Summer jobs gave these students an opportunity to change the world

From working with a US Ambassador to working in a medical research lab, these United Way Marian L. Heard Scholars are doing a lot more than a summer job.

While many teens and college students still spend their summers serving pizza or working at the neighborhood community center – and gaining important skills in the process – today, the stakes are higher for youth to spend their summer in ways that will prepare them for college or career paths.

These three young women in United Way’s Marian L. Heard Scholars program are doing just that – already taking advantage of unique internships and summer opportunities that will not only change their careers, but change the world, as college sophomores.

Rocio Nunez Pepen

Brown University, Class of 2020

Rocio Nunez Pepen has a summer job that few people would understand, never mind actually be able to do: Gastrointestinal Epithelial Research at Mass General Hospital. There, Rocio helps conduct experiments such as dissecting mice for tissue harvesting and extracting DNA and RNA from cells or human samples that the doctors collect.

That’s right. Rocio is a legitimate scientist while only a sophomore in college. For a young person who wants to be a doctor, learning every day in a lab that works to find therapies for IBD, Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, has been an incredible opportunity. And the experience – beyond just the science – has been invaluable.

“In the lab, we learn more from a failed experiment than a successful one because from that failed experiment we begin to adjust our protocols and the way we think. I’ve learned to accept negative results just as much as positive results and I think that is a life experience I took into college as well.”

Although Rocio developed a real appreciation for lab work and research, it has also taught her that the lab lifestyle is not what she wants for her own career – she wants to go into pediatric medicine.

“I realized that I am a people person,” she says. But she also realized the importance of trying new things and making connections in your field. “Even though I do not want to do research, I’ve learned so much and met professors and doctors that are changing their fields, which made me excited about other possibilities.”

Rocio has since changed her major to reflect that. “The reason I know that I want to do medicine is because of all the different people I have met and the experiences I have had throughout my summer internship.”

Rosa Reynosa

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Class of 2020

Rosa, a soon to be sophomore at WPI, couldn’t give us too many specific details about her internship, because she works on top secret military engines as an Industrial Engineering Intern at United Technologies – Pratt & Whitney.

Rosa Reynosa (left)

In this role as a super cool engineering genius (our technical term), she’s learned all about the aircraft industry, the manufacturing process, technical designs and data analysis.

The hands-on experience has given her a better understanding of what her major is really like as a career and an opportunity to build new skills. “You pick up so many things that can’t be taught in the classroom. You learn that although technical knowledge is important, soft skills are equally essential. Working with others allows you to collaborate and expand upon ideas.”

Like Rocio, she has also narrowed down her major to something more specific based on her internship experience. And also like Rocio, we have no doubt that Rosa’s work will someday change the world – even if she can’t tell us too much about it.

Jessica Hernandez

Swarthmore College, Class of 2020

Four years ago, Jessica worked at the Dorchester Boys & Girls Club in her first summer job, helping campers with the daily projects, reading to them, and assisting the Education directors. This summer, her days look a lot different – and not only for the lack of children.

As an intern with Swanee Hunt Alternatives, a foundation based in Cambridge and led by former Ambassador Swanee Hunt, Jessica helps the communications team with social media and is responsible for the distribution of Hunt’s book about the Rwandan Genocide, Rwandan Women Rising.

“Working closely with a former US Ambassador has allowed me to get more insight into what it takes to work in government. I am becoming very interested in food politics and food security, areas which may lead me to work in government, so receiving advice from Swanee Hunt is a blessing!”

The summer has also allowed her to practice skills that will pay off whether she does go into government or not – like writing and communications, collaborating with colleagues and building relationships, and looking at new ways of thinking. And, she says, every day is different and motivating.

“On my ten-minute walk to Harvard Square station at the end of the day, I always find myself reflecting on the successes I’ve witnessed only hours earlier. And by the time I get to the station I have told myself, ‘That will be you someday.’”

And she hopes, then, to be able to pay it forward and provide a similar experience to a young intern just starting out.

For all three of these young women, having a summer job opportunity like this was about a lot more than learning responsibility and showing up on time.  They’re building confidence, learning who they are, and who they want to be. And that’s a lesson that will last a lot longer than a summer.

To learn more about the Marian L. Heard Scholars program, click here.