On campus, you often hear things that startle you. New ideas forming in a seminar class. A friend giving a different take on a thorny situation—or telling a joke you wouldn’t want to bring home.
But when students venture off campus for real-life experiences, they always run into the unexpected. These two Dutch alumni and one upperclassman chose semesters in urban centers and were rewarded with new sights, the thrilling independence of apartment living, first-time grocery shopping and unpredictable, but satisfying, lessons from internships in their chosen fields.
Heading to the Capitol
For Tyler Ernst, a 2013 graduate who majored in political science and minored in environmental studies, Washington, D.C., proved the right fit—and having a TV interview with former president Jimmy Carter was just icing on the cake.
Signing up with The Washington Center—a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that places students in substantive work environments within the metro area—Ernst took a class that allowed him to interview famous politicians and even a former president. The class was taught by the head of CSPAN, Steve Scully. Without his advisor and the Central College Career Center, which paired Ernst with the program, he never would have left Iowa.
“Dr. Andrew Green helped me quite a bit,” he says. “I hadn’t really considered going until relatively close to the deadline. I also talked to the Career Center, and they were very helpful through the entire process.”
The Washington Center houses students in fully furnished apartments located near the city center, and they choose one class that suits their interests. As a part of the program, Ernst interned 35 hours a week at Akerman Senterfitt, a government relations department law firm. He attended congressional and industry meetings on issues of Internet governance, immigration and health care. Among his other internship duties, Ernst provided summaries of meetings for clients and attended other industry meetings with lobbyists on behalf of their clients.
Politics aside, D.C. had other perks, too. At the insistence of his boss, who gave him the tickets, Ernst attended Nationals baseball games every few weeks. “We were always right behind home plate,” he says with a smile. “So that was a great time.”
Although he came to enjoy the big city, Ernst recalls his first day in D.C. when the stresses of city life snapped him into reality. A bomb threat at the nearby Canadian Embassy led to the evacuation of the museum he was visiting. “That was my first experience being in D.C. It ended up being a man who left his luggage behind. That was a rude awakening to being in such a big city.”
Despite the frightening beginning, Ernst learned to adapt and call D.C. his home away from home. He became an expert on the metro—and even knew his way around a few Capitol buildings. It all seemed pretty huge after the Iowa State Capitol.
His Washington experience had come after three semesters working at Brown Winick, a law firm in Des Moines. Ernst found himself in legislative sessions while the firm lobbied for bills on behalf of local clients. Although his duties were similar, the experience in D.C. couldn’t have been more different.
“I was interested in seeing what the differences were at the federal level,” he says. “I really saw a much greater influence at the state level. There are so many lobbyists at the federal level that even getting in to meet with somebody is pretty unlikely. But at the state level you can really build that one on-one relationship and have a greater impact.”
Rather than working in the capital city, Ernst has decided to stay in the Midwest—he is studying at Drake University Law School to work with government relations. In the coming years, expect to see Ernst lobbying hard at the Iowa State Capitol.
“I want to help write policy that I think will affect the environment,” he says. “It’s something that I think can make a tangible difference not only in our state, but also our world.”
Training in the Windy City
As one of the six founding colleges of the Chicago Semester program, Central is committed to students interning along Lake Michigan. Begun in 1974 by six Christian colleges in the Reformed tradition, the program is for undergraduate students who want to experience the challenges of living and working in an urban environment while pursuing their career goals.
That pretty much describes Brett Carroll, a senior health and exercise science major who wants to become a physical therapist. While in Chicago, he attended multiple professional interviews for internships in the metro area. He spent a minimum of 32 hours a week at AthletiCo Physical Therapy Gold Coast as a rehabilitation aide, which he says will help him immensely in the long run—building his self-confidence and connections in his field.
During his one day off work, Carroll had three classes at the Chicago Semester offices. In the evenings, the group went out on the town—seeing theater shows, exploring the city or maybe hitting up the opera. Understanding the urban environment was undoubtedly a cultural experiment for Carroll. “I never believed myself to be a city boy, but honestly I could see myself living here,” he says. “The program has opened up my eyes to the many problems happening in Chicago, and I appreciate what I have and how fortunate I truly am after this experience.”
