Cultivating Rainier Scholars to be Self-Advocates and Risk Takers

(Rainier Scholar Jessica (L) and Angelica Johnson, her Academic Counselor)

I’m an Academic Counselor to a high school scholar named Jessica who is a junior at the Lakeside School. The photo of Jessica and I was taken during a one-on-one meeting we had in Bliss Hall when she shared with me that she was excited to have recently joined the Junior Varsity basketball team. In the past, Jessica has expressed an interest in playing a sport at Lakeside, but was intimidated to try it out because she feared that she was not competitive enough. Jessica continues to do well in her classes and would like to be even more challenged in her accelerated pre-calculus class. We discussed ways that she could engage with her math teacher to see if he could give her extra or more advanced work. Jessica is pushing herself to take more risks at Lakeside and believe in her ability to succeed. As her Academic Counselor, I have been working with Jessica to equip her with the skills and encouragement she needs to grow as a student.

Jessica is an active member of Lakeside Asian-Pacific Students (LAPS.) Asian-Pacific students make up one of the largest racial/ethnic groups on the Lakeside campus. This affinity club is organized by students and aims both to provide a supportive network as well as to raise general awareness about Asian-American identity and culture. In LAPS, Jessica wants to push to have more conversation about race and racism and engage more biracial students. I affirmed her desire to organize discussions around race is valid and suggested that she could also include mixed race identity in such discussions so that members will have a space to discuss things that speak to their lived experiences. I encouraged her to check out some movies/documentaries and articles that could be good conversation starters and offered my help in finding other resources.  I praised Jessica for wanting to push the envelope because this goes against the stereotype of Asian females being docile and conflict avoidant.

This is just one example of my work as an Academic Counselor in cultivating my students to be strong self-advocates and risk takers. In private school environments where there are few students of color, being a minority can be very triggering for our students on multiple levels. It is important in my work to affirm the talents/skills and narratives that my students bring to the table as well as encourage them to take full advantage of all the opportunities and resources at the tip of their fingers. In light of recent events in Ferguson and a push to continue to discuss topics of race, immigration, etc. on an institutional level, our students are in a unique position to serve as leaders at their schools in organizing discussions/dialogue on creating environments that celebrate difference and institutionalize practices of inclusivity that are willing to invest in the presence, safety, and success of students of color and their families. Jessica’s story is just one example of the amazing work our students are doing on campus, in the classroom and in their personal development.

 


 

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Diversity and Inclusion: Drawing lessons from TV’s “The Voice”….say whaaaat?

What do you get when you combine a roomful of advocates for diversity and inclusion in the work place, expert panelists in the field, and Rainier Scholars?  Magic in a bottle, that’s what:

  • “Great insights and wisdom based on four interesting and diverse careers.”
  • “Terrific seeing scholars giving back to our community.”
  • “So many thought provoking comments…”
  • “Makes me think more purposely about my own career and the impact I can make.”
  • “The type of event that people leave and tell their friends and co-workers about.”

On November 18th, pearls of wisdom rained down on guests gathered at Whitepages.com for Education Happy Hour, an annual Rainier Scholars event for the Greater Seattle business community.  Conversation kicked off with panelists drawing a clear distinction between diversity and inclusion – diversity being the presence of a wide range of individual perspectives, thoughts and expertise, and inclusion being something deeper, reflecting true representation and participation at every level of the organization.  As champions of this work, inclusive leaders must be unafraid of the hard, courageous conversations necessary to help folks grow, even when that involves critical feedback that is both difficult to hear and challenging to incorporate.RS_WhitePages_HR-CRP-1187

On a topic as weighty as this, the last thing I expected was to hear panelist James Thomas, Corporate Diversity Affairs Director at Nordstrom, referencing a reality TV show in his remarks. For those not well-versed in pop culture, (aka those not living with tweens, teens or twenty-somethings), The Voice is a team vocal competition, with four teams of artists selected and coached by famous singers, music producers and the like.

Now mind you, dressing like fashionista and No Doubt’s front woman Gwen Stefani or riffin’ like Pharrell about being “happy” in a business meeting is not likely to foster inclusiveness in Corporate America. Instead, James uses the popularity of the show to help people connect to these emergent topics as more companies become increasingly focused on inclusion strategies to drive business and innovation, while also boosting employee satisfaction and retention.

