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Learning on the Job

By Jan McCoy Ebbets

Smith juniors Meenu Menon and Lilly Lamboy dipped their toes in the waters of the career pool with recent internships in Boston. They were among the 400 students who landed 2008 internships in their fields of interest, funded by Smith's Praxis program. Administered by the Career Development Office, the program gives each student a $2,000 grant to cover the expenses of a 220–hour summer internship linked to an academic component.

Anthropology major Meenu Menon (above), a Smith junior, made some eye–opening discoveries after she worked as a summer intern at the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights. Junior Lilly Lamboy (top), majoring in government, was equally impressed by her experiences as an intern working in Senator Ted Kennedy's Immigration Office. Photos by Edward Judice.

Meenu Menon, a pre–med anthropology major interested in public health and human rights, encountered two major surprises after she secured a summer internship at the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights. The first was the realization that even a small organization, with fewer than 30 people on staff including clinicians, can have a profound impact on the health and wellness of its 300 to 500 patients a year. The second, she says, was "how novel a center like BCRHHR is in its interdisciplinary, holistic approach to healing survivors of torture, treating the entire person instead of simply treating a few of the patient's ailments."

Government major Lilly Lamboy, working in Senator Ted Kennedy's Immigration Office, found that, instead of being handed routine office tasks, she was asked to write a weekly news memo for the senator and work one–on–one with constituents of Massachusetts who phoned or visited the office. She helped them get emergency visas, legalize adoptions and petition for refugee status. She wrote letters to United States embassies abroad and frequently spoke with consular officers.

Her internship will be useful, she says, when she starts work on her proposed thesis on the conception of citizenship within a globalized world. "The hands–on experience with immigration gives me a unique and personal perspective on the struggle foreigners undergo when attempting to find refuge or citizenship in this country and in others."

Internships have become an increasingly important element of education, helping students build on their academic studies, make career decisions and acquire professional job experience. The paid Praxis internships, available to all Smith sophomores and juniors, are critical in assuring that all students can pursue opportunities that expand their education but cannot or do not pay a salary. Praxis allows students to use their stipend for internships in fields where funding is not typically offered, such as the arts, start–up businesses and some media as well as for collaborative activities with faculty.

Before her internship, Lamboy, who envisions a career in the political arena, had the impression that the federal government operated at a level far removed from its citizens. "But this internship has taught me otherwise. This experience has made me increasingly fond of both the Democratic party and the U.S. government."

And what about Meenu Monon?

As a first–year student at Smith, she read Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, about the work of Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti. She heard Farmer speak at John M. Greene Hall. "Seeing him on campus was amazing," Menon recalls, "because I had recently become interested in anthropology and had always wanted to become a physician, but I didn't really know if or how I could combine the two fields. Reading MBM and seeing Dr. Farmer definitely cleared up any lingering doubts about whether I could pursue practicing the type of medicine that I envisioned. In terms of what he said to us, it was exciting for me as a first–year interested in medicine to have the chance to see the 'go–to' global health expert."

And now the internship at BCRHHR has made Menon "even more hungry to become a physician who holds health as a human right, as paramount, and who desires to practice medicine in a culturally literate way."

      View a gallery of other students and their 2008 Praxis internships >

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