Theater shows and gourmet restaurants aren’t the only cultural experiences Carroll had—there was always some sort of culture on the “L,” Chicago’s elevated train system. He recalls one enlightening (and highly entertaining) experience. “There was a man with sparkly sequin gloves singing Backstreet Boys’ songs loudly with an awful accent,” he says. “Everyone on the train car was trying to hold in laughter, but this guy sang for about a 15-minute trip!”
He may have not learned any new dance moves from the wannabe Backstreet Boy, but Carroll definitely took away more than a new fashion sense from the program.
“The connections I made in Chicago, I believe, are the reason I got into graduate school and also could be a huge connection to obtaining a job if I choose to return to Chicago.”
For now, Carroll won’t be headed back to the Windy City—he was admitted to the University of Indianapolis where he plans to study physical therapy in the fall.
Stepping in front of a classroom full of kids for the first time can be traumatic, but student teaching in an inner-city school adds an extra layer of challenge. Emily Te Brink ‘13 learned firsthand how exciting it can be when she taught at Jamieson Elementary School in Chicago her senior year.
The physical education major graduated with endorsements in coaching, elementary and secondary physical education and instructional strategist last May. And Te Brink knew she would be going to Chicago from day one.
“In my first education course my freshman year, a Chicago Semester representative came to speak to the class about the program,” she says. “From the moment he said it was in Chicago, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. It is the best decision I made as a freshman.”
Working full-time as a student teacher and taking a seminar with other teachers could be exhausting for some. But Te Brink, a Central softball player, learned well from her Central professors and softball coach about how to be strong and responsible.
“Central has helped by preparing me with the background to become an effective teacher,” says Te Brink. “However, what prepared me the most for this experience was softball with coach George Wares. Softball has helped me to become the woman I am now. Without it, I am convinced I would not have had the success that I am having right now.”
At her Chicago elementary school, Te Brink taught close to 600 students in her first seven weeks. She saw students from the kindergarten level all the way to eighth grade in her physical education class. During the last half of the semester, Te Brink moved to special education. She worked with students in math and language arts, ranging from third grade to eighth. In total, she helped 15 students. “This was clearly a big change from my number of students for PE,” Te Brink says with a laugh.
During her time at the school and wandering around Chicago, Te Brink had an eye-opening experience—and it prepared her for life after college as a substitute teacher in the Vermillion Public School District in South Dakota. Through 2 a.m. lesson preps for the next day of classes and exploring the culture of Chicago, she has come into her own, and it is something she will never forget.
“Studying in Chicago made me so much stronger and independent. Being in the program prepared me for a career in education more than any school in Iowa would have—just because of the diversity and challenges I had to face with an inner-city school,” says Te Brink. “The things I was able to do there and the people I met are experiences that I will not forget.”
Interning in the Big Apple
Internship opportunities with a social justice focus in an urban setting will soon be available to Central College students through a unique partnership with The Collegiate Church of New York.
A pilot program, supported by a grant from the Collegiate Church, will provide up to 10 summer internships for students from Central College and cooperating schools from the college’s study abroad programs.
The internships will combine academic coursework and social justice training with an internship in an arena supported by the four congregational-based ministries of the Collegiate Church.
“We are deeply grateful to the Collegiate Church for making these remarkable internship opportunities possible and for the ongoing partnership with Central,” says Mary Strey, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “As interns in social justice-related organizations in New York City, students will have the ability to reflect thoughtfully on their experiences, make connections with the course material and understand their own potential as agents for positive social change.”
Two Central faculty members will teach the program’s inaugural course in New York City this summer. Students will explore a variety of perspectives related to peace and social justice while learning about the dynamics of social change.
The internships will complement Central’s nationally recognized programs for community-based learning and study abroad. More than 75 percent of Central students complete an internship or pre-professional experience at sites in Iowa, Chicago or Washington, D.C., or at one of the college’s study abroad sites, and many participate in service-learning work connected to their academic study. And nearly half of Central students study at one of the college’s international programs, most for a semester.