In particular, James cites the diverse range of judges, contestants and musical genres represented on The Voice.  He also notes that when making strategic decisions about building teams, captains across the board always consider what different skill or talent they can bring to the team’s mix, strengthening its caliber as a whole.

In the business world,  having a diverse and inclusive work environment not only leads to an infusion of new ideas and perspectives, it also helps organizations gain a better understanding of what products and services they’re missing in the markets they serve.  Being part of a diverse and inclusive work place is both empowering and enlightening, with a broad range of representation at the table contributing to the dialogue and decisions that impact business and promote economic growth.

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I’m so proud to work at Rainier Scholars, where we help scholars access educational pathways that lead from the classroom to college and careers. At every point in the journey, we encourage our scholars to stand tall, stretch beyond their comfort zones and strive for excellence. When presented with the myriad opportunities that education brings, I’m fully confident that our scholars will use their “voice” to positively impact and inspire change in our professional work force, our community and our greater world.

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Sending Hometown Love

 Connie

“As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how thankful I am for Rainier Scholars and for generous supporters of Rainier Scholars, like yourselves. The program has profoundly changed my academic journey and given me more inspiration than they even know. Thank you for supporting Rainier Scholars and students like me! “

Connie, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2015

I recently took a moment to thank those who participated in our 6th Annual College Care Package project. This effort, one which sends some hometown Seattle love to our scholars on campuses all over the country, has become a much-beloved part of the annual cycle in Danathe College Support phase of the program. It is not at all uncommon for students to send pictures capturing their excitement at receiving such a lovely gift, and it serves as an important reminder as to the large community and network of support rooting for each of our scholars wherever they may be. I know I speak for our Director of College Support, Jolenta Coleman-Bush and her entire team when I say that this effort is important and we could not send the over 100 packages we did this year without our community’s support.

In a sign of the evolution of our program and the passage of time, I want to give a special shout out to those Rainier Scholars Cohort I and II college graduates/alums who turned back around this year and participated as senders of care packages. Our younger scholars in college were floored to learn that alums were doing this with their own time and on their own dime, and thus, were even more touched by the experience. That is exactly the type of community leadership development which we believe is at the heart of the Rainier Scholars program.

Denzel and Kevin

We thank the community members who have participated in this program for many years now for their continuing commitment and modeling of community engagement and leadership for the generations which follow. Across campuses in every section of our country, there are scholars who are grateful for their support.

Want to be a part of our network of support for scholars? Find ways you can get involved

 

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Pipeline to Progress: Creating a Diverse & Inclusive Workplace

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While college graduation for low-income students of color is at the core of our mission, in the big picture, our vision is for our students to grow into adulthood and become leaders in all aspects of their lives. From corporate to nonprofit to government arenas, and all sorts of boardrooms in between, our hope is that many generations of Rainier Scholars will enhance and enrich this community with their commitment, intelligence and talents, all of which will lead to greater diversity and inclusion in our civic life.

With this in mind, our 3rd annual Education Happy Hour focused on diversity and inclusion and featured an outstanding group of panelists, each with lifelong commitment to the work of creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. By sharing wisdom and insight, they stimulated a thought-provoking discussion that both the business leaders and Rainier Scholars’ community members in attendance felt was inspiring and worthwhile.

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What struck me most was the panel’s distinction of the significant difference between diversity and inclusion: diversity being the presence of a wide range of folks working within an organization, but inclusion being something deeper and reflecting true participation and a sense of voice at every level of the organization, line-staff to leaders. They defined inclusive leaders as candid, ethical, humble, authentic and effective – words which really resonated for me. They also stressed that inclusive leaders are unafraid of the hard, courageous conversations necessary to help the folks they manage grow, even when that involves difficult feedback and constructive criticism. They emphasized the importance of keeping both the internal pipeline of talent growing by promoting from within and the external pipelines healthy and vibrant to ensure a truly diverse and inclusive organization. It is important to Rainier Scholars to engage others in the community who share this vision as we work together to bring it to fruition, and we were honored to be among colleagues on the journey at our 3rd Annual Education Happy Hour.

