Summer is the perfect opportunity for college students to explore future career paths and many University of Virginia students are doing so right here in Charlottesville, giving back to the community that supports them throughout the year.
Some are working on projects that will directly impact their Charlottesville neighbors, whether that means staffing a mobile preschool providing free pre-K education to local children, conducting bioethics reviews on cases at the U.Va. Medical Center or caring for chronically ill children at a local camp.
Others are using Charlottesville as an incubator, working with companies whose reach extends well beyond Virginia. That might mean putting together proposals for community water trusts in Chile, developing software to help hospitals provide affordable, effective care, or implementing a new data storage system at one of the world’s top non-woven materials manufacturers.
All of them represent a local contingent of the estimated 1.5 million college students joining the national workforce as summer interns, seeking experiential learning opportunities that resources like the new U.Va. Internship Center work to provide. The center is funded in part by the U.Va. Parents Committee, which also provides annual internship grants supporting students in unpaid public service internships.
This year’s interns are doing far more than just fetching coffee. The improvements they make will outlast the summer and could lead to fresh opportunities even after their undergraduate careers.
These are their stories.
CRISTINA THOMPSON – ReadyKids
Fourth Year / Majoring in psychology and American studies (social justice)
While many parents bring their children to preschool, Cristina Thompson and the rest of the ReadyKids team bring preschool to parents.
Thompson is part of ReadyKids’ Parenting Mobile team, which cruises Charlottesville in a bright green van stocked with books, art supplies and other paraphernalia of the traditional preschool experience. Each day, she arrives in a local neighborhood to provide free pre-kindergarten education to children who otherwise might miss out on this critical period of early childhood learning.
ReadyKids staffers lead activities for the children, reading stories, creating art projects, or singing songs in English and Spanish. Parents, meanwhile, gather for a “Parents Circle,” providing peer support and education about nutrition, discipline and other parenting challenges.
“We are trying to help families who do not have the same opportunities as many others, or cannot access the opportunities that are available,” Thompson said.
The early childhood education that Parenting Mobile provides can be critical to a child’s development and significantly impact their success in more formal schooling.
Thompson, too, is hoping to learn something from her internship, which combines volunteer field experience with academic learning and class credit through University Internship Programs. She was initially drawn to the program as she weighed the merits of a career in educational psychology, forensic psychology or public policy.
“I hope that this summer will give me more real-world experience to decide which appeals to me most,” she said.
BRIAN LEVEQUE – The Presidential Precinct
Third Year / public policy
Brian Leveque is spending his summer as a resident adviser, but his residents are a bit unusual – 25 young Africans who have been handpicked by the White House for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a flagship program in President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
Leveque is the communications associate for the Presidential Precinct, a nonprofit partnership between U.Va., William & Mary and three presidential homes: Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland and Montpelier. Each summer, the precinct hosts the Mandela fellows for a six-week program focused on civic leadership. Leveque lives with the fellows in U.Va.’s French Language House and manages the budget and logistics of their day-to-day activities.
“Working with 25 international leaders who, one day, could be the presidents of their countries is an incredible opportunity,” Leveque said. “It has inspired me to want to change the world, and after living with these leaders and hearing their stories, I am looking forward to entering the [Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy] in the fall and learning how I can bring about change.”
COLLEEN SURATT – University Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities
Fourth Year / Spanish and interdisciplinary studies, bioethics minor
As an intern at the University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, Colleen Suratt is spending her summer delving into some of the trickiest ethical dilemmas facing doctors and nurses today.
Suratt will shadow the center’s board members, consisting of faculty, social workers and medical professionals, as they provide on-call ethics consulting to the University Medical Center. When not at the hospital, she will compile a literature review of a particularly complex case the hospital faced a few months ago, which will help set a precedent for future cases.
This summer’s internship is the latest in a string of bioethics projects Suratt has completed, including an internship with Emory University’s Center for Bioethics that was funded by U.Va.’s Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life.
“People are sometimes afraid to go out and ask for an opportunity, but it is so important. Even if they say no, that does not really hurt you,” Suratt said. Each opportunity has exposed her to different areas of bioethics, helping her to narrow future career paths.
“Bioethics is not a stand-alone field. You can approach it through many different avenues, from medical school to public health to philosophy or religious studies,” she said. “Hopefully being around people in the center this summer will help me to see which approach interests me most.”
KAI EUBANKS – Rotating Machinery and Controls Laboratory
Second Year / computer science
This summer, Kai Eubanks is working as an undergraduate research assistant in U.Va.’s Rotating Machinery and Controls Laboratory to encrypt and update software provided to the lab’s member companies, which include major energy companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and Pacific Gas & Electric. The programs help companies analyze the speed, responsiveness and stability of their equipment.
Though Eubanks had significant coding experience prior to joining the lab, his current work has taught him more about melding and adapting programs that have been built at different times by different coders.
When he first came across the opportunity, Eubanks did not know much about the lab and its partners. However, he decided to go for it, convinced that any on-the-job experience would be helpful.
“You don’t really know what to expect in life and you should go for opportunities when they come along,” he said. “Experience programming in the real world is always good.”
