United States

The Minority Millennial: Culture Shock, Loss, and Overcoming Obstacles

Soggy puppy

Also, look at this adorable picture of a puppy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I haven’t written a post in forever, I thought it would be fun to open with a story:

Most of my friends and I come from a variety of different backgrounds, I’m sure we could fill the entire diversity spiel just by sitting in a group together. I have issues with the academic perception of diversity, but I’ll get to that another time. Regardless, nearly of all us have some difference via gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, race, or ethnicity. And one of the things that I’ve noticed from discussing issues of minority background with my friends is how dramatic it was to come to my college when we first arrived.

While I absolutely love my college now, it was painful both academically, socially, and emotionally to adjust to it even though I came from a school with similar demographics. Unfortunately, my college is not an activist campus. I wish it was, but it isn’t. I think if it had been, there would have been a greater sense of awareness and preparation not just for students of color, but in forming transitions to adjust to college life.

I’m saying this mainly to reach out to the student who struggles at college either due to their presumed minority status, but even those who come from an incredibly different background than the college they attend. The college experience is always shifting and changing. Sometimes it’ll be the “best thing ever”, but other times, it will HURT. A lot of it can depend on the cultural differences, but I promise, it will get gritty and dirty at some points. And that’s OK. I’m not saying you’ll overcome all of your issues instantly, but it’s OK to feel discomfort and shock. While it sucks sometimes – I know it did for me at a lot of points – you’ll leave with a greater sense of maturity, and a set of skills that will serve you well long after you leave college.

While I hate telling students that they’ll have to change for the world, I want you all to know: be open to change. You’d be surprised how many similarities will arise even in the things that you’d find different.

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The Minority Millennial: Intern Extraordinaire, Part II

The conclusion to the Intern Extraordinaire series has finally arrived. Here are some more tips for navigating the internship waters. The first post is located here.

Internships.com

My favorite website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Try virtual internships!

For some reason, this always gets lost within the internship debate. Not that all virtual internships are unpaid – or even should be – but it’s a great and easy way to get around the unpaid hurdle. If you’re in the interests of saving costs, and want to work on building an online presence, I think the virtual route is the way to go. Unfortunately, it is true that unlike physical interns you may not get the same training and day-to-day company experience, but if the company is involved with their interns you’ll have active participation in the company through Skype, Google, or other virtual mediums. I’ll admit, it involves some major time management skills and the willpower to complete your work at home, but if you’re willing to try it I would definitely recommend participating in a virtual internship. I would recommend being absolutely sure of the company’s online presence though. If you’re doing a virtual internship, you want to make sure that you’re with a company that you feel is moving forward within the internet sphere.

Unfortunately the deadline has already passed for this year, but if you’re interested the U.S. government has a virtual internship program as well. 

Look for “In-House” positions

One of my best friends is an English major, and managed to find an internship with our college’s communications department. Our career services department also offers an internship to help out with some of the career development programs. I know not all colleges have them, but it never hurts to look around and see what kind of opportunities your college has. You might even be able to talk a professor into taking you on as a research assistant, which can still lead to a lot of benefits, especially if you want to work in academia!

Don’t forget about campus ambassador/brand ambassador programs

Many people consider campus ambassadors to be a great way to gain experience with a company without actually being an intern. I personally don’t have much experience with them, but I know that companies such as Apple, Coca Cola, and Adobe (one example is listed here) have ambassador programs. It’s a great position for budding entrepreneurs and social media lovers who want to have both a larger online presence, and gain some essential sales experience.

The Financially Impossible Situation

Lastly, we come to those who realize that ultimately, working for free is not a task they can undertake. And even though thousands of articles have been written about how that may be the end of the world for you, I’m here to say that it’s OK if you can’t take on an unpaid situation. Stick to your FT, PT, or Work Study job, look into potential on campus jobs that relate to your career path, and emphasize your skills in the career that you’re shooting for. While working at the college gym may not relate to your career in journalism, emphasize that you’re diligent, hard working, and willing to still to a schedule and can manage large groups of people. Show that you’re a dedicated person despite not having internships. You may not start out at the corporation of your dreams, but many students haven’t been able to do that at the moment as it is. Stick to what works best for you.

And if you’re a paid intern, take advantage of you opportunity to network as much as possible. Enjoy the experience, but make the most of it.

Hope that this article helped you get on the right track for navigating the intern world. Please feel free to respond with any more points or questions about the unpaid and paid intern life.

The Minority Millennial: Intern Extraordinaire, Part I

internship

The Life and Times of Many Interns (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Note: This is a post for everyone that has done an internship, or for those who are hoping to do one soon. 

