Learning by doing—and sharing.

By Keely Savoie

Libby Kao ’17, an English major with a Nexus minor in law, public policy, and human rights, was not certain she wanted to become a lawyer. But three summer internship experiences—completed in one summer—convinced her she was on the right path.

“I went in with a lot of reservations, but the experiences really solidified my interest—my passion—for pursuing law,” she said during a Learning through Application (LEAP) presentation October 23 at Mount Holyoke College.

Kao was one of more than 200 students who spoke about internships, research, and other professional experiences at the College’s LEAP Symposium. The event, which takes place each year during Family and Friends weekend, is an opportunity for students to publicly reflect and put their thoughts into practice as they embark on the next step of their professional development. See the Instagram takeover.

“It’s a powerful moment to be at Mount Holyoke in a teaching role because you see how magnificent [the students] are and just know that so many of them will go on to be women to be reckoned with,” said Eleanor Townsley, associate dean of faculty and a professor of sociology, who teaches Reflecting Back: Connecting Internship and Research to your Liberal Arts Education.

The symposium featured students who completed internships with a spectacular array of focuses. Mount Holyoke offers each student the opportunity to receive funding in support of one internship or other professional experience through its curriculum-to-career initiative, The Lynk. Students who receive Lynk funding are required to reflect and present on their experiences during their time at the College. The goal is to bring classroom learning and lessons learned outside the classroom back to the College.

“Our students have worked in embassies, archives, television studios, laboratories, law offices, farms, and hospitals,” said President Lynn Pasquerella. “Just about any workplace you can think of, Mount Holyoke students have been there.”

Pasquerella added that Lynk-funded internships are a global phenomenon, with nearly 50 countries represented among internships this year.

Kao, who is from Cupertino, California, started her summer with an internship at the US Department of Labor in Washington, DC. As part of the MHC in DC, she shadowed alumna Naomi Barry-Pérez ’96, director of the Civil Rights Center. Barry-Pérez worked with MHC’s Weissman Center for Leadership to create the opportunity specifically for Mount Holyoke students.

Kao said Barry-Pérez literally welcomed her with open arms, exclaiming, “We’re practically sisters!” While in the position, Kao undertook her own research project on gender discrimination.

“This was a really amazing opportunity to learn about the intersection between civil rights work and employment law,” Kao said.

After her Civil Rights Center internship, Kao headed to New York City, where she worked for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s district office. Then, she completed in a third unofficial internship at the Asian-American Bar Association, also in New York.

Presenting at the LEAP Symposium allowed Kao to reflect on how each of her experiences will contribute to her overall academic and professional pursuits.

“Outlining a trajectory of why this wasn’t just whimsical exploration but something very intentional was key to my learning process,” Kao said. “Putting all those connections together and packaging them into a talk forced me to think about my takeaways and reasoning, and where I want to go from here.”

Reaching back

In addition to helping students synthesize their own experiences, bringing the lessons back to the MHC community is another key component of LEAP.

“LEAP allows students who learned so much over their internships to share that,” said junior Onji Bae, a computer science and critical social thought double major.

Bae, who is from Seoul, South Korea, interned for a start-up company in California. She said the experience was so formative that she wanted to share it as widely as possible.

“I wanted to not only uplift myself [by talking about] my gains and experiences. I also wanted to use them as a way to help others in my community,” she said.

Kao, who is a Speaking, Arguing and Writing (SAW) mentor for a first-year seminar this year, invited students in that class to attend her presentation. Demystifying success was one of the main objectives of her talk.

“I wanted to convey to them that these are the steps that I took to get to this transformative moment in my life, and that I arrived at this point because I prepared for it,” she said.

Find your connection. Take the leap.