Last summer, Country Day set up internships for three high-school students with parents in the school community for the first time.
Colby Conner, ‘16, interned without pay with Julie B. Schweitzer (mother of sophomore Alex Rogawski) at the UC Davis MIND Institute (2825 50th St.) – an international research center focused on neurodevelopmental disorders.
Seniors Alexa Mathisen and Adam Dean interned with pay at MB Public Affairs, Inc., under Mark Bogetich (father of freshman Emme and eighth grader Allie).
All three went to Gabriella Foster, assistant to the head of high school, who gave them contact information from a list of internships she had compiled.
Foster and head of high school Brooke Wells were inspired to create the program last winter after learning about a similar one at new head of school Lee Thomsen’s former school, Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Brooke and I were already talking about doing something (like that), so when we heard, we just said, ‘Let’s do this!’” Foster said.
Foster explained that each year when parents fill out emergency forms, they are asked if they could provide an internship for Country Day students or alumni.
So in early spring, Foster emailed the 100 people who had said “yes” and heard back from five or six.
Foster said she also received emails from companies with no connection to Country Day that were looking for interns.
Foster announced the summer internships at morning meeting in April.
“Country Day is a community within itself, but (people) outside haven’t heard of us,” Foster said.
“It’s a good way to get our name out there. There are strong students here.”
Although many students approached her, Foster said some opportunities didn’t pan out.
“I emailed a few people that Gabriella told me about, but they never replied,” senior Avi Bhullar said.
Conner was provided with a list of emails after he told Foster he was interested in something related to biology. He plans to major in neuroscience at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
“I reached out to multiple people, and I didn’t get the first one I tried for,” Conner said.
However, he said he was excited when he learned he would be at the MIND Institute.
The two-month internship centered around identifying and treating ADHD.
“I did a little bit of data entry and computer coding, and I got to see how patients were interviewed and some brain scans,” Conner said.
“The patients went in an MRI machine, and (it) scanned their brain during different activities – reading, playing video games, watching a film, all sorts of things. And it showed which parts (of the brain) lit up while they were doing different activities. It was really fun.”
Conner said those skills he learned might be useful in the future when he’s researching in a lab.
He also gained experience working with others.
“Everyone else in the lab was a graduate student, so it was kind of cool and interesting to work with them even though they had more experience than (I did),” Conner said.
“I’ll definitely be more prepared now.”
Mathisen and Dean also said they gained a lot of experience working at what was similar to a real job.
Mathisen worked from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. three days a week, Dean from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. twice a week. The internships lasted two months.
Mathisen is interested in politics, and Dean is leaning towards law. He said the internship at MB Public Affairs gave him a new perspective.
“(This) made me think about political science more,” Dean said.
“I find it way more interesting than I did before, and I feel like I have some experience.”
“Before (this internship), my primary majors in college were going to be biology and political science. Now political science is equal – if not higher – than it was before (in my mind).”
Dean and Mathisen said the internship also introduced them to what a real 9-to-5 job is like.
“It taught me to focus on work for a full day, (although) I know that I don’t want to (do that) for the rest of my life,” Dean said.
At the research firm’s small office near the Capitol, Mathisen and Dean searched keywords in Google or the Nexus database, transcribed videos, looked through meeting minutes, worked in Excel and Word and, in Mathisen’s case, even used microfilm.
Dean explained that politicians come to MB Public Affairs asking for research to be done about opponents, a bill, a proposition, or even themselves and sent to them in a report.
The reports detail the client’s weaknesses as well as their opponent’s.
“Politicians want research to be done particularly for a race they’re going into,” Dean said.
“My bosses would write out these big reports, and they’d have 20- or 30-page summaries of all the information that we found that would cite 800 pages or so of information. I would be putting together information that would go into those 800 pages.”
Mathisen said she did a lot of the “nitty-gritty stuff.”
“Usually I would do the ‘starting-point’ work,” Mathisen said.
“If we had a client that was someone running for the state senate or a school board, my job was to start the research.
“Then I would pass on what I found to one of the more experienced researchers, and they would dig deeper and add (information) to the reports they send to the client.”
Mathisen said she learned more about local and state politics, as well as what goes on behind the scenes.
“It wasn’t really the politics that I’d had experience with. I was in the Civitas program at Rio (Americano High School), and most of that is community service, working on campaigns and volunteering. This was kind of different.”
In addition to improving her skills in Excel and Word, Mathisen said she improved her typing skills.
Mathisen also learned how to use microfilm at the state archives.
“One of my jobs was to look through old newspapers for editorials on certain propositions, so I’d have to go back to the ‘80s,” Mathisen explained.
“All of the newspapers are put on this little film (microfilm) that looks kind of like camera film. You roll it up in this magnifier, and it blows it up for you on a screen (so that) you can print it out. But you have to print it page by page and keep scrolling through.
“That’s what they use to save a lot of bill files and stuff, even now. You’d think they’d be electronic at this point, but it’s kind of cool because they have every newspaper from California all the way back to the ‘50s or ‘60s.”
Dean said he learned the most from his hours of transcribing debates.
“I watched hours (upon) hours of political debates, (something) I would have never done in my free time. It exposed me to a new genre,” Dean said.
He even saw his work in a finalized report.
“After all the transcribing I did, my boss showed me one of the summaries they put together, and in the table of contents, I could see where my transcriptions were,” he said.
“It’s cool to see your work actually being put to use.”
Dean said he also learned what it was like to have others depend on him to get things done.
“It made me a harder worker and taught me to focus more. It’s not like (I could) put something off and wait a week or two,” he said.
“(I) needed to get it done by the end of the day. (I had) to keep chipping away at it.
“That’s helped me with doing stuff for school.”
When asked what advice she had for others considering an internship, Mathisen said that she’d recommend it.
“It’s a really good (experience) if you want to learn more about what kind of career you want to go into, especially before college and before you (declare) your major,” she said.
“It teaches you another level of responsibility that you don’t have right now,” he said.
“I think it’s more valuable than taking (an extra) course or a summer camp, because you actually have to do stuff.
“People are depending on you. Money is depending on you. It’s real, (and) it gives you real-world experience.”
Foster and Wells said they plan to expand the internship program this year.
“Our goal is for this to be a standout feature of Country Day,” Wells said.
“We want to provide as many students as possible with these life-changing experiences.”