotten the chance to volunteer at two different museums, as well as work on a city council campaign. This summer, I am volunteering in a museum as a docent, a math program (for students entering fourth grade), a hands-on science program (for students entering sixth grade), and a reading program (for students entering kindergarten). I also work as a part time sales associate.
That is an impressive list. So, what do you hope to get out of these experiences (besides money in the one place where you are paid)?
Honestly, in many of these cases, what I’m aiming for is entirely two-fold. As someone who believes that change has to start from the bottom-up, has to begin as a fledgling effort, I want to inspire the children I work with. I can inspire them to do better in math and science, but hopefully, I can even inspire them on a greater level. What I’m really trying for, is to teach them the basic idea that, if you can, you should try to help those around you simply because you want to, simply because you care.
Of course, I also, perhaps somewhat selfishly, enjoy volunteering because it gives me a chance to learn a great deal. Working at a museum, for instance, I have acquired such incredible knowledge about New York City and about its history and traditions. Not to mention, I’ve had a wonderful time being a docent, and learning about the art of teaching and performing – an often difficult, but rewarding process.
How has it helped you to grow as a student in demanding academic programs outside History? Is there more to it than soft skills (e.g. learning how to get along with people, which could translate into better academic group work)?
Working as a docent, I definitely feel that I have gained a heightened sense of confidence, a better ability to improvise, and overall, a stronger approach to handling different types of situations. For example, when I am leading tours, I am presenting information to groups of different sizes, ages, and interests. Thus, I cannot maintain one standard approach, and must constantly alter what I am teaching and how I am teaching it, to fit the needs of the people I am working with. This flexibility often allows me to handle a substantial and challenging workload, by enabling me to readily switch my academic approach as I learn what does and what doesn’t work successfully for me.
You used the word “change” above and referred to the preference for bottom-up processes (I agree). Just above you used the word “confidence.” How important to you is the learning about such organizational transformation and your potential place in it from the internship experience and is this something you do not get enough of in classes?
I find that hands-on learning, about how to inspire change from the bottom-up, is immensely important. In fact, I feel that most projects, which are truly valuable, are those which stem from a few people’s efforts, and blossom into products which involve and aid many. Accordingly, I believe that this type of experience and emotional investment in a fledgling, grassroots process cannot be fully attained through one’s classes. One needs to have first-hand experience with the birth and growth of a project or organization – a type of experience which truly cannot be found in a classroom or textbook.
Notice how this story weaves an emotional-logic evaluation into the more cognitive-based career mapping based on major choice, classes, and curriculum. Such integration goes way beyond learning the so-called “soft skills” from interacting with people or presenting one’s ideas to strangers on an internship. The students, and the industries in which they will get jobs after college, demand this additional dimension of maturity.
Not discussed above is Joanna’s interest in law school. We would assert that the same evaluative self-confidence that makes a college graduate more attractive to a business for a job also helps a student to get into law school. Also, it opens opportunities for accomplishment in college (e.g. undergraduate research with a professor) that deepens confidence, leads to more accomplishments, a better law school essay, and yields stronger letters of recommendation.
One more point. Several times the words “bottom-up” were used almost as a political philosophy of how to move organizations. We seem to agree on the power of this approach whether it dealing with an entire large organization or a small mom-and-pop type operation. People who can move organizations are a certain brand of leader that can be very valuable. They also may learn a great deal about how to be that leader by getting experience in a real-world environment like an internship that pushes concepts learned in the classroom.