No rest for the ambitious: Williams Alumni Sponsored Internship Programs

Last summer, 84 students from Williams College interned all over the world, from Bulgaria to Boston from Peru to Washington, D.C. These talented students took on a variety of new and difficult tasks in the name of experience. The eight-week programs are carried out through the Williams College Alumni Sponsored Internship Program, which provides funding and a huge network of connections for students to utilize.

“All the funding is supplied through alumni groups,” said Ron Gallagher, Internship Coordinator at the Office for Career Counseling (OCC). Gallagher works closely with students to ensure that they have a positive internship experience. “Some students were taken aback by how incredible their experience was,” he said.

Rory Kramer ’03 spent last summer as a teacher/mentor/breakdancing instructor with the Stepping Stone Academy. This non-profit organization based in Dorcester, MA, helps kids get a leg up in the secondary-school application process.

“They work with fifth, sixth and seventh graders mainly to give them the opportunity to get into magnet schools and private schools in the Boston area and then they help them through the transition into those schools,” Kramer explained. Bright children with “accessibility issues,” often have not been taught the necessary material to pass entrance exams to tougher schools. “The Stepping Stone Academy runs a six-week program to fill that void,” Kramer said.

Since the Alumni-Sponsored Internship Program requires students to intern for eight weeks, Kramer arrived two weeks before the beginning of summer school and saw a hidden side of education. “I was working on preparing orientation for the teachers and the students,” he said. “You don’t know how hard it is to make a schedule until you actually make a schedule. . .for the first two weeks I was the only person in the building who understood [it].”

And although he said there was a hierarchy of professionals at the Academy, Kramer worked on many levels. “I was working with the Dean of Academic Preparation, with the Principal, and with the teacher.” Of his class time, Kramer said, “I would co-teach with the teacher for three periods in the day. . .you would also have a couple of periods of administrative work doing anything from scheduling to supervising recess to just playing gym with them. Everything you could possibly do within a school setting – they had you working on it.”

Additionally, Kramer taught an elective on Fridays. “I was teaching kids to break dance,” he said. “I tried to teach them the arm wave, but that was tough.” They also worked on “basic swing moves, six-step, creases, and a little bit of up-rocking.” Still, the kids remained skeptical that Kramer was truly a break-dancer. When the interns at the Academy put on a talent show, Kramer had a chance to prove them wrong. “Now if someone could supply a beat, please,” he recalled asking before busting a move. “They all rushed the stage, which was really scary because there I was dancing and suddenly there were 200 children basically on stage with me, and I’m trying to balance on the stage they’re hitting. . .and then for the next week, they’re like can you do it again?’”

Because Kramer had such a positive experience, he is already considering returning to the Stepping Stone Academy next summer. “I loved the program; I love the group of kids and the way they organized it. It was absolutely amazing.” He also became more certain about his career goals. “I was pretty sure I wanted to be in education before, but this sured it up,” he said.

Mike Henry ’04 interned in the Capitol Hill office of Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes. He set up his internship through the Meade Internship Foundation, which funds students who are interested in working in government. Henry called Senator Sarbanes’ office himself to plan his summer job; he would later spend two weeks in the Senator’s base office in Salisbury, Maryland and six weeks in Washington, D.C.

“I think it’s especially cool to intern on Capitol Hill,” Henry said. “I didn’t realize I’d be able to go to committee hearings, to go to classes, to go to lectures. . .when you intern, you actually become a member of the congressional staff.”

In the office, Henry worked with other interns to open an average of 2000 letters each day. When that task was through, Henry worked in the Projects Office “on Maryland issues to help Maryland constituents.” Through this office, Henry researched and designed a PowerPoint presentation intended to educate the general public about Senator Sarbanes. “The presentation was intended to go to the five field representatives throughout the state. . .to show audiences such as high schools and local groups who the Senator is and how he’s been working for Maryland.”

Henry was especially impressed with the inner workings of government. “It really changed my whole view of the American system of government. I feel a lot more trust in the way the system works,” he said. Henry explained that senators are not just a chorus of bickering voices. “They seemed focused on getting things done, making progress. And they really have a lot of respect for each other.”

Interacting with senators and other noteworthies in the capital was a source of inspiration and excitement for Henry. On the first day senate was in session, Henry encountered one especially prominent figure. Henry and other interns walked into the Capitol to escape the heat of the day while waiting to take a group picture.

“We walked in and the elevator opened right as we entered and six Secret Service men just walked out and then Vice President Cheney walked in. . .the Secret Service men actually pushed me aside. The other interns and I were incredibly excited. After that I started seeing celebrities all over the place.”

Henry attended lectures by Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Press Secretary Art Fleischer to name a few. “It was very inspirational,” he said. “All of them emphasize that an ordinary person, if they have the will-power, can make a difference. . .I really believe I can make a difference now.”

After his time on Capital Hill, Henry would encourage other students to participate in the internship program. “Internships are definitely a great experience but most importantly for guiding you to the career that you want to end up doing. It helps you determine whether or not that field is something you want to pursue.” Already, Henry has lined up a job next summer working for Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who is running for governor in Maryland.

As the man behind the curtain at the OCC, Ron Gallagher manages the summer Internship Program and guides students through the process of finding and applying for summer internships. “We want to find the best students and the best sponsors and then marry them together. It’s a mutually beneficial kind of arrangement.”

He emphasized the potential for students to do anything they could imagine as interns. “We sometimes have an imagery of being a place where we cater exclusively to Wall Street firms, but just the contrary. That’s just a fraction of what we do in this office.”

To become interns, students must apply to the program, which accepts about 50 percent of applicants. “The students who were selected for these intern programs are high performers. They go into these organizations and they take on a lot of responsibility, so I encourage [supervisors] to act accordingly and give students projects that are going to be stimulating, challenging and worthwhile.”

Last year, students participated in numerous activities. One person created a skin disease web-site; while another student worked closely with the homeless in Boston; some joined dance companies, others worked with juvenile delinquents. Gallagher wants students to take lessons they learn over the summer and emerge “with a general knowledge of how an organization is run so that they can upon graduation move into entry-level management positions, as opposed to starting from scratch.” Over the course of the semester, the OCC will hold sessions on Oct. 17, Oct. 31, Nov. 13, Dec. 5, and Jan. 8 for students to learn more about the program.