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The real world Internships help students find a career path

Contrary to popular belief, internships do not provide lessons on glorified coffee making; they give students the chance to gain hands-on experience in a possible future profession.

Whether internships are completed during the school year or the summer, many high schools offer assistance in finding such workplace experiences for their students.

Williamsville East junior Helen Oh, 16, interned last summer at the dental office of Dr. Michael Tabone. The internship was arranged with the help of Renee Remsen, a Williamsville East business teacher who set up an "initial meeting at his office," Helen said.

As with many jobs, there is some "busy work" involved in internships. Like many fresh-out-of-college students and other workers on the low-end of the totem-pole, age and lack of training limit what students are permitted to do. "I did filing and assisting, but I mainly just watched," said Helen. She also was able to "bring X-rays to the dentist, give him some supplies and greet patients."

Through her internship experience, Helen now knows that "If I do decide to do dentistry, I would rather do cosmetic dentistry than general dentistry."

When it comes to finding internships, contacts help.

Guli Zhu, a senior at Williamsville East, found an engineering research internship at the University at Buffalo with a little help from his father. "The professor I work with was my dad's former professor, so she readily took me in to work with her and her colleagues," Guli said. His internship also included a great deal of observation. "It's basically seeing how things work and what goes on in a research laboratory -- I learn how to use various machines, and then test different samples using those machines to get data," said Guli.

Students may expect internships to be like jobs. However Guli found his experience was "much like school," adding that his relationship with his supervisor was "pretty much a student-teacher relationship -- I'm there to learn and the professors are there to help me learn."

Internships can provide not only a great boost on college and job resumes but can also help students choose a path of study in college.

Jenna Barnett, a freshman at Houghton College, plans to double major in social studies education and intercultural studies. Her main responsibility at her paid internship at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence last summer was to "run Sunday mornings for the middle school students..." along with "creating and running summer Bible studies for the middle school kids," she said.

Working with children not only fell right in place with her education major but also with her passion for future missionary work. "I want to do this for the rest of my life," said Jenna. "Through this internship I've been reminded that I can make a difference in people's lives."

Having to speak in front of groups of as many as 60 to 90 students meant that effective public speaking was one of many skills that Jenna learned while interning.

Helen also acquired some useful "people skills" from her internship at the dental office, learning "how to meet and smoothly converse with people."

Internships often mean some "downtime" and may require students to jump outside their comfort zone but among many pluses, internships can help with one extremely important decision: whether or not a certain career is the right one.

As Helen put it: "Internships are a great way to decide whether or not you will truly enjoy that career in the future. You don't want to waste your time in college changing majors."

The College Board suggests asking high school guidance counselors for help in finding internships, checking local newspapers, and to not be afraid to ask a specific company or organization directly for an internship.

Rachael Silverstein is a freshman at the University at Albany.

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