GW Students Find Footing on a Career Path Through Summer Internships

Before turning their tassels on the National Mall, more than two-thirds of GW undergraduates and thousands of graduate students test their academic mettle in the workplace.

Graduate Student Faezeh Behzadnejad was able to pursue her passion for international development through tourism as an intern at the World Bank Group.
July 21, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

The modern university experience calls to mind late nights spent over brightly lit laptop screens, afternoon classes in large lecture halls and painstaking research in modern campus laboratories.

But with increasing competition in the job market, students are gaining crucial “on-the-job” learning through internships—whether assisting curators in art galleries, filing stories in top newsrooms or witnessing the inner workings of the White House

GW received top honors in March on the Princeton Review’s list of “Best Schools for Internships.” According to Assistant Provost for Career Services Rachel Brown, invaluable internship experiences can act as a pipeline to a future career.

“At the Center for Career Services, we like to say, ‘Behind every success story, there is a plan,’” Ms. Brown said. “We’ve seen time and time again that students gain opportunity through internships—opportunity to connect with employers, explore their options and put learning into practice.”

Check out a few of the internships GW students have landed this summer.

Combatting Genetic Diseases
Last summer Brooklyn native and GW junior Mary Kate Dwyer interned at IRX Therapeutics where she saw the day-to-day research and development operations for the pharmaceutical lab’s cancer drugs.

It was a STEM lover’s dream, but Ms. Dwyer ditched the lab coat this summer for a different view of research as an intern for the Genetic Alliance, a D.C.-based advocacy organization for people suffering from genetic diseases. 

“I had never worked in an area that connected people to science,” she said. “I feel like working in a lab, it can be easy to forget the big picture about why you're doing research.”

While the Genetic Alliance focuses on advocacy for a variety of diseases, Ms. Dwyer concentrated her research on heart-related diseases and defects. She develops surveys and contributes to a website similar to WebMD that defines symptoms, effects and treatments for diseases.

Junior Mary Kate Dwyer loved researching in the lab, but found a new perspective on her work through an internship at the Genetic Alliance.

Ms. Dwyer is one of a few engineering students in the internship class, which includes students from universities across the country with diverse majors such as anthropology, exercise science and biochemistry. The interns participate in a weekly “journal club” to discuss current scientific articles and watch a documentary on a genetic disease each week.

“People’s future plans include law school, medical school and genetic counseling,” Ms. Dwyer said. “Even though we are all so different we are able to work really well together because we have different knowledge backgrounds.”

“I realized that most scientific advances can't come from just one discipline or one person's idea—actual success comes out of a group effort,” she added.

The positive experience has led Ms. Dwyer to consider a public health minor, but she sometimes misses spending her days in a lab.

“Lab research will always be important to me, but this internship has made research real,” Ms. Dwyer said. “I realized you don’t just do research for the sake of science, but for the betterment of other people, and I think that should be at the forefront.”

Finding a Place in Policy
Faezeh Behzadnejad grew up in the bustling city of Tehran but often traveled with her parents to rural areas of Iran.

“They were not typical destinations,” she laughed.

While traveling, they would stay in the homes of farmers and other locals, Ms. Behzadnejad said. The experiences made her curious about how people lived.  

“My parents had a factory, and we would travel to mines in rural areas so they could test minerals,” Ms. Behzadnejad said. “I saw how people lived without access to basic necessities, and we would discuss economic issues.”

“The concept of international development was very bold and bright in my childhood.”

After completing an undergraduate degree in civil engineering at Sharif University of Technology, she moved to the United States in 2009 for a doctoral program in civil engineering at Rutgers University. She is slated to receive her diploma in December.

Graduate student Faezeh Behzadnejad said that GW's connections to global organizatons like the World Bank, enabled her to find a meaningful internship experience.

Ms. Behzadnejad said she was feeling uninspired when she registered for a GW summer course on international development through tourism. The course, presented through a collaboration with the United Nations, was a revelation for her career path.

She enrolled in GWSB’s graduate program for Tourism Administration in 2014.

“I spent two weeks in D.C. for the course and had the opportunity to talk with professors, students and colleagues at the World Bank,” Ms. Behzadnejad said. “I found myself so engaged and knew that the program would offer the skills I need to pursue tourism policy.”

