How do you guarantee someone an internship?
A new program helps Odyssey Scholars start their careers after one year in the College.
Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93 | @carriegolus
It’s tough to find a summer job if you’re a first-year. You’re years away from a college degree. You have little to no professional work experience. “You really need someone to give you a break,” says Meredith Daw, assistant vice president of enrollment and student advancement.
In her 13 years at UChicago, Daw noticed something: first-years whose parents had connections did just fine. Those without connections tended to take lower-paying jobs—babysitting, waiting tables, retail work—unrelated to their majors or intended careers. And the effects of that early career disadvantage compounded.
This summer is different. Beginning with the Class of 2019, all Odyssey Scholars—students from lower-income families—are guaranteed a Metcalf Internship after their first year. Odyssey Metcalf Internships are substantive project-based jobs that pay at least $10 an hour for 10 weeks of full-time work.
Late in spring quarter, four first-year Odyssey Scholars told the Core about the majors and careers that they’re considering and how their summer plans fit in. Interviews have been edited and adapted.
Possible major: Classics and anthropology
Internship: Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney, Miami
My family moved over here from India when I was fairly young, and as I was growing up, I got both cultures. I did let my native tongue fall to the wayside because I prioritized learning English. My parents talk to me in Urdu; I talk to them in English.
I studied Latin all through high school. I’ve always been interested in ancient cultures and languages. I’m on the language-intensive track in classics, which means I have to take up to second year in both Latin and Greek. I haven’t taken any anthropology courses yet. I’m pretty excited to start.
My end goal is law school. In high school I took a law class, which a lot of people took in their senior year as a blow-off class, but it was one of my favorite classes. When I came to college, I joined Moot Court. It’s like Mock Trial, but the Supreme Court version.
My adviser told me about this opportunity at the state attorney’s office, which is something I’ve wanted to try. The fact that it was in Miami didn’t really deter me until I found out I got it. It’s been a challenging experience, trying to find housing and figure out how to be an adult.
There’s a group of us, all assigned to different divisions. I have a friend who’s working in the sex trafficking division. I’m working in the criminal misdemeanors unit.
This wasn’t even the first bombshell for my family. I’m studying Latin in Rome this summer from June to mid-July. The state attorney’s office was flexible enough to let me come from mid-July until September. So Rome was the first bombshell that I had to get through. After that, Miami was a cakewalk.
My mom didn’t really understand at first why I would do this, but she heard from some people that getting an internship in your first year is not common. She was a little bit happier when she heard about that.
Possible major: Biology
Internship: MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
I’m from Houston, so I’ll be living at home, which is nice. My mom works in the same medical center, so we’re going to carpool together. She works with computers and trains the nurses when the computers get updated.
I did CAAP, the Chicago Academic Achievement Program, and during that program I was told that Odyssey Scholars are guaranteed an internship. I was like, how do you guarantee someone an internship? Before I knew there was a career office that would help me, I thought, I’ll go back to Houston. Houston has a lot of science stuff. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a lab job, but something like a receptionist or volunteering at a hospital.
I applied for a lot of Metcalf Internships, and I wasn’t getting any of them. I think it’s because I’m a first-year. I play rugby, and I have friends majoring in biology that are fourth-years, and they were applying for the same internships.
It was really frustrating. So I went to my career adviser, and she reached out to a few alumni. She told me she loves looking for alumni—it’s her favorite thing to do.
I wanted to see what it was like to work in a cancer center, because I don’t know if I want to do cancer research when I get older or something else. She found me a position working in a gastroenterology lab with Robert Bresalier [MD’78]. I think he has four different types of research going on right now in his lab.
With a Metcalf, I’ll work 400 hours at $10 an hour, so $4,000 total. That’s more than the minimum wage in Texas, which is $7.25 an hour. Being able to make $10 an hour is really important.
