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January 18, 2010

Rochester undergrads explore career options through internship experiences

Last year, Laura Arnold ’10 began her junior year with a goal: to study abroad. A native of Greece, N.Y., Arnold had never traveled outside of the United States, so she searched the Internet for summer internships or research opportunities related to her studies in physics and astronomy.

“Internship experience is so essential in moving on in a professional way.” –Allen Topolski, chair of the Department of Art and Art History

After finding a few programs that piqued her interest, she consulted with the Career Center for résumé and cover letter advice. Several months later, Arnold found herself on a mountaintop in Germany, working for Tautenbeurger Landessternwarte, an astronomy observatory affiliated with the University of Jena.

Arnold spent three months in Germany as an intern through the DAAD-RISE (German Academic Exchange Service’s Research Internships in Science and Engineering) program, working with an Italian doctoral student and using sophisticated computer software to manipulate images of galaxies.

“My internship experience was beneficial but not in the way many would think,” explains Arnold. “After spending a few weeks doing the computer manipulations, I found that I actually don’t want to pursue a career in astronomy research. Instead, it solidified my other career goal—to teach high school physics.”

This type of self-awareness is just one of the benefits of engaging in internships, says Burt Nadler, director of the Career Center. According to Nadler, learning about the fields and functions for life after graduation is the crucial first step in the career search.

For Julia Blumenthal ’10 and Danielle Parkes ’11, internships have reinforced their career aspirations. Both work as interns for Proctor & Gamble’s ReadyU viral campaign, learning about marketing, public relations, and event planning. Blumenthal and Parkes heard about the internship while networking with an alumna of their sorority, Kappa Delta.

“We had weekly phone conversations with our supervisors and other students who worked for ReadyU,” says Blumenthal. “Being able to share ideas and hear what other interns were doing, and adapt those to fit our needs, really gave us solid experience in marketing and event planning.”

The experience, says Nadler, gives students an edge when entering the workforce.

“The people who get hired are the people who are focused. Students should know what their goals are, in particular the fields, functions, and firms that interest them,” Nadler explains. “It’s no longer enough to say you’re a broad-based, well-rounded student. Companies today are looking for qualified students with field focus and the skills to perform specific job functions.”

The Department of Art and Art History has designed one of its internship programs, Art New York, to help students with the “three F’s” Nadler talks about: the fields, functions, and firms that may interest them. Art New York provides an opportunity for undergraduates to spend a semester in New York City, working in galleries, museums, dance studios, and commercial advertising agencies. Internship coordinator Elizabeth Cohen, an associate professor of art, works closely with admitted students during the fall semester to place them in positions that are targeted toward their interests and career goals.

“We strive to get students in positions where they can see how the organization functions and get a good sense of what they’re in for,” says Allen Topolski, chair of the Department of Art and History. “This tailored placement leads to real, concrete experiences on their résumés, and as a result, our students have been able to find work in New York after they graduate.”

The program, which launched in 2003, has four components. In addition to the hours students work at their internship, they take courses at Harvestworks, a nonprofit organization that provides classes to artists. Students also are expected to keep a log or journal of their experiences and meet weekly with their peers to discuss the challenges and successes they encounter with each project.

“Internship experience is so essential in moving on in a professional way,” says Topolski. “And our students walk away with real-world knowledge, and the level of confidence that comes with that experience can’t be taught in a classroom.”

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