Summer interns get ground-level look at potential careers

UCLA students opt for different kind of education

Courtesy Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez

UCLA communications major Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez is interning this summer at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Whenever she can, she enjoys sitting in on meetings of the United Nations Security Council. Wearing black, she's pictured seated in the first row with a translator headphones.

Last June, UCLA undergrad Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez didn’t know where she would be or what she would be doing this summer. All the third-year communications major knew for sure was that she wanted to embark on an exciting exploratory journey “that may open more doors for me and for my future career goals in diplomacy.”

To make that happen, the enterprising student landed a 10-week internship at the United Nations in New York City by acing a phone interview and then successfully raising the $3,500 she needed to pay for summer housing and a meal plan at NYU through the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

Courtesy Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez
Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez with UN Ambassador Samantha Power

When she arrived at the Protocol Office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Cartagena-Gonzalez had no grand illusions about what her tasks might be. They would be menial, she presumed. “I came, thinking that I was going to be stuck in a cubicle doing typical intern work — filing, answering emails, running for coffee and shredding tons of classified documents.”

Instead, Cartagena-Gonzales spent the month of July helping to plan public events for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, ranging from an intimate dinner for Muslim ambassadors at Powers’ residence to a gargantuan Independence Day reception for more than 200 guests at the Central Park Zoo.

Catagena-Gonzales is one of many UCLA students who have opted to forego a summer of classes or a temporary job for a different kind of education. By accepting unpaid internships, they can broaden their horizons and get a more focused, ground-level look at a possible career or field of study.

For example, seven students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are interning at nongovernmental organizations, a hospital and community groups in China, India, Zambia, Myanmar and the Philippines, among other locations around the globe. They are participants in the International Practice Pathway (IPP) Program through the school’s Global Public Affairs Initiative.

Through IPP, Luskin students can study international affairs and then apply their studies firsthand in underserved communities around the world.

We wanted to give a structured program to students who want to be exposed to the career side of international work,” said Stephen Commins, urban planning professor and cofounder of the IPP program. “It’s important for students to have career talk and not discuss academic subjects only, and this program exposes students to what career paths are available for international work.”

Courtesy Jonathan Slakey
Public policy graduate student Jonathan Slakey helps distribute donated school supplies to a class in India. He is interning for the Association of Relief Volunteers.

In Andhara Pradesh, India, public policy graduate student Jonathon Slakey helped deliver school supplies to students for the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV), a grassroots nongovernmental organization that has operated education and food distribution centers and constructed houses for the homeless for years.  But many of these programs are now shutting down because of a lack of funding. So Slakey went to India to help. “I’m with ARV to look for ways of restoring its operations,” he said in his blog.

Throughout August, he has worked to pull together data on all of ARV’s operations and on those who benefit from its services in order to formulate a best case for public funding. “We want to overhaul the NGO’s website, but also ensure that information is available in English for the purposes of fellowship or grant funding applications,” Slakey said.

Marianne Chen, a graduate student in social work at the Luskin school, is interning in at the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center this summer where she’s learning about how social work and health care are delivered in China. Working with the social workers at the hospital, she plans to conduct a needs assessment in order to come up with ideas to help the hospital improve service delivery.

For Cartagena-Gonzales, the UN internship “has exceeded my expectations and has definitely confirmed why pursuing a career in diplomacy is the right career path for me,” she said.

When she has free time at the mission, Cartagena-Gonzales sometimes walks across the street to the UN to attend Security Council meetings where she’s been an eyewitness to history in the making. “I have had the privilege to sit in on the emergency Security Council meeting that took place right after the MH17 Malaysia plane was brought down by Russian separatists,” she said. She’s also attended Security Council meetings on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But above all, she’s had the opportunity to network with many foreign service officers who are stationed at the mission. “I’m definitely glad I accepted this internship opportunity despite the financial burden of living in such an expensive city. Interning at USUN has been such an incredible experience that has exposed me to the international community.”

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  • A meeting of the United Nations Security Council

    Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council

    Courtesy Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez

  • Jonathan Slakey at a school in India

    Jonathan Slakey helped give school supplies to Indian students in grades 1–10.

    Jonathan Slakey

  • Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez with UN Ambassador Samantha PowerPowers

    Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez with UN Ambassador Samantha Power

    Wendy Cartagena-Gonzalez