Monday, August 26, 2013

Leaving My Comfort Zone: My Summer Internship in D.C.

Blog post by: Stephanie Maestri, Student Supervisor

“Find Out Who You Are, And Do It On Purpose”- Dolly Parton

This summer I was given the opportunity to represent UM in Washington D.C working for the UM in DC Program. It was probably one of the best things I ever did for myself for so many different reasons. First, let me give you some background on me.

I was born and raised in Miami, FL and have never lived anywhere else. Still living with my family and being a transfer student to UM, I never really had the “freshman experience” most of you have had. I’ve never moved into a dorm, lived on campus, or even had a roommate. Coming from a Hispanic family, it is pretty well known that you do not leave your family or roots and go elsewhere.

Well, I broke this tradition, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

For all of you interns who are now returning to UM for the exciting fall semester, you probably know how I feel right now. As I write this on my flight back home, there are a few tips I can think of for those of you who plan to venture out alone in the next year.

Tip #1: DO IT. 

Don’t think twice, just do it.  Besides the fact you are gaining excellent experience for your future (and resume), you are also going to get to know so much more about yourself. Every experience in your life is for a reason. Nothing made me more nervous than the fact that I would not be around my family and would have to independently figure everything out by myself when I arrived to DC. I mean who was going to do my laundry? ME? I will never forget the moment I opened the email telling me I had gotten the job, and wanted to scream and write back “nevermind, I’m staying here!.” Stepping out of your comfort zone is so hard, but once you do, you wish you would have done it sooner.

Tip #2: Get to know your supervisor.

Your supervisor is going to be the person you rely on for the duration of your internship. Remember that you are there to work and they are your boss, but they are also human beings and probably have a couple pretty interesting stories to tell you. They have been in your shoes before and can give you the best advice on just about anything and especially about your career path. Adela, my supervisor, became way more than just that. She was always there to help me with whatever I needed (work or personal) and gave the best advice around. HEY ADELA! MISS YOU! You will learn to appreciate your supervisor so much more when you realize they are just like you and me! Also, who doesn’t love a personalized recommendation letter?

Tip #3: Explore the city you’re in.

You will probably never be back there. Indulge yourself in the sights and wonders of your temporary home. Don’t be scared to sit at a table in a crowded restaurant and eat dinner alone or go to a movie theatre by yourself. Wherever you go, be it New York or a little town in Missouri, get to know it. Get lost on the bus or metro and learn who and what are out there. You never know who you will interact with and stepping out is the first and hardest step. I will never get tired of going to the National Mall and doing the most touristy things that make DC the amazing place it is. I also made DC my own by finding my favorite spots along the way; those are the best moments, becoming YOU.

Tip #4: Work Hard. Play Hard.

Remember you are where you are for one reason: You have a job. This is the biggest priority and needs to be taken seriously. It’s such an amazing feeling to work so hard on something and see it accepted and appreciated by others. Whether it’s the smallest things like organizing an excel sheet or having to present your marketing pitch for world renowned chefs and it be the only one they select, it still feels amazing. This is when you know you are doing it right. Give your job 100% and you will be rewarded. Nothing else I’ve mentioned will be possible if you don’t take your work seriously. What about that recommendation letter you so badly want? You wont get it if you are coming to work and not putting your best foot forward.

By the end of it all, you will wish you had just one more week to enjoy the city and your co-workers; trust me. So I’m telling you: Step out of your comfort zone, find yourself, and give 100% from the beginning and you will have an experience you will never forget.  Good Luck!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Saying So Long to Summer…

By Samantha Haimes, Assistant Director of Experiential Initiatives
The summer of 2013 has without a doubt been my best summer yet. I spent my first summer as a full-time Toppel staff member (woo!!), traveled with some of my closest friends to different U.S. cities, got married, and visited Hawaii for an epic honeymoon. Like I said, BEST summer yet.