Here’s the facts about internships:

  • Interns come in the paid and unpaid varieties. You can naturally assume which one is coveted, but even the paid ones are struggling to cover the cost of living (as not all of them pay a decent wage).
  • There’s been some debate on the legality of unpaid interns, and whether their exploitative or helpful. Due some of the legal claims, this may change the nature of unpaid internships within the next 5-10 years.
  • For most majors, internships are the new reality. The recommendation is to do 2-3 before graduating, but it depends on a lot of factors.
English: CBO interns

English: CBO interns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So for students, finding an internship is a must. But for many, working for free is financially impossible. I completely understand, as I’m only able to do it because I’m working roughly 4 jobs every semester. For those worried about the intern squeeze, here are my top tips for you:

Set goals, set money, and make a choice

If you don’t have the money for an unpaid internship, don’t kid yourself. Look for available resources such as if your school offers stipends. There’s also INROADS for minority students looking for potential work. Many schools require internships – and you have to pay for it. Make sure you know the basics as early as possible, and then create a budget

Paid Intern? Maximize your time

You’ll hear a lot of discussion about it, but there’s little benefit to being a paid X intern at prestigious company if you’re just shuffling papers all day. Don’t be afraid to speak out to your coordinator, and ask if you can attend a marketing team meeting, take a day to observe the trading floor, or shadow the programming staff for a day. It’s great that you’re being compensated for your time, but remember that most paid internships are similar to entry level positions: they’re testing you to see if you’re a good fit for the company. Take the initiative.

Unpaid? Budget, negotiate, maximize, and power through

Under any conditions, please do NOT take an unpaid internship and stay with it if you think your time isn’t being maximize. There’s a lot of talk about not burning bridges, and many will tell you to stick with the internship for recommendations, but for those who can’t afford to provide free labor for little benefit, it’s not worth it. A mediocre recommendation from a supervisor that barely involved you within the company is of little benefit.

That said, don’t scoff at the internship immediately because it’s unpaid. I’ve had to work during all of my unpaid internships, but I can definitely attest that most of them gave me valuable skills that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else (like interviewing the head of the American Firefighters Association at a rally in Philadelphia).  But I do think that many of them can be questionable. Ultimately it’s a judgement call, and one that we have to make with little preparation.

Word of Caution: While the debate concerning unpaid interns is ongoing, I severely caution potential interns to throughly research companies, their reviews, and the corporate culture before taking on an internship. It is not worthwhile to be exploited, and protect yourself from taking on an exhausting and fruitless task by defining your goals and keeping in close contact with the media and your career center. And even then, the judgment calls will have to be on you.

Next week, I’ll post part II of the Intern Extraordinaire, giving you some more tips on finding, choosing, and surviving your internship!

The Minority Millennial’s Guide to Networking

Networking is hard, especially for the millennial generation. Unless you’re in a STEM field, you have to stretch through a lot of loops to get employers to notice you (and thousands of articles/friends/family telling you that you picked a useless major), and even those in STEM fields deal with other troubles, such as the rapid evolution of technology and outsourcing. But this is for a sub-sect of the Gen Yers, the minority millennials.

While it’s often ignored, many minorities of different racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and social groups are given less pay and less recognition. (Article of interest: http://www.thedailymuse.com/career/the-other-pay-gap-why-minorities-are-still-behind/). And while some may not find that specifically interesting, it paints a grim picture within the American economy. But still, as a Gen Y minority, we’re known for being persistent. So if you’re looking into building connections, here are a few tips.

To start off, I want you to face 3 points of reality:

  • You’re going to have to work 3 times as hard, for 1/2 the credit, and probably 1/3 the pay.
  • You may be a target of scapegoating, uncomfortable office chatter, and many other types of backlash against your very presence.
  • You may feel lonely as the only one in your speciality, or even may feel as though you have to compete against other minorities to fill a “quota.”

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about networking. Here’s a few posts by the great website the Intern Queen to get you started on the basics of networking: http://internqueen.com/blog/tag/networking, and now we can discuss how it relates to the minority experience.

1. Brave the shock, stand out, and push forward.

I’m an African American female Economics major who is also trying to learn chinese and coding in her free time. None of these things are noteworthy on their own – at least in my opinion – but attach these things to my face a *bam*, there you are. Most people as me why, or give me a look of disbelief. If I’m really lucky, I may get a few comments about how ‘intellectual’ I must be.

YouthDialogue1

YouthDialogue1 (Photo credit: International Monetary Fund)

Regardless, after they get over their shock,  most are very curious. No matter what, be sure to smile, nod, and comfortably answer their question. It may get tiring after a while, but use it as a chance to update and evolve your elevator pitch for different situations. “Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve been used to managing my family’s tax returns for a while, and my love of economics and finance began in college when I participated in an accounting program…” 

If you’ve caught their interested, take it and run with it. Networking is about creating a memorable connection in a short amount of time, so don’t hesitate to be proactive about what a person finds unique about you.

