Like any other college student, I dread when family members ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re told in high school that college is the time to study something you’re passionate about. For me, that was food: for as long as I can remember, I had worked at my father's pizza place, picked up back-of house jobs as a line cook and a baker, and taken charge of our family’s backyard garden. When it came time to choose my major, I decided to spend the next four years learning all there is to know about food–-- from when it’s grown on a farm to the moment it reaches your fork.
I was a part of the Fall 2018 cohort and loved Semester in the City and my time in Boston so much. But today, I wanted to write a bit about my life beyond Boston. My favorite part of the program is how it is set up to allow college students to experience “the real world”. Semester in the City gives you a sample of being an independent adult because you typically go to your internship, come back home to your apartment, and cook dinner for yourself.
I came to know about the opportunity to study in Boston through the Semester in the City program rather serendipitously. I was coming to terms with the fact I wouldn’t be going abroad during my undergraduate years because I could not afford to. I was still hoping to find some kind of study-away program that was fun, affordable, and worthwhile. College for Social Innovation gave me that opportunity with Semester in the City.
On the morning of June 12 I arrived at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham to hear Eric Schwarz speak at the annual Massachusetts Service Alliance conference. Not entirely sure of where I was, and nervous to be in a room full of strangers, I started off my summer as an intern with College for Social Innovation feeling uncertain and intimidated. However, any bit of hesitation I was feeling that morning was eliminated once Eric began to speak. At a time in our country that is full of uncertainty and doubt about the progress we are capable of making, Eric brought light to the immense amount of social improvement we’ve experienced. He discussed a massive decline in global poverty and how we’ve come close to closing the college access gap in the U.S. and now have a substantial platform upon which we can continue to build. He explained the way that political engagement and citizen service can combine to create “the twin engines of social progress” to address huge challenges that remain, while also highlighting the importance of celebrating our successes as a country. Suddenly, I began my summer with College for Social Innovation feeling inspired and motivated.
It's been an exciting year at College for Social Innovation as we have grown from two founding college partners to five, enrolled and graduated 34 Social Innovation Fellows, and received applications from 63 social sector organizations to host one of our Fellows for a fully-credited semester of learning and impact.
As we move into the home stretch of our first “Semester in the City” internship program and prepare to graduate 14 inaugural Social Innovation Fellows on Dec. 16, I am thankful for the enthusiasm, resiliency, and warmth that has characterized these promising young problem solvers.
In my day to day life, I’m as optimistic as they come. My friend Charlie Rose once told me that I wasn’t just a “pie in the sky” optimist, I was a “whole bakery in the sky” optimist. Yet for 20 years – like many social activists – I’ve talked more about what’s wrong with the world than what’s right. Ten years ago I wrote a paper saying the American Dream was ending and opportunity declining. Recently I’ve joined many education reformers and social entrepreneurs to recite a litany of concerns about achievement gaps, failing public schools, and an urgent need to abandon our current failed approach.
Millions of words have been written about “doing well while doing good” – the idea that businesses can make a profit while also doing good in the world. Less has been written about the idea that individuals – including first generation college students – can also “do well while doing good.” Yet the truth, underscored by recently released national and Massachusetts data, is there are millions of opportunities for young people to build good careers (doing well) while solving problems in their communities and around the world (doing good).
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.
Thanks to Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker for calling attention to unpaid and uncredited summer internships as an overlooked but surprisingly potent driver of inequality ("Internships Are Not a Privilege").