Find out more about the event, read the panelists’ bios and a summary of the discussion.

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Going Back and Moving Forward

June 25, 2014 I left the United States to explore my identity in Ghana,West Africa. The trip was a program through the University of Washington Social Work program and focused on Sankofa which means “to go back and get it” to bring life from receiving knowledge on your Viche head and shouldersroots. In Ghana I realized how much I as an African American am not just a result of African culture, but slavery. While there, we visited Cape Coast Castle which was a holding place for slaves where we walked and sat inside different slave dungeons. I’ll never forget seeing old carvings in the wall and thinking they could have easily been my ancestors. We walked through the “Door of No Return” which was the door the slaves were forced from the castle to the ship.  It was extremely empowering to walk back through the door, which was later titled “Door of Return”.

Another big part of the trip involved volunteering within the community. I chose to volunteer at a charity school and orphanage where I taught a class of 5th graders. While there, I mostly taught English grammar, but on a few occasions I led discussions and activities on goals and dreams and ways to achieve them. By the end of the trip, those were my kids!

I learned two valuable lessons in Ghana. One was the importance of ethnicity, as an African American my history is extremely unique in both the best and worst ways. The people in Ghana would continuously say to myself and others “welcome home” and I knew I had fulfilled my ancestors’ dreams, I had returned home.

Since being back home in America I realize even more how much of my culture isn’t represented here, not just in America, but specifically Seattle, Washington. I realize that there really is no reflection of myself and it has made me want to move to the south, so that I can at least be surrounded by other brown people. I’ve also realized just how isolated and individualized we are here in the U.S. and it makes me sad. While in Ghana everyone speaks to each other and is friendly, but being in the US where people sit right next to each other on buses and never bother to even say hi has made me miss the unity in Ghana. I realize that if people were more united here, like they are in Ghana, fewer people would struggle, (or at least struggle alone.) My neighbor’s struggle would be my struggle and we would be more inclined to find a solution together.

The second thing I leaViche in Ghanarned is that I am extremely privileged to live the way I do in America and to be aware of my westernized way of thinking whenever judging someone. Since being back from Ghana, I am actually more inspired to travel, because I realize that Seattle is not a place I want to stay forever. I am more aware of all the things I take for granted, like healthy, clean water that is accessible everywhere. I am more aware of all the things I don’t need like a TV in every room or the latest cell phone. I am more aware of just how saddening this capitalist society we live in really is. The most important change however is feeling a connection to my ethnicity and my culture in my homeland; Africa.

Viche Thomas is senior at University of Washington.

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Kudos for Rainier Scholars’ College Interns

The employers of our most recent group of college interns gave consistently positive feedback on working with our scholars, 100% of survey respondents indicating they would hire a Rainier Scholar again! They were recognized for their ability to adapt and thrive in structured as well as unstructured environments. Here are some quotes from workplace supervisors about the strong work-ethic, problem-solving ability and initiative of this group of future leaders.

Boeing-AmberAlan

Boeing:
“Alan is exactly what we are looking for in our future talent pipeline. He learns quickly, shows initiative and works well with teams.”

BrightonJones-BisratTyler1

Brighton Jones:
“Bisrat made a big contribution to our culture. He genuinely wanted to be a part of not only our business but our office. His enthusiasm is contagious.”

CascadiaConsulting-StephanieShirley1Cascadia Consulting Group:
“Shirley was great, (with a) high quality of work, enthusiasm and energy, positive and willingness to learn!”

 

Girls Who Code:GirlsWhoCode-CasiSam2
“Sam was well qualified to handle these responsibilities with little need for constant monitoring or training, and the summer could not have been as successful for our organization as it was without her help.”

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Skanska Construction U.S.A:
“Lewam is an intelligent, fast learner who took on any task, no matter how small, with dedication….by the time she left she was doing the work of an entry level Assistant PA.”

University of Washington, Department of Chemistry:
“Jasmine is an independent worker that takes initiative in her projects. She took our lab into new directions by adding a new material for our lab to study and also a new technique for our lab to use to characterize solar cell materials.”

WhitePages.com:
“Diana was an immense help to our data team as they try to move forward into the international market!”

