World View

Presidential Scholars Program expands internship opportunites and will enroll more top students

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Continuing to build upon its success in bringing top students to Boston College, the Presidential Scholars Program has changed its internship component to enable students to pursue formative professional opportunities throughout the world and will expand from 12 to 15 participants a year.

As a result, Presidential Scholars spent last summer in settings such as the London School of Economics, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Mt. Auburn Hospital. Others taught English in Hong Kong and investigated health care issues in Nepal.

"What was a strong program to begin with has, we feel, become even stronger," said Prof. Dennis Sardella (Chemistry), the program's director. "Our core concept is the value of an integrated understanding of life, of self and of the world. We believe that working in a professional organization helps students develop that appreciation. Extending the geographical range in which this learning can take place increases the potential for growth.

"The fact that more high-achieving students will be taking advantage of these opportunities is equally exciting," he added.

Presidential Scholars Raymond Lynch (left) and Brian Veprek with the program's director, Prof. Dennis Sardella (Chemistry). (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The increase in the program's membership, implemented as part of the University's $260 million investment in academic programs and resources, will take effect for the class entering next fall, said Sardella. Drawn from among the top 2 percent of college applicants nationally, Presidential Scholars supplement their rigorous studies with summer activities built around personal, professional and spiritual enrichment. All Presidential Scholars perform volunteer work in community service settings and spend four weeks in Paris and Strasbourg, where they study French language, culture and society, as well as the European Economic Community.

During the past year, Sardella said, the program made significant changes to its internship component, switching it from the second to third year. "This made sense for a couple of reasons," he explained. "Most companies that offer internships tend to prefer juniors, as it ties in with their recruitment. But more importantly, by the end of their junior year, students usually have more of an idea about what they want to do and how it relates to their academic and personal development."

The other major change, Sardella continued, involved broadening the internship opportunities. Previously, students took jobs at New York City area companies or organizations through the assistance of the Boston College Wall Street Council. But it became apparent that this limited the range of potential learning experiences, Sardella said, so students have been allowed to explore opportunities across the country and around the world.

Brian Veprek, a Theater major with a minor in education, taught in a Hong Kong summer program combining creative arts with English instruction, and felt the experience more than lived up to expectations.

"When I came to BC, my plan was to become an educator and I still maintained that vocation even after selecting my major," he said. "I never thought I'd find my goal - linking these two areas of interest - in Hong Kong. It's helped me to consider a future in arts education, especially with at-risk kids who wouldn't normally have exposure to the creative arts."

Raymond Lynch, a biochemistry major, designed his own internship, in which he traveled through rural areas of Nepal researching prevalent childhood diseases. Although the country's political unrest forced him to curtail the visit and rework his project, Lynch believes he derived considerable benefits from the internship.

"I gained a valuable insight into health care problems in developing nations, where the care systems often are so grassroots it doesn't take much to upset them," said Lynch. "The outcome was certainly far different than I envisioned, but meaningful nonetheless."

Sardella notes that the internships, whether abroad or in the US, must meet a strict set of criteria. Students must demonstrate that the work will be related to their academic and professional plans, and fulfill a useful role in the company or organization.

Sometimes, Sardella adds, the best internship for a student is the one they don't expect. Angela Borzon initially wanted an experience similar to the one she had as an exchange student in South Africa during her junior year, when she worked in local townships on community service projects. But Sardella convinced her she should intern in a New York City organization that promotes socially responsible investment.

"It turned out to be a great internship for me," said Borzon, an English major. "I was able to see the full potential of what it means to do service."

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