2. It’s OK to bring up your minority related affiliations

Are you a member of the American Association of Black Accountants? The LGBTQ association? President of your International Student Association? I say leave it on the resume. It’s a tough call, and could make or break a potential application, but if you have job relevant skills as either a treasurer or PR person, I don’t see a reason to leave it off.

Think of it like this: if a company cares that much about your affiliation, would you really be comfortable working there? I have no desire to be praised or scorned for my involvement in multicultural organizations, it just reflects a part of my personality that I’m truly interested in: social justice awareness. If you’re passionate about that as well, it could be a great talking point in your interview as well. I’ve had plenty of recruiters who tend to look at my resume and like to use that as a talking point.

3. Cut bridges if you begin to feel uncomfortable

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sad to say that I’ve had a variety of things said to me by faculty, students, and coworkers regarding my race, gender, and profession. Some were mild, some we’re more colorful in nature. As much as I hate leaving any networking opportunity, it is fine to cut bridges when you feel as though a line has been crossed. It’s not your job to stay in a negative or uncomfortable environment, and I most certainly would not advise it. Take considerable time to consider your final decision, and be polite if a networker or recruiter just isn’t a good fit.

Ultimately, networking is about finding your brand. You want to be able to have a steady image that you can put forth to the public. I’m not saying that you need to make everything about your minority status, but be realistic and understand that it will come up, whether you like it or not. Accept the facts, be brave, and know your boundaries. You’ll succeed no matter what.

The Intern Anomaly

The Intern Anomaly

For all of you struggling college students out there, this link gives an interesting insight into internship opportunities related to the federal government. Personally, I believe that the logic could be similarly tied to non-profit and for-profit institutions as well. I’m currently participating in a non-federal virtual summer internship at the moment, and I’ve had to critically reflect on my time as an intern, and assess the level of experience I’ve gained working as a virtual and non-virtual intern (I’m also interning at my local public library this summer). In my opinion, the quality of an internship is absolutely tied to three factors:

1) the effort an intern is willing to make in a company/institution

2) the desire of the company to educate its interns

3) the ability between both parties to evaluate and revise their current procedures if any conflicts come up

Without all three of these options, I don’t believe that an internship can successfully take place. I was lucky that with one of my internships this summer, I felt that I could carefully discuss matters with my supervisor if any issues or conflicts arose. Plus, the general experience of helping people led me to realize what I wanted to pursue in a career, and influenced my decision to apply to graduate school for library and information science.

At the same time, I believe that completing a variety of internships is the best way of figuring out exactly what you want to do. It’s a way of understanding the trials, joys, and ultimately disappointments that come with working in a professional atmosphere. While I may have done things a bit differently if my life situations had been less complicated, I believe that all students should have a mix of physical and virtual internships, especially for those of us who can’t afford to travel long distances or pursue unpaid opportunities during the summer.

What do you all think?

Another discussion on the trial

Here is a link to a post by David Simon, creator of The Wire on the results of the Zimmerman trial:

http://davidsimon.com/trayvon/

He makes a large number of excellent points, and while commenting about the trial has become a bit too much for me at this point (it disgusts me so much that my hands end up shaking) I wanted to share it so that people could see that no, it isn’t just minorities who are shocked and disappointed by this. In my opinion I don’t believe that should matter, but I know it comforts some and if nothing else, it is great to see that most of the entertainment world hasn’t agreed with this behavior.

Risky Business

A few days ago, I decided to try out coding. Now to be honest, I have a little background with computer programming, but overall I’m pretty terrible at it. I’ve also decided to write a blog. And I’ve decided on a new career path, which is great for me, but probably bad for my family who has little desire for me to jump into graduate school, especially for something that may be less prestigious than what I currently have. I want to learn medical library and information science, which I find fascinating, but may not exactly be an incredibly profitable field at the moment. And I understand their concerns, and hopefully I’ll be able to manage my money well enough to not land me in a financial hole. Time will tell.

But one of the things I’ve learned in 2013 is that predicting and planning out one’s life – is not always a set possibility. I spent most of my time up unto this point doing everything that mapped out my goals between now and age 30, and within the last year, I’ve had a lot of setbacks, had some family crises, and lost people who were incredibly important to me.  It sounds obvious, but at the time I truly believe that I could set things out in advance, and that feel through in a lot of ways.

So this summer, I’m taking risks. Now most of these are non-academic risks so they may not be incredibly severe at this point in my life, but I think that I’ve left things become too  normalized, and the best way to change that is to take a risk or two. I think learning a new programming language is the scariest for me, as technology and I only have mutually ineffiencient relationship, but we’ll see if I can get to intermediate in at least one language before the end of the year. I’m using http://www.codeacademy.com as a starter, and then purchasing books that will hopefully complement the lessons that I’ve already learned. But additionally, there’s a certain charm and thrill in doing something that you don’t completely understand. And I think that thrill is what draws me to programming. As my heading says, learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom.

