From Williamsburg to the real world
College students dream of summers filled with lazy days on the beach, reading paperbacks and eating at Chipotle. However, many students at the College of William and Mary forego this dream vacation in exchange for valuable work experience at summer internships. Summer internships typically are an intense immersion into a certain field, and can last anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks.
In today’s economy, college graduates require an edge when competing for jobs.
“Students should try to get several internships in their college years, whether they are local internships during the school year and/or summer internships,” Director of the College of William and Mary Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center Mary Shilling said.
The summer between junior and senior year is often considered the critical time for an internship because they may lead to a job offer.
“Junior summer internships often, not always but often, lead to a job offer if you work hard so that when you graduate they would have you work full time,” Shilling said.
The benefits of internships are many: Students are able to gain experience for resumes, get letters of recommendations and build workplace relationships.
“Everyone’s door was always open [at The Boys and Girls Club of America]. … I actually spent more time this summer with our organization’s president than pretty much everybody among our staff,” Ishan Bardhan ’13 said.
Interning allows students to explore real world careers related to their area of study. For instance, International Relations majors Elsa Voytas ’13 and Zann Isacson ’13 worked for the U.S. Mission to NATO and the United States Embassy in Guatemala, respectively.
“Here at William and Mary, you learn so much theory, and at US NATO I got to see some of those theories in practice,” Voytas said. “I saw how at NATO they might abide by this theory instead of that and so on.”
Interning has advantages but many are unpaid or underpaid, and sometimes the work isn’t glamorous.
“My responsibilities … varied greatly in regards to both excitement and educational value. I’ve never spent more time licking envelopes or filling out Excel spreadsheets as I have this past summer,” Bardhan said.
Although an internship may occasionally involve errands, some can offer a real picture of a specific career.
“I was really lucky because my boss was fantastic and believed that as long as I was in Guatemala and doing this internship that I should have the responsibilities of an officer, so basically I did the work of a real worker,” Isacson said.
Government major David Alpert ’13 interned at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and explored many different operations of the group.
“[I] got to help run the Development department, which entails things like maintaining relationships with corporate sponsors, planning for our annual conference in November, and also some finance, so I did some work with QuickBooks, and also with the finance department of the think tank,” Alpert said.
Similar to taking different introductory classes during freshman year, internships can gauge compatibility within a certain field or industry.
“Working an internship helps you answer questions like: Is this a good environment for me? Do I like the people that work in this field? Do I like the kind of skills that I use here?” Schilling said.
Isacson said working at the U.S. Embassy affirmed her desire to work in international relations.
“Working this internship definitely convinced me to join the foreign service,” Isacson said.
Voytas expressed similar sentiments.
“I don’t really think I knew where I was headed before this summer but now I think I’d really like to pursue a career with the State Department as a Foreign Service officer and work overseas,” Voytas said.
Thankfully, summer internships aren’t all work and no play.
“I did a lot of networking and outreach with older guys in my fraternity who have since graduated and other friends. It’s great just to grab coffee or go to happy hour and catch up. I think D.C. is a really accessible place for William and Mary grads,” Alpert said.
Working in Belgium didn’t stop Voytas from meeting up with William and Mary students or from networking.
“The great thing about Brussels is that it’s really easy to travel anywhere,” Voytas said. “I was with one other William and Mary student [for] one weekend and we went to Budapest and they have a business school study abroad program there, so we saw some other William and Mary students there. Another great thing about Brussels is that it is very political, since the EU is also there. On Thursdays there would be huge happy hours after work … One friend described it as frat party in business casual.”
Isacson used her free time to enjoy Guatemala’s natural surroundings.
“I climbed a volcano,” Isacson said. “We hiked uphill for seven hours in the pouring rain, but it was still amazing.”