‘What I did this summer" is not an essay assignment that college students are likely to be required to write, yet their summer jobs or internships can be perfect resume builders. For those who hope to land a good internship next year, it is never too early to start looking around.

"No one feels secure anymore just because they go to college," says Kate Herts, a West Windsor resident and sophomore at Brown University who is interning at the Lawrence Ledger newspaper this summer. "To make any tangible difference to your resume, you need an internship that gives you hands-on experience in the workforce."

New York and Philadelphia are both close enough to commute to, but students often rush to the cities without exploring the opportunities in their own backyard. Summer internships in New Jersey range from paid to unpaid, professional to clerical, short-term to summer-long. Some of the programs are informal, flexible, and vary from year to year, while more formal employers like Dow Jones sponsor cut-throat competitions with applicants from around the country.

A half-dozen current interns in the greater Princeton business community reflect on their experiences.

Jump-Starting A Medical Career

When Mita Sharma started looking for an internship, she had very specific requirements. "I knew I wanted to start an EMT course in late July," she says, "so I had to find a short internship that would wrap up before the course started." The daughter of a business owner and a computer programmer analyst, Sharma also had an inexplicable passion for medicine, and she was she was hoping to find an internship that would help launch her medical career.

With these criteria in mind, the sophomore at Dartmouth (and valedictorian of her class at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South) approached her college’s career services department. Together, they found a program that matched her unique needs.

By spring, Sharma had been chosen by UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick. Every day, she took the train from Princeton Junction to New Brunswick in order to participate in a two-week, non-salaried clinical internship. Each intern was assigned a doctor to "shadow" for the two weeks, and was encouraged to interact with members of the staff. "Within the department, I got to work with lots of the other doctors, residents, and med students doing their rotation," says Sharma.

The program also sponsored a daily seminar that featured guest speakers who provided information on stem cell research, cancer treatments, and the best ways to get into medical school.

The seminars were used as a forum in which students shared their daily experiences. "We talked to the other interns during their seminars about our day and what types of patients we had seen," says Sharma.

During the two-week program, each intern selected and researched a topic that related to their assigned department. Says Sharma, "I was in pediatric neurology, and I researched seizures and epilepsy." The interns were then responsible for presenting their findings on the last day.

Sharma will return to Dartmouth in September in order to pursue a neuroscience major with a minor in chemistry.

College Sophomore, Veteran Politico

Matthew Lipka redefines the term "part-time." As a sophomore at Yale University, Lipka is spending his summer as a part-time intern for Senator Frank Lautenberg. Traditionally, senatorial interns work two or three days per week in the Newark office. Lipka, however, hopes to maximize his experience by working Monday through Thursday, with a maximum of 32 hours.

When Lipka applied for his internship in March, he was already a veteran of public service. "I had interned for my Congressman, Representative Rush Holt, in high school," says Lipka, "so I already knew about Congressional internships."

Lipka is a West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South alumnus. His mother, Gabrielle Strich, is an attorney married to Jacob Katz, president of Matrix Inc., a market research firm at Princeton Service Center. His father is an opthalmologist married to an executive at Tiffany’s in New York.

At the Lautenberg office Lipka works with constituent services and outreach programs in a variety of fields, including the military, veterans, housing, immigration, and environmental departments.

"Intern jobs range from clerical duties (like phones and mail) to research," he says. "We also get to go to events with the Senator or staff." With satisfaction, Lipka recalls writing letters of congratulations and helping constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy on behalf of Lautenberg: "Constituent services is a great way to make a difference in citizens’ lives," he says.

The ambiance in the office also contributes to a fulfilling internship experience. "The interns get along well, despite a wide age range," says Lipka, "and the staff is very friendly." The office has approximately a dozen staff members, giving Lipka the opportunity to work closely with experts in the political field. "Just being around the office, you pick up an infinite number of tidbits of political history and government trivia," he says.

Lipka is hoping that this internship will be a stepping stone to other opportunities. "At least five of the current staff members used to intern for the Senator," notes Lipka, "and I’ve met many other former Lautenberg interns that work in Senator Corzine’s office or for state legislators." Lipka considers his experience in Lautenberg’s office an invaluable step in his political career. "I’ve learned a lot about politics and government from working in Congressional offices," he says. "It’s a great overview of government because you get an inside look at tons of different agencies on all levels of government. I’ve learned more acronyms than I ever thought existed."