Read more about our internship program and find out how you can get involved!

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A Dream of Something Better

Jonatan Castillo, Cohort VIII Scholar and Lakeside Senior with Diego Merlos, Cohort VII

(R) Jonatan Castillo, Cohort VIII, Lakeside Senior, (L) Diego Merlos, Cohort XII

Like so many other students before me, Rainier Scholars has changed my life. I am part of a community of scholars who strive for academic excellence and will defy the odds to earn a college degree. I am surrounded by people who are invested in my success and I have access to opportunities that have changed how I think about my future.

I came to this country in 2005 with my mom and my sister. We moved from Mexico City to join my father who had found a job as a construction worker. My father always told me that education and school would come first no matter what and my father spoke with wisdom. Both he and my mom had to quit school and never earned their high school diploma, but they had a vision for me and my sister, believing that education would be the key to a better future. My mother and father make sacrifices every day to ensure this will happen.

People may remember me as a quiet and scared 7th grader in the academic program, but what I remember is for the first time in my life I was surrounded by other kids like me, kids who liked school and believed in getting a good education. There were times growing up where I had to pretend I didn’t like school just to fit in. But at Rainier Scholars it was OK to be smart, however that didn’t mean it was easy. It was hard work and there were endless amounts of homework. Even though I liked the challenge, there were times when I wanted to quit. My father would tell me “I know it’s hard right now but remember you are working for your future,” so I persevered.

Rainier Scholars has helped me build a plan for my future. I am surrounded by powerful role models who help me envision what is possible. My student adviser, Myles Jones, served as a mentor, someone to look up to who understood the struggle. I am now a student adviser in the 14-month program working with 6th graders and I see myself in my boys. They are learning to have confidence in their abilities. They are learning to persevere and work hard and they know I believe in them.

As the son of a construction worker with a 9th grade education, I never imagined attending a school like Lakeside. I never imagined creating my list of college choices and including schools from around the country and I never thought a career in engineering was a possibility. Rainier Scholars has opened new doors and expanded my horizons. My world is bigger. I have also learned I am a Math and Science guy. I like to take things apart, fix things and see how they work. My dad uses his hands to build things, that’s important work. I’d like to use my skills and abilities to design things and understand how systems work. I want to help solve problems and take on new challenges. I want to make my mom and dad proud.

When I think back, it all started with two parents who had a dream of something better for their children. Their love and vision combined with the support and opportunities from Rainier Scholars has changed my future.

 Jonatan shared his story at Skanska’s annual Bricks & Books Auction on October 2, 2014.

 

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Scholars Provide Hope

 Staff looking up(Blog post author Karen O’Meara Pullen, back row, far right)

My husband and I have stopped watching the evening news. In a summer of wildfires, epidemics and hatred “spiraling out of control” we found ourselves in a bit of a spiral ourselves, wondering where in the name of all that is hopeful we could find some promise of a better future for our grandchildren.

And then, in August, came some hope. For the 10th time I had the opportunity – the blessing, really, and I don’t use that term lightly – to work with Rainier Scholars in their Leadership Development Retreat sessions. The world became, somehow, a bit more under control. These young people, statistics would predict, should be ready to drop-out. They are students of color, from low-income families, many brought up by single parents. But despite their circumstances, despite the dire statistics, they are ready to lead this troubled world to a better place.

True, having served as a classroom teacher and school administrator for more than 40 years, I have had many moments of delight in the promise of young people. To remain in that profession, one can’t help but be a hopeful person; every September brings new promise and anticipation. Nonetheless, regularly I would encounter a student who was particularly sullen and unresponsive, another who was confrontational, a number who had perfected the art of eye-rolling over a challenging assignment, whole groups of teenagers who virtually dared me to interest them.  One boy told me he didn’t have to learn to spell because “his secretary would do all his writing for him.” (This was before Spell Check). Every so often, however, I would encounter a class that really jazzed my professional juices – a class I would look forward to every day, a class that brightened the dreariest February Monday, a group of kids that were engaged, funny, curious and kind. I didn’t have a group of those day-brighteners every year, but when I did, they kept me coming back every September, looking for the next.

