NYC is full of opportunity. So why is it so hard for students to find it?
Like many high school students, I start looking forward to summer as soon as a new school year starts. But it may come as a surprise that what I most look forward to is the opportunity to get real-world work experience through summer internships. Even when the pandemic meant that experience was all-virtual and different than what I expected. In New York City, where there should be ample opportunity, these internships can be hard to find for young people like me, and it makes it nearly impossible to develop the skills and network we need for successful careers.
The pandemic changed so much about my life in an instant, and I thought it meant my chance of a summer job to help my plans for a career in medicine went down the drain – until a new opportunity arose. I ended up landing a new kind of internship that offered so much more than work experience, and through the experience I met mentors, changed my college plan, and broadened my perspective.
Through an organization called PENCIL, which connects public school students with the business community and vice versa, I was able to participate in a new model for youth employment called Career Explorers. It was the best of both worlds. PENCIL provided a supervisor, Marina, who provided daily guidance and support. PENCIL created opportunities for me to meet other students, developed a meaningful project for me to tackle, and connected me with a mentor from Bloomberg, L.P.
As a bonus, I didn’t have to spend hours a day taking the train from where I live in South Brooklyn to an office in Manhattan. My internship was in my house. For a shy person like me, that helped me make the most of the experience.
Every day of the program, I would video chat with Marina from PENCIL and at least once a week I connected with my mentor at Bloomberg, Anastacia. At the beginning of the summer, we all discussed my interest in studying medicine in college, which led me to take on a research project on universal health care. I analyzed statistics from Japan and other developed countries to see how universal health care could benefit public health and came up with propositions as if I was making recommendations to Congress.
This project was a lot more interesting than just making copies or the kind of work I might have been doing if my internship was in person or without the guidance Marina and Anastacia provided. I didn’t even lose out on the social and networking aspects of an internship. As part of a group of other high school students, we had calls during the week to get to know each other. I’m not very extroverted, but because I was comfortable being in my house, I felt more confident to speak up on the calls. We also attended online panels with people who work at JPMorgan Chase and LinkedIn. The LinkedIn people lent their expertise to help me make a LinkedIn profile and connected with me.
My biggest takeaway from Career Explorers was how it changed my career plans. That summer, I learned all about Anastacia and her job at Bloomberg. I could tap into her knowledge, her experience, and her social capital. I learned so much about the industry she works in, the environment. Through our conversations, I started to see the connections between the environment and what I was originally interested in, public health. For example, protecting communities from drinking contaminated water is one way that the environment can impact people’s health.
Because of my experience with my mentor, I decided to take AP Environmental Science this year, and liked it so much that I decided to apply to college to study environmental engineering. It’s a path I never would have found without this summer experience. I’m really excited that I will be attending a new dual-degree program between Simmons College and Columbia University that will give me the chance to earn a Bachelor of Science from both places over five years.
When I get to college, I hope to continue expanding my network. I’m also determined to start my own club during my first semester to exercise and grow the leadership skills I learned in my summer internship.
This opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for a kid like me from a public high school. Most of my high school friends weren’t developing these skills and having these experiences. Every student in New York City should be able to have experiences like the one I did, because I felt so much more prepared to apply for and think about college than they were when the time came.
As New York City begins to reopen, I hope more organizations and companies will make these kinds of hybrid internship experiences possible, especially for high school students. With a new mayor coming in, they can work with the Department of Education so every school can support students in finding and succeeding in internships. In particular, virtual internships can open doors for students who may be limited in their ability travel. It could truly change the lives of teenagers across the five boroughs. I know from experience.
Arielle Seechan is recent graduate of Midwood High School in Brooklyn and an incoming college freshman to Simmons College who is a participant in programs at PENCIL, which brings together business partners and educators to connect students to success. PENCIL is best known for its popular “Principal for a day” program.
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