On April 13, 2011 CUNY Baccalaureate hosted over sixty participants for a Workshop on Internships and International Affairs. According to the program’s Academic Advisor, Rafal Szczurowski, the idea for the Workshop was born when CUNY BA joined the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), an initiative established to link the institutions of higher education with the work of the United Nations. The event brought together student panelists, specials guests who shared their global experiences, and CUNY Hunter College faculty, Professor Pamela Falk, who gave an overview of work in the field of international relations and spoke on the importance of undertaking internships. Students found the presentations informative and inspirational.
In her opening remarks, Professor Falk mentioned four rules that would help with careers in international relations: (1) commitment to make a difference in a work you love; (2) sense of values; (3) humility; and (4) sense of humor. An expert in the field, Professor Falk listed its most important elements: academia, government, media, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. For those seeking internships, she recommended to be innovative and open-minded perhaps avoiding the most sought-after institutions when choosing which to pursue.
Professors Falk emphasized the value of internships. They are designed to expose the participant to the field, the institutions, and the people. In many cases, students could be given more responsibilities and have more access during an internship than in the first 10 to 15 years of a contracted position. She ended with a personal story of her pro bono work to help an Afghan refugee detained in the US. Without her intervention, a young Afghan mother would have been deported to face prosecution or even death. Listening to Professor Falk, students heard words of wisdom and encouragement from a professional who truly loves and is great in what she does.
Following Professor Falk, four exceptional students, Maisha Lopa, Rachel McCroy, Michelle Muita, and James Aldworth presented on their internships in international affairs.
Maisha Lopa (CUNY Baccalaureate/Macaulay) has interned in several domestic and international institutions, among them Women’s World Banking and the United Nations NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security. She highlighted the role of internships as a way of building experience, gaining institutional knowledge, trying different professions, and supplementing academic work. Maisha was able to secure numerous internships through networking with professionals, fellow students, alumni, and college professors. She also advised to visit the college career service office and explore the opportunities they may have for networking and professional development.
Rachel McCroy (CUNY Baccalaureate) always wanted a career in human rights. She has been collaborating with the Foundation for Post Conflict Development (FPCD) for two years. This nongovernmental organization sets up maternity clinics and youth centers in East Timor. The FPCD is currently looking for two new interns and Rachel offered to help with the application process.
Michelle Muita (CUNY Baccalaureate) interns at the Council on Foreign Relations. Michelle’s five different internships taught her how to function in an office setting, deal professionally with supervisors and colleagues, and what working environment she feels the most comfortable with. Michelle discussed the importance of grades, academic rewards and scholarships, mentors, and networking when applying for internships. She advised fellow students to be punctual, proactive, and not to be afraid of asking for more work and responsibilities.
The only graduate student among the panelist, James Aldworth, presented on the official United Nations Internship Program. While completing his MA in International Relations at City College, James worked at the UN Department of Public Information, Outreach Division. His main project was to set up a social networking campaign for the UN Academic Impact. Among the benefits of his internship was a chance to work in a multicultural environment and to learn about the inner-working of the UN Secretariat. He recommended volunteering regularly, in addition to academic and professional work, and to master at least two of the six UN official languages.
Current global challenges call for an interdisciplinary perspective, an approach which merges academic training, hands-on experience, multiculturalism, and international exposure. For students, volunteering or interning at international organizations is a step towards achieving this goal. CUNY Baccalaureate invited students to speak on how internships contribute to their academic and professional development. They delivered not only valuable information on internships but also inspirational stories about their lives.