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When I “retired” four years ago, little did I expect I would find a succession of classes that would exhibit that spark and willingness to ask and to share and to learn. In every session, every Leadership Retreat, I have found that mix. Every single one. Ten in a row. By the time the Scholars get to the high school Leadership Development stage of their time with the program, they have been guided, goaded, encouraged, sometimes chastised and celebrated; they have been “schooled” (in the best sense of the word) in a sense of integrity and responsibility. The work (and it is work) we ask them to do is strenuous. The readings are challenging. Could my 17 year-old self have slogged through an analysis of Machiavelli or prepared a comparison of the world views of Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Jefferson? Not likely. Could any of my previous classes stayed in character as a “president” of a fictitious university as it faced a financial crisis and student strike? I doubt it. Rainier Scholars regularly take on those tasks with thoughtful willingness and spirit.

Tony Wagner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education surveyed college professors and corporate employers asking them what they look for in their application process. By far, both groups said the key skills required for success in the 21st century are the ability to solve problems creatively and to work collaboratively in groups. (No 1600 SAT scores? Apparently not a priority.) And those skills are just what the Rainier Scholars are honing.

Throughout the 5 retreats (each 3 intense days of study and discussion) in this phase of Rainier Scholars, the students examine the tasks of leadership, the attributes of leaders, the lessons leaders might provide and – perhaps most importantly – they have the opportunity to try out their own skills and styles in a variety of situations and setting, understanding the difficulty of leading not only effectively but ethically as well. As one student reflected at the end of this summer’s session, “I have learned that to be a leader you don’t have to be in a position of authority or have a big personality” but  sometimes one can “lead from behind” understanding a clear vision and working with others towards a common goal.

Here’s what I hear frequently in the classrooms with the Scholars: “As Santiago said, ….”; “I respectfully disagree with you, Michelle …;” “Well, another way of thinking about this might be….” That sense of open inquiry is clearly a part of who the Rainier Scholars are and how they operate – and how they will be taking some significant leadership roles in the years ahead.

What is it about the existence of Rainier Scholars that helps me sleep at night? It’s their willingness to work hard, to listen to one another, to tackle thorny issues with determination, creativity and collegiality. It’s the hope that they bring to one another, to their schools across the city and across the country. And the hope they bring to a needy world. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to watch the evening news with less foreboding and despair than I.  The real news is that there is hope in these young people.

Karen O’Meara Pullen was a middle and high school teacher and administrator for nearly 40 years in New England before moving to western Washington in 2007. Committed to promoting equitable education for all young people since her first teaching job in Zimbabwe, she has served as an instructor and curriculum developer for Rainier Scholars for the last 4 years.

Posted in 11-year program, College Graduation, College Matriculation, Community Support, High School Graduation, Leadership Development, Teacher Perspective | Leave a comment

A Picture of Future Leaders

Cam Tu Blog Group

“What does it mean to be a Rainier Scholar?” is a common question I would ask college scholars in my meetings and workshops. The summary of responses include leadership, diversity, and community as well as the program’s embedded trinity of values: Perseverance, Courage, and Integrity. Being new to the Rainier Scholars community, it has been my goal to understand the essence of what is unique about a student who made this 11-year journey, and what assets they bring to the world post-graduation.

It seems a Rainier Scholar has been groomed from a young age to embody the value of perseverance. The interview questions for young applicants immediately ask them how they would feel giving up their summers and changing schools. Families and scholars reflect back on those foundational experiences and remember the tears, sacrifices, and intense commitment they made for their college-bound dreams.

Courage comes into play when the doors are wide open for students to go beyond their comfort zones, to travel beyond their borders, both literally and figuratively. Scholars are spread throughout the country for college, internships, and employment. The Rainier Scholars program not only asks students to defy the odds to earn a college degree, but also encourages highly selective colleges, out of state experiences and career opportunities with competitive companies, while valuing the unique individual choices and pathway of each student. At the heart of Rainier Scholars is the support of a solid community. Scholars have staff members, a growing alumni network, and countless organizations and individuals who lend their guidance and resources.