A Beehive of Interns At Congressman’s Office

Rush Holt’s internship program consists of three cycles: fall, spring, and summer. During the fall and spring sessions, the office bustles with (on average) a dozen interns between the ages of 14 and 22. But during the summer, high school students are cleared out to make space for the flood of undergraduate applicants that inevitably arrive. "We like to give as many students as possible the opportunity to participate," says program coordinator Lauren LaRusso, "so it’s rare to see kids for more than one cycle."

If selected for the summer position, interns work two or three eight-hour days per week. All the interns are expected to assist case workers as they solve constituent problems, contact constituents, distribute privacy forms, answer phones, participate in outreach projects, plan events with the outreach coordinator, organize a schedule, and talk to community leaders.

Selected undergraduate interns are given more detailed work, and in the past, some have been allowed to coordinate entire events. "For instance," recalls LaRusso, "a number of interns worked on press events, which are half hour events. The intern had to help pick the location, get the speakers together, take pictures, handle the constituents, and handle the press."

While working in the office, each intern is rotated among staff members to help provide a broad range of experiences. "We also try to get each one out with the Congressman for the day and out for an event," says LaRusso.

Melissa Falk (shown on the cover) is entering her junior year at Rutgers College, where she is majoring in political science and history. A graduate of East Brunswick High School, her father is a psychologist and her mother a nurse. She is working three days a week for the summer.

Ben Mishkin interned in Rush Holt’s campaign office in Lawrenceville. A sophomore at Brown University, he is the son of a journalist and a marketing executive. "The job is an amazing experience," he says, but he cautions high school students who are rushing to find internships. "I’m glad that I waited until college to find such a professional job," he says, "because I’m getting so much more out of it now than I would have a few years ago."

In high school Mishkin abandoned the internship opportunities that his friends were searching for in order to work at Chuck E. Cheese. "At the time, I was a little worried because everybody seemed to know what they wanted to do with their lives," he says.

But with hindsight, Mishkin is glad that he deferred a premature internship. "A lot of the people skills I learned at Chuck E. Cheese have come in surprisingly useful in my current job." Mishkin says. "I learned to take calls and handle different kinds of people."

LaRusso echoes Mishkin’s sentiments – while she appreciates applicantsthat have a political background, she is most interested in students who have solid people skills and life experience. She recalls one student who stood out because he had worked for a real estate agency, "It was clear that he knew how to work with costumers, and it was nice to see that he understood good protocols for dealing with people." Many of the students who apply for internships with Holt have not had internships before, but most of them have skills that become valuable when handling constituents.

While the office tends to attract liberal students, LaRusso notes that they do not discriminate based on political views. Applicants are generally aligned with Holt’s Democratic platform, but the internship program is open to applicants from across the political spectrum.

"We don’t think the applicants really have established political views yet," explains LaRusso, "so we see this more as a shaping tool. Most just know they like government, policy, and politics." Some of the applicants are even from neighboring districts who commute because they prefer Holt to their own local representative.

The interns themselves are not paid (public funds can’t be used to pay the intern salaries), but approximately 10 percent of the interns return later as full-time members of Holt’s staff. Even LaRusso, the current program coordinator, worked as an intern during her senior year at Rutgers. When asked if the internship was a factor in her later employment, LaRusso says, "I don’t think it gave me a boost," but she adds, "the experiences certainly did help prepare me."

A Summer of Service

For Nitin Ahuja, a summer internship was more than a resume builder – it was an opportunity to give back to the community he grew up in.

Ahuja, a junior at Harvard University, is one of four summer interns at the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton. The Crisis Ministry, a nonprofit group supported by an alliance of churches, maintains facilities at Nassau Presbyterian Church and on East Hanover Street in Trenton, and works to prevent hunger and homelessness. With eight full-time staff members and four interns, the organization gives food and financial aid to people throughout Mercer County.

"I was interested in a public service organization that both addressed problems facing the local community and involved personal contact with the individuals receiving assistance," says Ahuja. Ahuja was referred to the nonprofit by the Harvard Club of Princeton, whose president, Sheldon Sturges, is a former member of the Crisis Ministry’s board of trustees. He applied for the position in March.