LAURA SZCZYRBA – The Nature Conservancy
Fourth Year / environmental sciences and Spanish
Laura Szczyrba might be in Charlottesville for the summer, but her work is impacting communities much farther afield.
Szczyrba is completing an internship with the local office of The Nature Conservancy, where she is assisting with proposals for community water trusts in Texas, Mexico and Chile.
“I am researching background hydrological and sociological information so that we can determine if our model is appropriate for these three basins,” Szczyrba said. “It has been really exciting to learn about these different sustainability efforts, because it is something I am hoping to get into after I graduate.”
Szczyrba has found both her environmental sciences classwork and Spanish training essential to her tasks this summer, as many of the research papers she encounters are in Spanish.
“Pulling water gauge information, well levels, water quality readings and other data, interpreting that data and compiling into graphs that plot water levels over time are all skills that I have been exposed to at U.Va.,” she said. “Often, I have read scientific articles for class and now end up talking to those authors on the phone here, or seeing them in policy write-ups. It’s interesting to see how it all connects.”
GORDON SAUNDERS – Avintiv Inc. (formerly Polymer Group Inc.)
Fourth Year/ mechanical engineering
Long after Gordon Saunders leaves Avintiv Inc., its employees will be using the digital documentation system put in place by Saunders and a second intern.
The duo is spending part of their internship consolidating information from the materials engineering company’s many different departments into one streamlined digital system and training employees in its usage.
In addition, Saunders will shadow engineers working on the floor of Avintiv’s Waynesboro plant, which specializes in non-woven polymers – i.e. specially engineered synthetics used in products like Clorox wipes, surgical gowns and scrubs, wound care materials, or even window siding.
“I am eager to learn more about how life goes on at a manufacturing plant, and if that is something that I want to be doing a year from now,” Saunders said. So far, he has a favorable impression, he said.
“The internship has created a nice transition to my fourth year and puts me in an environment that I want to be in.”
ANNE MOENNING – Premier Healthcare Alliance
Fourth Year / systems engineering
Just a few weeks into her internship, Anne Moenning has learned quite a repertoire of health-care lingo, not to mention software acronyms and abbreviations.
Moenning is an intern working for health care performance company Premier Healthcare Alliance, which recently opened a Charlottesville office. Specifically, Moenning is working as a software developer, creating platforms that consolidate data from Premier’s many health care partners and alert health care providers to positive or negative trends.
“The work has been very technical, dynamic, interesting and, I hope, marketable,” Moenning said. “I am constantly doing new things and learning all sorts of different frameworks, software platforms and technologies.”
The work has built on what Moenning has learned in her systems engineering classes and also exposed her to ideas and technologies she might have otherwise missed.
“Internships are a really cool experience because you learn so much so fast, taking different twists on what you learn in school and using it to accomplish things that a real client needs,” she said. “Going into my fourth year, it is also helpful to realize that I have years and years of learning and knowledge acquisition ahead. School is just the beginning and only one flavor of whatever you are going to do for the rest of your life.”
BRITTANY HECK – Camp Holiday Trails
Fourth Year / biology, bioethics minor
Camp Holiday Trails offers chronically ill children a blissfully normal slice of summer, as they swim, hike, ride horses and tell stories around the campfire with the discrete support of a full-time medical staff, including U.Va. physicians, nurses and medical students. This summer, Brittany Heck is a part of that staff, working as an intern with the camp’s medical liaison officer and earning class credit through University Internship Programs.
“We are there to support the health needs of the kids and help them to separate from their illnesses for a week or two,” Heck said.
Heck, who is applying to medical schools this year, talks with families to understand their children’s needs and helps the children independently manage their illnesses by, for example, teaching diabetic children how to check their blood sugar or count carbs during meals.
The experience is teaching her about a wide range of childhood diseases and she hopes it will help her as she considers a career in pediatric medicine.
“The kids are so inspiring and have had to overcome so much that I never had to face,” Heck said. “We want to support their health needs, but also to remind them that they are not just their disease – they are an amazing little child.”
NICK KRSTICH – SNL Financial
Fourth Year / media studies
Nick Krstich’s interest in media has led him to a few interesting gigs. Last summer, he interned with Charlottesville Radio Group, which manages some of the most popular stations on local airwaves. Over the year, he was part of the U.Va. Athletics’ promotional team, working directly alongside the public address announcer at John Paul Jones Arena.
This summer, he is leaving production studios behind to try out a new side of media as a media research intern at SNL Financial, a data and analysis provider with subscribers and corporate clients spanning the globe.
“One of my goals was to learn more about the business side of media, so this has been perfect for me,” Krstich said.
Krstich is part of a team charged with expanding the firm’s coverage of subscription television providers in Latin America. Each day, he reaches out to different providers on the phone and conducts his own research into their quarterly reports, market share values and other data. So far, he has worked with providers in countries including Bolivia, Puerto Rico and El Salvador, and is expanding coverage in the Caribbean market. When we spoke to him, he had just hung up with an operator in Jamaica.
“Doing so much research, not just online, but going out and contacting people and learning how to acquire accurate information is very important in today’s information age,” he said. “SNL is teaching me how to acquire key research for a multimillion-dollar company.”