 Now she is using her passion for tourism and international development as a tourism policy and development intern at the World Bank Group.

“I saw this as an opportunity to use tourism to positively affect international development. And it is only possible because GW has so many fabulous networking opportunities and connections to organizations like the World Bank,” Ms. Behzadnejad said.

As an intern for the World Bank Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice team, Ms. Behzadnejad is working on disaster response management in developing countries. Her research focuses on the effects of the 2014 Ebola outbreak on tourism in West Africa. It will be used to develop a list of guidelines for policymakers.

“I have been dreaming about meaningful work in international development, and my internship shows me that it is possible,” she said.

Promoting Conservation
Growing up in rural Milford, Mass., outside of Boston, Justin Jacques was a big fisherman and outdoorsman. He also had a burgeoning talent for writing that was first recognized by his fifth grade English teacher.

Those beginnings sowed a seed for Mr. Jacques’ academic path, and now 10 years later, the School of Media and Public Affairs senior is showcasing his passion for storytelling as an intern for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Mr. Jacques has written nearly 100 stories as an intern for Refuge Update, the National Wildlife Refuge System’s bimonthly publication.  The experience has also been a crash course in multimedia and graphic design—skills he believes will give him a leg up in the job market, he said.

“I'm getting more confident and seeing much less red ink on drafts,” Mr. Jacques said. “Two out of four of my editors previously worked for the Washington Post as reporters, so their expertise is invaluable.”

Senior Justin Jacques, a self-proclaimed outdoorsman, is using his journalism background to write stories for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

His duties have included researching the early summer floods that devastated several Texas refuges and discovering the stories of activists who are working to preserve the Red Cockaded woodpecker of South Carolina.

“I've gotten much better at writing because of my journalism classes the last three years but haven't really taken any time to work toward animal rights,” Mr. Jacques said. “People working in the refuge system dedicate their lives to causes, and it’s inspiring. It’s a great opportunity for storytelling.”

Mr. Jacques also has had the opportunity to work with rangers at local refuges and learn about the legislative side of preservation systems.

“I want to pursue writing in my career,” Mr. Jacques said. “But after this experience, I could definitely see myself lobbying on the Hill.”

Providing Access to Health Care
Student-athlete and senior Meghan Rico entered GW fascinated by the human body and determined to pursue medicine, but she had no idea the winding path her interests would take her on.

Last summer Ms. Rico interned at Mass Sport and Spine Physical Therapy to earn hours toward the 300 clinical hours that the Milken Institute School of Public Health requires students to complete before graduation.

She wanted see if her interest in becoming a physical therapist was worth pursuing by seeing the job firsthand but found that the most valuable part of the experience was learning that she didn’t want to be a physical therapist.

“I started college focusing on exercise science and pre-med, and then I switched to physical therapy, but when I interned at Mass Sport and Spine, I learned I didn’t want to be a physical therapist,” Ms. Rico said. “Once I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon and physician assistant, I decided that was what I would like to do.”

Student-athlete Meghan Rico is pictured at the GW's Sports Medicine clinic. She is exploring a career as a physician assistant at the Fit to Win Wellness Clinic. 

With 150 clinical hours completed, Ms. Rico took an internship at the DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic’s Fit to Win Wellness Clinic this summer. The clinic is located in the Pentagon and provides free services to active duty and federal civilian personnel assigned to the Pentagon.

She is the only undergraduate intern in the exclusive program.

“The goal of Fit to Win is to enhance wellness through fitness and nutrition,” Ms. Rico said. “The staff creates a complete wellness profile for each patient and assesses how they can improve their fitness.”

Ms. Rico said she enjoys her work because every day is different. She has worked with every staff member, including a dietician, exercise physiologist, gait analyst, nurse educator, corrective exercise specialist and a strength coach. She also has shadowed a physician assistant, a family practitioner, a medic and a cardiologist.

“This is an amazing opportunity to apply the knowledge I learned from my year-long exercise physiology course,” Ms. Rico said. “I’m looking forward to delving more into my internship and seeing the how the clinic works.”