What I've Learned in my Internship (and Out of the Classroom!)

By Stephanie Morales

 

I am standing in a crowded elevator, steps away from reporting for my first day as College for Social Innovation's summer intern. I remember feeling similarly my first day of college: intimidated, excited, and completely out of place. I try not to let the first jitters get the best of me as I remind myself to breathe and be confident. "Fake it until you make it," I repeat to myself. I start my day by constructing a work-plan with my supervisor and grow anxious about whether I will ever reach my goals and finish impending projects. I begin to grasp the truth for myself that success in academia, GPA, and bookish knowledge are not the only ingredients in the coveted recipe for success. This work won't just be for the eyes of my professor. My work will be seen by my teammates and the public, which makes it feel more important and influential. No classroom could have prepared me for this. 

Fast forward to nine weeks later, and I've met my goals and surpassed expectations of what I aspired to accomplish. It was not long ago when I stumbled over my words in meetings more often that not. But last week, I stood up in front of the team to give my elevator pitch for our organization and a round of applause followed. Working on projects independently where nobody outlined "Step 1, 2, 3..." was both refreshing and somewhat uncomfortable. Instead, I had a lot of creative freedom to design the projects on my own. I was nervous, at first, that I would make mistakes, but that discomfort was what pushed me to grow and what sharpened my critical thinking skills. Two months ago, if someone had asked me what I want to do with my life, I would've said I had no clue. If someone were to ask me that question now, well... I'd still say I'm not so sure! But after my experience with CfSI, the future seems like less of a scary place and more so a place with endless opportunities and fulfillment. I look back and smile at the memories of my 'growing pains' as I like to call them. I only came out stronger in the end, in spite of, or perhaps because of them. I have been challenged more in my time with CFSI than in most of the classrooms I have stepped foot in during my undergraduate career. 

The positive impact of my internship only reaffirms what I have known all along. College students should have more internships where they can contribute to an organization while learning about themselves in a professional work environment. Unfortunately, many internships remain unpaid or difficult to obtain unless students or their families are well connected. This means that students of diverse backgrounds often miss out on chances for experiential learning, which in turn creates an opportunity gap that CfSI is aiming to close as they move forward. 
   
As a first-generation and minority student, College for Social Innovation's hope to make internships accessible to more diverse populations resonated with me. I remember the frustration I felt when someone told me that I needed to already have established connections, at the age of 20, to find an internship. That attitude perpetuates a vicious cycle of those who are less privileged not having access to beneficial internships, and in turn struggling to find a job after graduation. With CfSI's new program Semester in the City, I hope that more students like me have access to internships that set them on the right path to success. 

What is Semester in the City? Imagine leaving the lecture halls behind for a chance to pursue an internship in a new city - while still earning college credits. Not only will students be introduced to the ways of the working world, it will expose them to the social sector, a fast-growing field built around improving lives, communities, and the world around us. College for Social Innovation wants to dismantle the notion that you cannot do good if you also want to do well. Through their participation, students will gain valuable skills and real-world experience, both of which fall under what employers aren't seeing in recent graduates. Along with that, they will be able to put discovery of purpose at the forefront of their minds. 

This fall semester, 15 Social Innovation Fellows from the University of New Hampshire and Clark University arrive in Boston to work for various social change organizations. They are about to do just what I described and beyond. As the inaugural cohort, they will set a precedent for how much impact the program can truly have on students. There is no question that there is important learning to be found in the confines of a classroom. But we students should step out of them for other learning opportunities in order to thrive after graduation. Now that I have had my own transformative experience, I feel more confident than ever that College for Social Innovation will actualize their mission of educating and inspiring the next generation of problem-solvers.