University gives students a boost with summer plans

By Joon Park

Andrew studied in France. Emily taught in India. Danielle worked at City Hall. Chris experimented with neuroscience. These students took advantage of the University’s summer internships and grants to broaden their summer experience.

The summer opportunities made available to U of C undergraduates vary in subject and amount of stipend. Many are also flexible about students’ interests and can take them virtually anywhere in the world.

Andrew Vagen, a fourth-year philosophy and math concentrator, used his Foreign Language Acquisition Grant (FLAG grant) to study French language at the Institut de Touraini, just west of Paris in the Loire Valley. Lewis Fortner, senior study abroad advisor, and Nadine DiVito, a professor in the department of romance language and literature, helped him pick the French school, where he lived with other international students. The vast majority of FLAG grant recipients decided to go elsewhere in Europe, as well as China and Russia.

Vagen had taken just one year of French before heading to France for the summer to study at the intermediate level. “One of the nice things is that you don’t have to prove it’s for your BA or dissertation. Look, I’m just interested in French,” Vagen said.

Emily Rook-Koepsel, a fourth-year history and South Asian studies concentrator, was awarded a University-funded International Internship to teach social studies, history, and English to fourth through eighth graders in a school in Varanasy, a city in the northeast quadrant of India.

Rook-Koepsel found out about this opportunity from friends who attended a CAPS meeting last autumn. “They knew I was interested in India, and it was really easy to then look up on the CAPS Web page,” Rook-Koepsel said.

Outside of teaching, Rooke-Koepsel was able to do research for her BA paper, as well as spend time exploring the culture and city. “My Hindi got better, and they learned a lot from me about my culture, and it’s always good to be exposed to different cultures,” Rooke-Koepsel said.

However, the funds and awards given out by the University do not limit students to just international experiences. Many participate in programs in the United States and here in Chicago.

Danielle Correll, a third-year history and economics concentrator who is interested in social policy, received a Metcalf Internship to work for 10 weeks in the Department of Infrastructure at City Hall. She worked closely with Chief of Human Infrastructure B.J. Walker, an advisor to Mayor Daley.

Her responsibilities included authoring research memos on a variety of topics for the mayor to read. “I had to figure out why the mayor might be interested in a topic, how the topic applies to this department, and how we could share resources and implement strategies,” Correll said.

For example, Correll had to follow up on an alleged contribution to the Department of Human Resources that was reported in a Chicago Sun-Times caption.

Throughout the summer, Correll conducted research projects on such topics as homelessness, literacy, and early childcare. “I had to try to find programs in other cities that are tackling these issues and are successful,” Correll said. “Then I composed 10-12 page documents, just on suggestions.”

Correll also set up focus groups for parents and teenagers concerning Kidstart, an umbrella for all the city youth programs. She was able to sit on boards that decided on issues such as programs, Web site content, and ways of marketing. “I’m a youth, and they wanted my suggestions as well, so I was able to participate,” Correll said.

On Chicago’s campus, Chris Olivola, a third-year concentrator in psychology, was one of eight students who participated in the Howard Hughes Computational Neuroscience Program. The program consisted of morning classes on mathematical methods for neuroscience and weekly lecture seminars by U of C faculty. The bulk of the program involved individual research projects.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Vera Maljovic, Olivola was able to study the brain using mathematical methods and by modeling behavior. He would like to continue studying human decision-making by using psychology to aid and improve microeconomic theory.

Dr. Philip Ulinski, who studies artificial intelligence and language, organized this new program and matched up students with advisors. “We earned our stipends by doing research, but one of the best things was that my professor let me go beyond collecting data and running experiments. She invested a lot in me,” Olivola said.

“I would encourage all first-years, and all students, to apply for these opportunities,” said Audra Nelson, associate director for internship programs at CAPS. “It’s an amazing way to enrich the college experience. It’s meeting mentors to advise, exploring careers and fields, and it’s more than résumé-building.”

While not everyone who applies gets an internship, all students who apply are rewarded with either feedback — at each step at the application and interview rounds — or the internship opportunity. “We hope the whole process is developmental,” Nelson said.

“I’ll definitely look at what CAPS has to offer. I’ll be excited to see what new things they have,” Correll said.