Internships provide students a head start

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Internships provide students a head start

Richard Wang portrait for intern article, BJU, Greenville, SC, February 13th 2020, Andrew Pledger

Richard Wang, a senior biology major, volunteered last-minute as an intern at Greenwood Genetic Center a year before he applied to be a paid intern. As a volunteer, he observed researchers’ work to establish a metabolic profile for patients with autism, a developmental disorder, that would make it possible to determine autism with a blood test. 

When he went back as a paid intern for academic credit the next summer, Wang worked on his own project researching Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a rare genetic condition caused by a deletion or other structural change of a chromosome, under the supervision of a mentor.

“Without an [internship], it’s hard to be competitive after you graduate either to go into a graduate program or to work in a company,” Wang said. “There are many students that graduate with a biology degree, [but] without an experience like that, you don’t really understand what it’s like to do research in a real-world setting.”

Wang said there was a calendar on his mentor’s wall that had pictures of patients who suffered from the syndrome he was researching, and it reminded him of the connection between his work and the purpose behind it.

“After you work in a lab for so long through your college career, [you think] it’s just a scientific experiment,” Wang said. “To me, it’s just mixtures of chemicals and DNA in test tubes, but the result I produce has implications for their lives.”

Wang is one of many students who have had successful internships. Finding an internship can be as simple as speaking to an academic adviser or even Googling local opportunities. When applying for an internship, a trip to the Career Center can shape up your resume and prepare you for interviews. 

Even last-minute plans  can turn out to be excellent experiences. Grace Jackey, a senior communication major, never would have thought to do an internship at Piedmont Women’s Center, much less start a career there. 

But last spring, when her plans for the summer fell through, her advisor Dr. Charlotte Burke recommended that she give it a try. Piedmont Women’s Center is a reproductive health care provider that focuses on helping abortion-vulnerable women primarily in upstate South Carolina.

“The first day I walked in, it was a high-paced day,” Jackey said. “Everyone was showing me everything, there were clients everywhere, and I was very confused and had no idea what was going on.” 

At the end of the day, she got out to her car and asked herself what she had gotten herself into. That perspective changed the longer she worked there, and Jackey said she began to see the world through a new set of eyes. “I never could have imagined what some of these women are going through,” Jackey said. 

Jackey shadowed counselors, took client information, assisted ultrasounds, worked on graphic design projects and used her four semesters of learning a foreign language by helping interpret for Spanish-speaking clients.

At first, her motivation was to get a good grade, impress the people she was working with and walk away with a good connection for her future, Jackey said. “As the summer progressed, I cared less and less about impressing people or a good grade and more about the people I was working with and the women whose lives we were helping to stabilize and even lead to Christ,” Jackey said.

After Jackey completed her summer internship, she was hired part-time and will be hired full-time after graduation.

“I never could have experienced that level of compassion had I not been seemingly chucked into this internship headlong,” Jackey said. “God really used a not-great set of circumstances to turn into one of the best decisions of my life, because it has led me to a full-time career.”

An aspect of internships is the “wake-up call” that comes when you transfer your classroom learning into a real-world setting. One opportunity that comes with an internship is the ability to shadow a mentor and ask questions for insight.

Mengei Termeteet. a senior communication and biblical studies double major, said, “Sometimes as college students, we can get puffed up in our head knowledge, but we have to understand that there is a context of the environment you’re going into. Your ideas may be great, but how do you actually bridge the gap between your ideas and how they are going to be practically applied?”

Termeteet was sponsored to come to BJU by a scholarship board in his home Palau, a Pacific Island. One of the requirements was spending an internship in Palau to invest back in the island. In summer of 2019, Termeteet interned in the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, a cabinet office of the president of Palau. 

Among other tasks as an intern, he drafted emails and paperwork for the minister and helped the cabinet with their unifying goal to work with youth to preserve the cultural heritage of the indigenous people.

He had the unique opportunity to sit in on a meeting with the cabinet officers and the Palauan president, who had just flown in from New York after attending a UN meeting. 

Termeteet said it gave him a broader perspective of the responsibilities his president faces, and the internship opened his eyes to the possibility of pursuing politics. Doing the internship at home also gave Termeteet a boost of morale. 

“With the ebb and flow of school, you can get in a rut, but then jumping back in the waters of why I came here motivated me,” Termeteet said. “God really used that to say, ‘You have a unique opportunity to come back and do My work, you can be used by Me.’ What a privilege it is to be one of God’s instruments.”