Summer internships offer room for growth

Alright, folks, full disclosure here. I have never held a paying job other than a camp counseling position at YMCA Camp Warren in Eveleth, Minn. That’s the way I’ve been spending my past three summers. It is my favorite place on the planet, and I would give anything to go back to camp again.

But I am also a junior in college, which means I am creeping toward the time where the “real world” comes knocking at my door. Of course, by “real world” I mean the “professional world,” which, because I’m a college student, means an internship.

So here I am, seemingly leaving youth and sunshine behind for corporate doldrums. This is a situation many Oles face, giving up transformative experiences working as a camp counselor in order to step into the adult world a disposable income and/or an internship.

My initial response to the idea of choosing between camp and an internship was: “Of course I am going to choose camp! I am going to choose the life and vibrancy of new things! Internships begin the soul-draining process of aging!”

However, after a bit more thought and a talk with Associate Director of Career Education and Coaching Sandra Malecha of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, I’ve come to the realization that the issue isn’t so cut-and-dry.

Much of the grey area stems from our conception of internships. We tend to think of them as a prelude to desk jobs, complete with all the menial office drudgery of a “real” job. Malecha, however, has a different view. Malecha said that students need to change their framework of what internships actually mean. Instead of a stepping-stone to a desk job, she said we need to recognize that internships are a great opportunity to learn. In short, we need to change our philosophy on internships. The internship is about us as students and our growth and development. The competitive edge and on-the-job experience also come with an internship, but they shouldn’t be the primary focus.

Now this came as news to me, and it might be news to you. I’ve read the definitions of “internship” as per the alphabet-soup organizations of NACE National Association of Colleges and Employers, CAS Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education and NSEE National Society of Experiential Education. They all emphasize what I will call “deliberate learning,” an organized agenda for reflection on how the internship experience matches up with academic and personal experiences. Internships are there for you to learn and grow professionally, academically and as a human being.

A change of mind is needed. Internships can be as transformative as leading Boundary Waters canoe trips. Someday, the real world will come knocking. You need to say to it, “Welcome to my office. Here are my terms of what I want to do with my life.” The bottom line is this: take ownership for whatever you choose to do, make your experiences your own, and you may discover more about yourself than you ever have before.

Andrew Harris ’15 harrisa@stolaf.edu is from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in English and political science.

Image by Emma Johnson

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