Hometown: Mont Vernon, New Hampshire
Possible major: Physics
Internship: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Harvard Department of Physics, Cambridge, Massachusetts
I’ve been in the honors physics sequence all year. It’s a lot of work, but I really like it. Basically I wanted a research job, and that’s hard to get, especially in physics your first year. Almost any professor will say, you don’t have previous research experience?
My mom, my career adviser, and my professor all said, why don’t you just email some Harvard and MIT professors, just see what you get? I ended up sending two emails total. And within 30 minutes, one professor wrote me back.
After we talked on the phone, he said he would ask the graduate students and postdocs if any of them were willing to take on a mentee. That’s how your first research experience works, because you have to learn so much. Even though you want to feel like you’re helping out, they’re giving you the experience. It really helped that I was coming in with funding from the Metcalf program.
He has a big research group. It ranges from astrophysics and working with atomic clocks to biophysics and working with instruments for medical imaging. I don’t really know where I’m going to be yet. I’ve only worked in restaurants and stuff like that. It will be so much easier for me in the next few years to say I had a research experience for an entire summer.
I’ve been interested in physics since I was really young. My dad has always been a science-minded person. We would always talk a lot of physics and go to the MIT Robotics Museum.
I started taking physics classes my junior year in high school. My physics teacher was a young recent MIT grad. She ended up being my adviser and being really supportive of me coming here and studying physics.
I’m taking an astrophysics class this quarter that has given me a little glance into the research world. It’s on exoplanets, which is such an emerging field that we read the actual research papers. For one of our problem sets, we were given data and told, find out what you can about this planet from this data. It was cool to be working with actual data that closely. That’s nothing you’d do in an intro physics class.
Possible major: Public policy and economics
Internship: Metropolitan Family Services, Chicago
This internship was interesting to me because the organization focuses on social work. They do legal services, mental health services all across the Chicago area, and some education-oriented programs. It seemed interesting also because it’s for the director of outcomes. I wanted to get some exposure to the more quantitative aspects of social work.
In Dallas I went to a magnet school that specialized in law. I had the opportunity to intern at the criminal court building during high school, because it was part of the curriculum. My sophomore year, I worked for the records department. My junior year, I worked for the court coordinator. And then senior year, I worked for the department of adult probation and victim services.
Dallas is a large school district, but if you go to the outskirts, to the kind of neighborhood that I live in, the schools are really underfunded. That’s what motivated me to want to pursue education policy—primarily budget allocations and how to fund schools and make sure it’s a more equal playing field. Maybe work in curriculum design.
During my interview for the internship, I said that it’s one thing to propose and design a policy or social program. But how do you measure it, to see if it’s effective or not? And first, how do you collect the data? What are the best methods—surveys, interviews? How do we interpret that data?
I applied for a few internships, but this was the first time that I had an interview. They said, we’ll get back to you in a week. They actually emailed me back the same day.
I’m in the process now of finalizing a sublet in Hyde Park. I’ve spent time away from my family before, but of course it is a bit more stressful, because you’re really on your own. You’re not in college. There’s no dining hall. I have an idea of how to cook, but I’m sure my family will send me recipes anyway.
New support for Odyssey
What’s Odyssey again?
The Odyssey Scholarship Challenge—founded in 2007 by a $100 million gift from an anonymous alumnus, “Homer”—eliminates loans and academic-year work requirements for lower-income students. Many Odyssey Scholars are the first in their families to attend college.
Last February the University launched a $100 million enhancement of support for Odyssey through a $50 million gift and challenge from writer Harriet Heyman, AM’72, and her husband, investor Sir Michael Moritz (right). The gift and challenge from Heyman and Moritz helps Odyssey Scholars study abroad and prepare for careers through paid substantive Odyssey Metcalf Internships.
The gift also increases support for first-generation students. The new Center for College Student Success offers advice and mentoring in academics and financial issues. For students with the greatest financial need, the program reduces family contributions for books, travel, and other expenses.
Odyssey Scholars are among the College’s top achievers, earning honors such as Fulbright grants and National Science Foundation fellowships. Learn more.