Ryan Carey-Mahoney: Internships help us discover our passion

The University’s admissions brochures bragged all about internship-savvy students. But the statistics would shout at me from the brochure stand: “He doesn’t even go here.”

Located just to the right of the reception desk in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, I saw the numbers every day when I walked into the second floor of Rice Hall. Throughout my sophomore and junior years I worked as an admissions assistant. I had memorized all those crazy admissions stats by heart.

“Yes, [insert name here,] over 90 percent of GW students intern at some point in their GW career,” I would enthusiastically tell prospective students. “That’s what makes our students so GW.”

Every time, though, I left out one little detail: I never had one myself.

I was part of that small minority, which honestly felt more like 10 people than 10 percentage points.

Despite majoring in journalism, I didn’t really think of professional journalism as my number one career aspiration. I didn’t have any idea, really, what I wanted to do with my life.

Even after seeing the University rattle off internship statistics as a marketing tool, I was desperate to try to figure out what to do with my life as graduation rapidly approached. So, as a senior, I decided to start applying to any intern positions with the word “communications” in the title.

Ninety percent of students couldn’t be wrong – at least I hoped.

Within a few weeks, I was offered an editorial internship with USA TODAY College. Wow, I said to myself, I am finally a true Colonial. Who cares if this job isn’t where I want to end up?

I accepted it, like many students would, but did so only in the hopes it would show me what I don’t want to do. If nothing else, perhaps I would meet someone who would get me a job, I thought to myself.

But within just a few short days, my internship redirected my career path and pushed my passions into practice.

In the first few days at USA TODAY College, I was editing stories and updating website information. Within a week, I published my first article.

The editors give me career guidance that no adviser or professor could ever provide – they are working alongside me, not directing me from a behind a desk in office hours. My red intern desk was my classroom and my editing and publishing experience were my course work.

Maybe I was scared of a career in journalism before this. Or maybe I didn’t like conducting interviews for that stressful assignment in my advanced news reporting course. But I now understand – firsthand, beyond my tried and true admissions office spiel – that the reason I was turned off from journalism is directly attributed to an utter lack of professional experience.

Now I see internships for what they truly can be: incredible learning experiences where where we stumble upon our true passion.

Every time a prospective student would hear that 90 percent, I could see their reactions. Their faces beamed with the same possibility that got most of us here for nothing more than a big number.

Internships aren’t solely great resume builders that may set you up with a contact or two for the future. In fact, if your sole purpose in taking it is just for show, then stop now. Reconsider.

Internships matter: They can be your bridge into the professional world. And if you are lucky, they can help you set, or – in my case – rediscover your passion.

The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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