By Sasha Nyary
LEAP 2016, in a nutshell? Mentors. Curiosity. Connections. Aha moments. Quizzing and dashing. Phenomenal leadership.
One of the first sessions of the day was called “Data in Changing Environments,” and Ellen Hanlon ’17, an economics major, spoke about lessons learned during her summer internship with a financial services company.
During her 10-week internship, her hiring manager was on vacation for two weeks, employees were let go, and the tone of the workplace changed. She was the only intern in her department. Plus, she sat directly in front of the CEO, who could see her every move and computer search.
“You’re more qualified to deal with the unexpected than you think you are,” was the advice she had received before she started.
She sought out a woman mentor at the company, who introduced her around. Thanks to her mentor, Hanlon had coffee dates—informational interviews—almost every day for three weeks. In addition to creating the monthly reports she was hired for, she found additional ways to contribute by working with the IT department to automate additional reports, and undertook business analysis and market research.
“I stayed curious,” she said. “I made connections. I did research. I learned that in corporate culture your behavior matters.”
Hanlon was one of 230 students participating in the 2016 LEAP Symposium—the name stands for Learning from Application Symposium—Mount Holyoke College's annual showcase of student summer internships and research. The event, a highlight of Family and Friends Weekend, is organized by and for Mount Holyoke students and was held this year on October 21.
Four students on each of 54 panels made short presentations about their summer research and internships, many of them funded through the College’s Lynk experience, which connects academic work with practical experience. Watch the video to see students speak about their internships (story continues below).
The internships this year took place in more than 40 countries and in an enormous variety of fields. Over the course of the afternoon, classrooms and lecture halls were filled with students presenting their work in sessions with themes as varied as the brain, human services, art, applied science, children, conservation, Spanish, and the fruit fly.
“LEAP is for the whole Mount Holyoke community,” said Acting President Sonya Stephens when she invited the College to attend. “Not only do we come together to celebrate the work and contributions of the student presenters, LEAP is designed to give students who aspire to undertake internships and summer research the opportunity to learn from their peers.”
Rachel Del Frate ’17, who transferred from a large university two years ago, couldn’t agree more. The architectural studies major worked over the summer for an interior designer in Boston.
“Every first year and sophomore I talk to, I’m like, ‘you need to come to LEAP! It’s so great,’ ” she said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity because this is not something I would have been able to do otherwise. There are so many great resources at Mount Holyoke.”
Each session lasted just under an hour, giving the packed audiences of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, family, and friends a chance to quiz the panelists on their experiences before dashing to the next panel.
In a session titled “What Textbooks Can’t Teach You: Drawing Conclusions about the Natural Sciences,” students were asked about their aha moments during their internships.
Meghadeepa Maity ’18, a physics major, had hers while growing solar cells as part of her work as a research assistant in the photovoltaic lab of Alexi Arango, a professor in the department. Solar panels made from organic materials are preferable to those made of silicon because they can be lighter and more flexible, Maity said. She had expected a .8 volt from her cells. When she measured a voltage of 1.3, she was sure she had made a mistake. Instead, Arango was thrilled.
“Oh, we did something good!” she remembered thinking in relief. “I felt like I was making a difference by being part of that work.”
Another essential aspect of LEAP is the opportunity for reflection. Jennifer Lamy ’18 and Sophie Manum ’18 were part of a panel, “2D to 3D,” where students described seeing their projects develop from a two-dimensional concept to a three-dimensional physical manifestation.
Lamy, who is an architectural studies major, worked for a small architecture firm in Florida. She loved the experience because she got to do a little bit of everything and, by doing so, gained a deeper understanding of the overall process of architecture. She appreciated the time LEAP gave her to look back at her summer.
“You don’t necessarily have time to reflect during your day,” she said shortly before their session began. “Every time we rehearse and work on what we’re going to talk about in our presentations, I am able to see and think about what I’ve done.”
Manum, a computer science major who worked on a strength and conditioning app for a Seattle startup called Volt Athletics was impressed with the funding that the College provides for student internships.
“A lot of people wouldn’t be able to have had these opportunities without it,” Manum said. “In our group, at least, we all worked for smaller firms or startups, which usually can’t afford to pay an intern. So it gave us all an opportunity to experience a smaller work environment and tight-knit community within the company.”
The Mount Holyoke community in attendance at LEAP extended beyond the campus. Just before the sessions began, the mother and older sister of Gabrielle Muir ’19 were searching the program to figure out which seminars to attend.
“We weren’t able to come last year,” said Gabrielle’s mother, Denise Muir, who had traveled from Gaithersburg, Maryland. “This year Gabby said, ‘Don’t miss it! Check out the brochure.’ It’s so amazing what these students can do.”
Jon Western, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, kicked off the day’s events, saying, “This is what we do at Mount Holyoke,” and noting “the incredible variety of intellectual activity this afternoon on campus.”
Western also thanked the two faculty who oversee LEAP, Eleanor Townsley, a professor of sociology and the director of Nexus who teaches the reflection course required for all LEAP presenters, and Amber Douglas, a professor of psychology and of gender studies, noting that “the leadership they’ve demonstrated on campus to support our students is phenomenal.”
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