We’ve all seen the reports and ‘Top 10 lists’: Ann Arbor, consistently ranked one of the best college towns in America. In addition to getting a liberal arts education focused on building global leaders and visionaries, students get to live in a vibrant city with endless things to do and countless events, making their undergrad experience some of the best years. For some, immersing themselves in Ann Arbor is what they came to Michigan to do. For others, like LSA sophomore Natalie Suh, immersing herself in Detroit was crucial to making the most of her undergraduate experience.

In a role focused on networking and building rapport with community members, a summer internship at 482Forward provided Natalie a chance to see what kind of non-profit role she could flourish in. 482Forward had just the flavor of non-profit work that excited Natalie — they focus on building community power in improving the education system in Detroit.

That isn’t to say that internships don’t come with their own challenges; they are, after all, an inside view into a specific role. In fact, this is one of the benefits of doing an internship in the first place: do I have an interest or passion in solving problems I encounter within the internship experience?  If the answer is “yes”, then you’re that much closer to finding career clarity. This was the case for Natalie. As she explains it: “The biggest challenge I faced was learning about the Detroit community and understanding the issues that were impacting Detroit schools, since I’m not from Detroit.”

One of the central pillars of a liberal arts education system is reframing how we see challenges that are in our path. Rather than viewing this as a barrier, Natalie sees the challenges she encountered during internship in Detroit and the ways she navigated them as a testament to her LSA education.

“To engage in those issues [affecting Detroit], you have to be well-informed and listen to community voices to do any good. I suppose it was less of a challenge and more of a crucial step that took a lot of care.”

In addition to work experience and the chance for professional networking, summer internships can be an avenue for developing mentorship connections that last beyond just the internship. Professional mentors fill a unique gap in our relationship;  they can be someone you have a close connection with that willingly invests in moving you closer to your goals because of the effort and commitment you have shown in your work. Most of the time, though, they can be professionals you meet in the course of your work who serve as a resource for career advice or progression at one point in time. Whether it’s sharing a similar academic background or personal interests, mentors are an invaluable resource to students both in and beyond college.  

For Natalie, finding a mentor in her supervisor built a connection that has lasted long past the end date of her internship.

“My supervisor is someone who still gives me advice to this day. [She] encouraged me to take advantage of being in Detroit and network with other community members and non-profit people.”

Contextualizing your internship is just one of the ways that the Hub can help students understand and talk about their experiences. With courses such as ALA 325, students not only are encouraged to make sense of their internship and academic experiences, but to use them as a launchpad to discover new opportunities. In Natalie’s case, having a strong working relationship with her supervisor allowed her to start building these networks while she was on the job. 

“Having her connect me with these opportunities was so helpful and really let me learn about the context in which I was working. I got to engage with a really passionate community… which taught me more about the city than any book or lecture ever could.”

By the end of her internship with 482Forward, the exposure to the world of community organizing and direct engagement with community members opened up a new world of thinking for Natalie, so much so that it might have prompted a pivot in career focus. 

“At 482Forward, there was a culture of open communication and collaboration which made working there an amazing experience. I learned the importance of workplace culture and how it can impact peoples' relationships with each other, productivity, general happiness and more,” Natalie says.

And that’s the heart of the internship experience: students like Natalie come out with a really strong impression of the organization they are interning at; get a deeper understanding of their work; and assess if this role (or industry) is really something they want to pursue post-graduation. Natalie concludes:

“Working in a non-profit I was able to see what the primary roles were, and what kind of role I would like to be in if I were to work in non-profits in the future. Additionally, community organizing was the main agent of change at 482Forward, which I had little exposure to before. I was really struck by community organizer's ability to empower people, so now I am considering getting my MSW with a focus in community organizing.”

Visit Semester in Detroit's website if you'd like to learn more about their work and securing an internship with them.