For 30 to 35 hours each week, Ahuja works as a client assistant, which gives him the personal interaction he was looking for. One of Ahuja’s main jobs is to meet with the Ministry clients and collect the information that the Ministry needs to distribute aid. "I’m also involved with some ongoing advocacy projects, raising public awareness of and response to hunger and homelessness on a variety of levels," he says. His work has given him experience in the financial assistance, food store, advocacy, and general management departments.

While the internship program is overseen by an individual coordinator, the overall environment in the office is exceptionally helpful. "Because of the size of the organization," says Ahuja, "most staffmembers regularly offer encouragement and guidance on all aspects of the internship."

Ahuja is no stranger to the Mercer County; he grew up in Lawrenceville with his younger sister and graduated from the Lawrenceville School. His record with community service extends beyond this single internship as well – while in Boston, he volunteers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He will return to Boston in September to pursue a major in biology, which he hopes will be a precursor to medical school.

Corporate Experience

When Anna Stetsovskaya of Princeton Landing started looking for a summer internship, the Internet was her best ally. "I was just surfing the jobnet one day and searched for Central Jersey companies that were hiring at the time." She came across Monstertrak.com – an internship database that is designed for college students (and an affiliate of the employment website Monster.com).

Through her web search, Stetsovskaya found a job opening at Factiva, a joint venture of Dow Jones and Reuters that is located on the Dow Jones campus on Route 1 North. The University of Pennsylvania sophomore applied for the position in February. "They invited me for an interview at their Princeton offices where I interviewed with four managers," recalls Stetsovskaya. "By May, I had the offer."

Stetsovskaya’s full-time, paid internship placed her with four other interns in the content department of Factiva. Her main duty was to get "content" – articles on an electronic feed from around the world – into a consistent format for Factiva’s customers. "I actually worked for two bosses," says Stetsovskaya, "one in the morning (Content Development) and one in the evening (Content Ops)."

In her department of approximately 30 people, Stetsovskaya was able to utilize one of her unique characteristics – her knowledge of Russian. The daughter of an electrical engineer and a healthcare analyst, she was born in the Ukraine. "I came to the United States in 1991," she explains. "My mother is from Kharkiv, and my Dad is from Siberia." Capitalizing on her bilingual abilities, Stetsovskaya worked to convert Russian articles into files that were compatible with Factiva’s database. She earned $13.50 per hour or about $6,000 for the summer.

While Stetsovskaya had already held an internship prior to Factiva, she admits that Factiva gave her a new experience. "I worked for two years of high school at U.S. 1 Newspaper, which was a fabulous experience," says Stetsovskaya, "but Factiva/Dow Jones was definitely way more corporate. At U.S. 1 it’s like a family; everyone collaborates. Though Factiva is a young company, founded in 1999, it is a small corporation and has around 700 people worldwide."

Stetsovskaya will return to the Wharton School to pursue a bachelor of science in economics, concentrating in finance and marketing with a psychology minor. When asked if she would consider returning to Dow Jones as a staff member, she leaves her options open: "I’m very interested in news media and information industries, so that is always a possibility."

Princeton & Beyond: PPPL

When asked about the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) internship program, Andrew Post-Zwicker, director of the science education program, responds without missing a beat, "it’s the best in the country – and you can quote me on that!"

Located on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus, PPPL is the 54-year-old plasma and fusion research center that is known for its Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor. The PPPL internship program is funded by the Department of Energy Office of Science, and contains three separate internship programs. Two are designed for undergraduates, and the third is for Princeton-area high school students.

The first undergraduate program consists of 25 interns who are selected from a national applicant pool. Selected participants are brought to Princeton, where they spend a week studying plasma physics and fusion energy. Once trained, they disperse throughout the country, spending the rest of the summer working in their assigned locations. Of the 25, between 5 and 10 of the interns remain in Princeton.

The second undergraduate program is more localized – and more selective. Only a dozen students are selected from across the country, and each has a general background in physics, engineering, and math. Applicants are also expected to be proficient in computer technology, and almost all are undergraduates between their junior and senior years. No interview is expected, but digital letters of reference are required to accompany the online application.

Interns selected for the second undergraduate program also congregate in Princeton, but once they complete their week of study, they remain on campus. For the next nine weeks, the undergraduates live together in the dorms and work in the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

Everett Schlawin, the son of a Princeton Packet editor and a Wall Street analyst, is about to begin his freshman year at Oberlin. He has been interning for PPPL for two years and is earning $8 an hour this summer. "We’re working on a dusty plasma experiment," Schlawin explains. "It turns out most of the universe is made of dusty plasma, and there are a lot of practical applications on earth, so it’s important to know how it works."