Note: If you haven’t seen it yet, check out some of the TED Education videos on TED.com. They’re incredibly fascinating.

Image

On Disappointment, Anger, and Unemployment

Alternatively, why higher education promised us the sun, and gave us a rock.

So I come from a college that is pretty well known for engineering, or as most of you know, the only major that seems to be getting a lot of jobs at the moment. While my school is a great place, one of the things that I’ve noticed within higher academia is the heated discourse going on within different disciplines. Ranging from pushing students away at the arts and humanities, complaining that humanities majors should have to pay more or forget about attending college (http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/05/29/to-boost-post-college-prospects-cut-humanities-departments/), and the growing healthcare industry that doesn’t have enough qualified workers at the moment, it seems that American society at least is in a bit of a bind.

So where is the real solution in this situation?  And on the other hand, do we even know where the problem stems from?

While I certainly am not qualified enough to solve our economic woes, I want to take a stab at why these problems have occurred. As distressing as it is, Generation Y isn’t the first to suffer through economic turmoil, and it won’t be the last to deal with these kinds of issues. I believe our situation is unique part in thanks to the rise of computer technology and to an extent social media, which has led to the creation of jobs that were unheard of 20 years ago. But at the same time it has lead to the deterioration of certain industries, and the near eradication of many others. And right now, most of the skill sets we have are partially ones we grew up with, but the official jobs where our skills could be useful haven’t quite opened up yet, at least not to their full extent.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

But what does this have to do with universities? One of the more obvious answers is the inflation of education levels and skill sets. As my grandmother likes to tell me all the time, back in her day men and women could learn non-degree related skills such carpentry, bookkeeping, secretarial studies, etc. And nowadays, minus vo-tech schools (which tend to be poorly advertised and marketed as for students ‘who aren’t good in regular school’) those courses have completely been eradicated from a school’s curriculum. While I have personally lamented the dismantling of art programs in public schools, I also think that it is very important and disheartening that we’ve gotten rid of technical or skill based programs, as for many students who come from low income families don’t have the opportunity to attend college, and may end up graduating with little or no marketable skills (that’s if you consider a college education a marketable skill in and of itself, which I do to a certain extent).

Redefining Education

But more directly related to struggling college students and grads who are looking for work, I don’t really think that this is all of your fault. I believe a lot of this comes from colleges who marketed to us that qualities X, Y, and Z made them the best, and more often then not unless it was a specific career with a direct career path (accounting, engineering, etc.) many colleges twiddled their thumbs and pretended as though they had no idea what kind of jobs came with our degree. And while I won’t pretend that students shouldn’t research these things on their own, I do think most colleges do a poor job of prepping students for the career environment. At the very least, I would push for more courses on business/resume writing and personal finance, so at least the unemployed graduates these colleges create will have something under their belt. But I think 4 year colleges should also partner with community colleges, so students can learn a combination of of ‘career skills’ alongside a humanities education. As an economics major I can’t completely discount the value of a liberal arts education. But I think many of us college students need to push back against some of this backlash, and decide either to complement our liberal arts education with more technical based skills, or create our own paths that involve the humanities.

Another path is to remove the stigma against community colleges, which teach liberal arts classes and trades, and at a lower cost than many 4 year colleges. I know many of my friends were embarrassed to be at a community college, and most were only using it as a pathway to attend a more traditional university. Traditional is fine, but students who go to community college shouldn’t be ignored or demeaned. Personally, as a soon to be college grad, I’ve been lucky to escape some of the more perilous hurdles such as student loans, but if my high school career counselor had told me that I could make decent money as a mechanic or bookkeeper with two years and more than triple the cost (my school costs roughly $50-60,000 per year) I would’ve been sold.

So What Next

Overall, what I hope to get across is that there is a problem with our current educational system, and while there are no ‘right’ answers, there are certain things that need to change. Some parts of the college experience should be dedicated towards non-career related goals: being away from home for the first time, learning to adjust to a new environment, understanding academia on the university level, enjoying time with friends and meeting people from a variety of geographic and cultural areas, and so on. But in this economy, we’ve lost that luxury to a certain extent. And now we have to be pragmatic at 17-18 years old, and ignore the cheers of college and getting a education that may financially ruin us well into our thirties, forties, and further. It’s a hard sell, but I caution others to reflect on the college experience as they see it now, and on the bright side, this may turn Gen Y into one of the most pragmatic generations yet! We may not appreciate it right now, but the innovative skills we’ve gotten will last us a lifetime.

What do you guys think about the state of higher education? Feel free to combat my points as well!

The entrance to PCC

The entrance to PCC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)