As I share stories of my summer with many students and staff right here at UM, I find myself wondering about their summers as well. As we go through the day-to-day, I think it’s important to reflect on our experiences, both personal and professional. While it’s easy to forget, actively reflecting on our summer experiences and events can really have a lasting and positive impact on our future. So as you read this post, I challenge you to really think about your summer and ultimately, reflect, reflect, reflect!

This summer…

…Who did you meet?

I met a lot of new people this summer- wedding vendors, other brides, tour guides, and even some fellow honeymooners. If you think about it, you probably met a lot of new people as well: perhaps new professors, fellow interns, maybe even your friend’s parents? The list goes on and on. Regardless, consider all of the individuals you interacted with and how they could possibly have a positive impact on your career.  Ask yourself:

  • Have I effectively built relationships or networked with different people this summer?
  • Did I interact with people who can offer me advice on majors or career choices?
  • How can I build a strong network with those who can benefit me?
  • Did I connect with them on LinkedIn or via e-mail?

Maintaining these relationships – whether you met them once or if they are your new BFF- is always a good idea as you just never know how people can truly help you in your own career.

…Where did you go?

I love to travel and it has been far too long since I have traveled anywhere that wasn’t just a quick drive away. I feel lucky that we were able to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon and spend time in the most beautiful place I have ever been. The views were breathtaking, the people were pleasant, and the activities were the most fun.

Hopefully, you were able to do a little bit of traveling this summer whether it was to visit friends or family, for an internship or job, or perhaps even to spend time abroad. With any kind of travel experience, it is a great idea to reflect and again ask yourself:

  • Is this a place I could see myself living one day? (In my case, I wish!) 
  • What are some of the most popular careers in this region? Does this align with my own career goals? Would I benefit from working in another state or perhaps abroad?
  • Could I see myself working in a career with an element of international travel or globalization? 

…What did you do?

Even though the past 3 months of summer have flown by, when I think about all that I have done, both in my personal life and here at Toppel, I am very excited! Personally, getting married and spending so much time with close friends and family has definitely been the highlight. Professionally, I hit my one-year anniversary working full time at the Toppel Career Center and have never been more motivated or excited for my role and the programs and projects that come along with it. 

More importantly, what did you do this summer? Were you working at a summer job or internship? Perhaps volunteering? Studying for the MCAT or filling out the dreaded AMCAS application (pre-meds, you know what I am talking about!). Maybe you learned a new skill or computer program? Well, however it was that you spent most of your time this summer, make sure to find the professional takeaway for yourself. If you volunteered, add it to your resume. If you were interning, be sure to get a recommendation letter from your employer. If you were studying, well, keep on studying…you’re almost there! Even if you spent most of your time just hanging out with family and friends back home, use them to your advantage and ask for assistance with things like reviewing your resume or cover letter or shadowing them at their place of work before you head back to school.

There’s still time!
My hope for this post is to inspire you to make the most of your summer- not to stress you out! So if you are feeling like you’ve spent a little bit too much time by the pool or on instagram, and not enough time enhancing your career this summer, follow some of these steps while there is still time:

  1. Connect with people on LinkedIn that you met this summer (and create an account ASAP if you don’t already have one). If you didn’t meet anyone that you feel can help you, connect with 5 people whose careers interest you and start a conversation with them.
  2. Write to various people you met this summer via email and inquire about fall internships, shadowing opportunities and informational interviews.
  3. Start applying for fall internships if you haven’t already.
  4. Have your resume critiqued by someone at Toppel during Walk-In Advising or by uploading it to Also, have your friends and family look it over once or twice to see if you are missing anything (sometimes, you can forget your own accomplishments).
  5. Make sure you have a suit and professional dress for the upcoming semester; you’ll need it for events like Career Expo on September 19th (back to school shopping!). 

If there is one final thing that I can leave you with, it is to make this reflection a habit of yours. Don’t wait to do it each summer, but instead, check in with yourself and with us here at Toppel throughout the semester. Think about the people you meet each day, the places you go, and the skills you develop and you will be self-aware and ready to tackle your career.