What happens when you combine “design thinking” – a problem-solving method based on architects and designers’ creative process and adopted in classrooms and startup accelerators around the world – with the freedom of summer?
It’s more exciting than you might think.
Students in the University of Virginia’s “Designing Your Professional Summer Experience” course are using these months of academic freedom to test drive what many consider their dream lives. One is getting a behind-the-scenes look at the many debates swirling in Congress this summer. Some found internships abroad, so that they could explore new career options and new countries at the same time. Others are developing software or conducting research.
The class, taught in the spring semester by Everette Fortner, UVA’s associate vice president for career and professional development, used design thinking to help students identify potential career paths and create summer experiences that would expose them to those fields.
“We zeroed in on the idea of building a prototype, and using this summer as a prototype of a possible career and lifestyle,” Fortner said. “Design thinking is not about coming up with the perfect solution right away. It’s about coming up with possible solutions and trying them out.”
Throughout the semester, Fortner brought in alumni as guest speakers, hosted panel discussions and networking receptions and encouraged students to attend career fairs and other events. He also used a grant from the Jefferson Trust to provide stipends for students taking unpaid or underpaid internships. By the end of the spring semester, each of the 35 students had finalized plans for the summer, and every student who applied for funding had received it.
UVA Today caught up with three of Fortner’s students to see how they chose to spend their summer.
Riley Clark, U.S. Senate and the World Wildlife Fund
Fourth-year government student Riley Clark is splitting her summer between internships with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s office in Norfolk and the World Wildlife Fund.
In Warner’s office, where she is currently working, Clark answers constituents’ phone calls, attends community events and meetings and helps out wherever needed.
“I evaluated my end goal of working in public service and saw this internship as a great opportunity to sample that path,” she said. “I also knew that working in a regional office would allow me to engage in more community outreach and provide a broad overview of tasks entailed in being a congressional staffer.”
After she completes her internship with Warner’s office, Clark will join the World Wildlife Fund as a government relations intern, working on conservation projects that involve government agencies.
“I believe that internship will be more research-oriented,” Clark said. “I’m excited to explore my political interests from a private-sector perspective.”
Amar Bukvic, Ghent University, Occupational Therapy, Biomedical Laboratory and Dietetics
Fourth-year pre-med and psychology student Amar Bukvic completed a six-week rotational program at Ghent University in Ghent, Belgium, rotating between the university’s Occupational Therapy, Biomedical Laboratory and Dietetics departments. UVA's Global Internships Office facilitated the internship.
His responsibilities varied from day to day and ranged from helping out in research labs to developing infographics and marketing campaigns that the departments will use in the 2017-18 school year.
“I wanted two things for this summer: an international location and a medical internship,” Bukvic said. “I got both through this opportunity.”
Bukvic, who had never before been to Belgium, said he loved getting to know the country and traveling around Europe. He loved how accessible everything was, from the abundant bicycle lanes in Ghent to the quick train trips to Paris. He loved the chocolate. Most of all, though, he loved the sense of unfamiliarity, trying something new every day.
“From day one, I decided I would truly try to live in Ghent, trying to do everything locals did,” he said. “That was easier said than done, because I simply did not know how things worked in Belgium or the norms that many there were accustomed to. That sense of confusion at even the smallest of tasks was my favorite part. By the end of my time there, I felt a part of the town and all that it has to offer. I had connections, favorite bakeries and people greeting me on my street.”
Tomas Esquer-Perez, The Aspen Institute
Though he remained in the United States for the summer, fourth-year student Tomas Esquer-Perez is working on projects that will impact small businesses and entrepreneurs around the globe. Esquer-Perez, a Spanish and economics double-major, is a research intern at The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.
Specifically, he is working on the institute’s Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, or ANDE, which provides financial, educational and business support services to entrepreneurs in developing countries.
“Right now, these entrepreneurs have small businesses, but they are still growing and will ultimately stimulate the economy and produce jobs, among other benefits,” he said. “The work that they are doing here is significantly contributing to efforts that help alleviate poverty, and that is something I am happy to be a part of.”
Esquer-Perez is updating databases for business accelerators around the globe and creating a survey to determine their effectiveness. He also helps review and revise reports that go out to member organizations around the globe and joins meetings with his supervisors to learn more about different projects in the organization.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore working for a nonprofit and to learn more about international development, which is a career path that I have considered pursuing,” he said.