With the guidance of Post-Zwicker, interns like Schlawin are given real research projects to pursue. Schlawin is on a team of six people under the science education department. "Last year we were trying to make optimal clouds, but this year we’re trying to use glow-in-the-dark dust," says Schlawin. "We don’t have it working yet, but we’re hoping we can get it soon."

At the end of the summer, the interns are required to prepare a formal report for their projects and present their findings internally. The final presentations are more than a formality – interns with exceptional presentations can qualify for an invitation to the largest professional physics conference in the country. Each year, a handful of Princeton interns qualify for the honor, and are allowed to present their projects during the fall conference to scientists from throughout the country.

While the prerequisites for the internship may seem daunting, Post-Zwicker says, "this is usually the first time that the interns are working in a real independent research lab – some undergrads have worked for their professors, but it’s really their first time in a national lab."

The Plasma Physics Lab does not have an official policy of hiring returning interns to their full-time staff, but Post-Zwicker does note that some staff members are graduates of their internship program.

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Forrestal Campus, Box 451, Princeton 08543-0451. Robert J. Goldston, director. 609-243-2000; fax, 609-243-2751. Home page: www.pppl.gov

From SATs to ETS

Among college students, the letters "ETS" inevitably elicit a shudder and memories of the associated acronyms – PSAT, SAT, and AP. But despite its anxiety-inducing associations, the Educational Testing Service can be a valuable resource for undergraduates who are looking for summer employment.

The Princeton-based testing company offers 80 internships nationwide (more than half of which are located in Princeton). This compares to last year, when only 40 internships were available. "Our internship program has expanded to a larger ‘summer employment’ program," explains Kelly Abernathy-Porch, an ETS human resources consultant, "and we hope to continue expanding."

There are currently six different internship programs within ETS: Math Internship Program, English Language Learning, College Intern Program (specifically for undergraduate students), Scholars Intern Program (which employs both undergraduate and graduate students), Graduate Research Intern program, and the newly opened Trenton High Intern Program. Some duties can be performed in Princeton, but other internships require cross-country travel. Each of the programs, however, provides full-time, paid summer employment. The pay varies.

The interns themselves are as diverse as the programs. "We look for a cross-section of undergraduate and graduate students," says Abernathy-Porch. This was the first year the internship program wasopened to high school students as well, employing 18 new interns from Trenton High School.

ETS places a large emphasis on continuity. "Our goal in hiring freshmen is for them to come back in following years," says Abernathy-Porch. Those interested should apply in January for the summer cycle. Applications are available through the college relations mailbox, and must be submitted with a statement of purpose.

Educational Testing Service, Rosedale Road, Princeton 08541. Kurt F. Landgraf, president. 609-921-9000; fax, 609-734-5410. Home page: www.ets.org

Lab & Business

For students who are looking for a traditional, full-time, paid summer internship, Church & Dwight has a tailor-made program.

Church & Dwight, the maker of Arm & Hammer-brand personal care and household products, has nearly 1,200 workers in central New Jersey. Each summer, the human resources department selects 18 college students (15 undergraduate and 3 graduate) for its internship program. Undergraduates who apply are generally between their freshman and sophomore years, and should be pursuing a major that relates to either laboratory research or business. Applicants for the laboratory positions must also have lab experience.

In addition to the application, some applicants obtain internal referrals. "Some of our interns have been recommended by employees, but it is not required," says Martin Hayes of Church & Dwight.

Most of the paid internships are 40 hours per week and give students exposure to the laboratories and business units in the Central Jersey offices. The positions are designed to last throughout the summer. "The internships are a great learning experience," says Hayes. The pay range is from $700 to $1,200 per week, depending on duties and experience.

Approximately 10 percent of the interns at Church & Dwight are hired later as staff members.

Church & Dwight Co. Inc. (CHD), 469 North Harrison Street, CN 5297, Princeton 08543-5297. Robert A. Davies III, CEO. 609-683-5900; fax, 609-497-7177. www.armhammer.com

Preeti Bhattacharji has been an intern at U.S. 1 for the past two years. She is entering her freshman year at Columbia University.

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