The journey does not come without trials and tribulations. Scholars are tested with challenges such as culture shock and intense competition as well as gender, race and class issues. With each barrier, a scholar has built-in strength to persevere and to find the courage to make a difference. Adiza Ameh (Cohort IV, Pomona College Class of 2016) is an activist at her school; she joined the Student of Color Alliance and the Pan-African Student Association to organize educational events for historically underrepresented populations. Sigrid Santos (Cohort I, University of Washington Class of 2014) holds her own in a male dominated construction management field and upon graduation with a dual degree earned an immediate job offer.

A Rainier Scholar has the responsibility to not only achieve goals for themselves, but to consider the legacy they will leave behind.  Khoa Nguyen (Cohort V, Davidson College Class of 2017) interned as a journalist at the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative because he considered it to be his civic and moral obligation to play a part in his community and address issues of social justice.  Sallie Lau, (Cohort III, Williams College Class of 2015) with a great career outlook in finance, speaks of her long-term goals of going to graduate school, finding a nonprofit to support, and being on the board of several organizations. Ellis Simani (Cohort V, Claremont McKenna Class of 2017) envisions a future as a social entrepreneur after gaining firsthand experience with the nonprofit Landesa witnessing the impact of global work with land ownership.  Any organization would benefit from the diverse leadership and social justice awareness a Rainier Scholar would bring to the table.

Through my lens, being a Rainier Scholar means to persevere through economic and institutional challenges, to defy the odds of their circumstances, to build inner strength and to find the courage to take on the responsibility of leadership roles while maintaining the integrity of their own core values and the guiding beliefs of Rainier Scholars.

The picture of future leaders at Rainier Scholars is exciting. Jimena Diaz (Cohort II, Dartmouth College, Class of 2014) is leaving for the Amazon to research migratory fish species. Isolina Campbell Cronin (Cohort II, Spelman College Class of 2014) is now a teacher at Uncommon Schools in New Jersey. Abe Bui (Cohort II, University of Pennsylvania Class of 2014) is working in finance at Cascadia Capital in Seattle.  Alex Anderson (Cohort I, Swarthmore College Class of 2013) has created a video for younger cohorts to lend his expertise as a Fulbright Scholar in China

Coming close to my one year anniversary of working at Rainier Scholars, I am eager to take part in shaping the paths our scholars will take.  Oh, the places they will go…

Posted in College Graduation, College Matriculation, College Support (CS), Staff View | Leave a comment

Building the Resume of Life

Rainier Scholars Martin Nguyen and Saedah Ham recently won the Liberty Mutual Insurance Video Challenge,  an annual nationwide contest to create the most creative and compelling video outlining the benefits of interning at Safeco. Martin, a Cohort II college scholar and New York University rising sophomore, reflects on his internship and how it is helping him chose his path forward academically and professionally.

martin grad

For the second consecutive summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a Liberty Mutual intern at the Seattle Safeco Insurance office. Working for Liberty was a great experience, providing me wonderful insight on the business world, and more specifically, the insurance market. At Liberty they truly strive to help you find your interests and determine how you can pursue them within the company. Although I worked in the Agency Distribution and Field Management department this summer, my manager often suggested that I get exposed to the work of other departments to give me a more well-rounded experience. And as cliché as it sounds, I believe the greatest aspect about being an intern is the opportunity to learn and the room for growth. As hard as I tried to do my best work at all times, my managers never expected me to be great at everything and of course I wasn’t. I made a bunch of mistakes, but that’s what I think makes a great internship experience, making mistakes, learning from them and challenging yourself with new experiences.

Safeco Martin N

Entering my sophomore year in college leaves me at an interesting crossroad in my life. I’m at the point where I have to decide what specific field of work I want to hone in on, which is a bit stressful. More times than not, students including myself, assume productive internships have to fall into the category of work that they are studying or are looking to study. It seems counter-intuitive to waste time and effort doing something you don’t think you may have interest in. I’ve spent my past 4 summers working at a variety of internships, and I would be lying if I said I enjoyed every single one of them. But at least now I know specific areas and careers that aren’t a perfect fit for me. The value of an internship isn’t necessarily how perfectly the experience relates to your studies, it’s greater in the grand scheme of things. It’s life experience.

Posted in College Graduation, College Support (CS), Internships, Leadership Development, Mentorship, Scholar Voices | Leave a comment