Value of internships lies in lessons learned, not in perceived prestige of flashy names

Now is the time of year when peers tactfully and not-so-tactfully share where and how they will be spending their summers.

In the academically competitive world of the Big Ten schools, that means internships. The glossier, the better. Summers in New York and Chicago, regardless of major, carry the highest esteem. Paid internships, regardless of perceived prestige, carry social currency.

In the College of Media, the heavyweights are the newspapers everyone has heard of: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune. There’s also the annual Major League Baseball and the Associated Press internships.

And while a few lucky souls will land the most sought after summer slots, many more will be better off taking the roads less traveled.

Summer internships ideally enrich and expand the lessons learned in the classroom. A temporary visit to the real world offers students and new graduates the opportunity to test their skills.

Nowhere does it say that an ideal internship only exists at the most sought after locations or with the most prestigious employers. Sure, a big name looks good on a résumé but real value only exists in actual lessons learned.

During my junior year I was lucky enough to take a class from a Pulitzer Prize winner, Professor Leon Dash. When discussing post-graduation plans with him, he recommended a path that surprised me.

“Go to a small newspaper, work there for two years; learn every aspect to the production of a newspaper, and after those two years, leave.”

Initially, I took Professor Dash’s advice with a grain of salt, considering that he spent his entire journalistic career at The Washington Post. But, it made sense.

No matter what field you hope to enter after leaving this university, you will enter as a novice. You will certainly, absolutely, undoubtedly fail early in your professional career. Something will confuse you, and you will get it wrong. Which is why Professor Dash’s recommendation is so insightful.

These small jobs and internships offer newcomers the breathing room and creative space to take chances. While it may be nice to get a foot in the door on the top floor, there’s something to be said for those who start in the lobby and work their way up.

Last summer I wrote for the Peoria Journal Star. Fresh off a deep round of layoffs, the newspaper heavily relied on their interns. Forty-plus hours a week of producing multiple, often front page, stories every day taught me a heck of a lot more than some training wheels internship at The Big Deal Press ever could.

Keeping that lesson in mind, I have sent out multiple applications to newspapers I have never heard of in towns I couldn’t locate with a map. Yesterday I applied to a 1,000-circulation weekly newspaper in Texas where I would write, edit and design the whole thing. I even sent out two — TWO — applications for gigs up in Alaska.

At 22-years-old and with one year of graduate school ahead of me, why not adventure into something different.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming big. Vision and high aspiration set the exemplary young professional apart from the average. However, drive is internal and may manifest itself in Montana or Metropolis, USA.

So when considering internships, think not of what will best boost your résumé come August. Ask yourself where you will expand and explore the most, regardless of perceived prestige.

_Phil is a senior in Media._