What I Did on My Summer Vacation

September 5, 2013

James Helmsworth

Madison Szathmary and a beluga whale at Mystic Aquarium
Madison Szathmary and a beluga whale at Mystic Aquarium.
Photo credit: Madison Szathmary

When Oberlin’s classes end in late May, a different kind of learning begins. Many students use summer break to immerse themselves in academic, creative, and personal pursuits that apply their studies to real-world endeavors. Still others use the time to explore activities and professions that are new to them. Regardless of how they spend their summer, Oberlin students stay intellectually engaged, and return to campus with new ideas and ways to engage with their education

A Whale of a Time

According to Madison Szathmary, working as an aquatic animal trainer is different than you might expect. “I think people think we just hug whales and dolphins all day, and that is definitely not the case,” she says. “There’s a lot of scrubbing buckets; there’s a lot of pounds of raw fish.”

Szathmary, who is beginning her second year at Oberlin, just finished up a summer working with the beluga whales at Mystic Aquarium, assisting the aquarium’s trainers with the animals’ upkeep. This included monitoring the whales’ tanks, inspecting the fish they are to eat, and teaching them behaviors to make working with them easier.

Besides caring for the animals in the aquarium, trainers also conduct research, which is often applied to help populations in the wild thrive.

Interning at Mystic Aquarium was a longtime aspiration for Szathmary, who was accepted to the program in her first year of eligibility. She spent last winter term working with the penguins at the Zoo Boise in her hometown of Boise, Idaho, where she developed skills integral to her work at Mystic.

Some of those skills differ greatly from those students learn at most internships, like, say, stuffing fish with vitamins so that the whales get the nutrients they need. “I’m really good at that,” Szathmary says. “Believe it or not, not everyone is.”

A prospective biology major, Szathmary says that her experience at Mystic has inspired her to get involved with environmental projects in Oberlin. In recent years, beluga whale populations in Quebec’s St. Lawrence River have been dying in record numbers. Oberlin students can work directly to change that, says Szathmary, pointing out that the St. Lawrence connects the Great Lakes to the ocean, and Oberlin is in the Lake Erie watershed.

A Collaborative Effort

After months of looking for spaces, reaching out to artists, and providing feedback on their pieces, Nolan Boomer’s hard work paid off. This summer, the rising sophomore cocurated an art show at the Los Angeles gallery Hemingway and Pickett, with Madeleine Aquilina, an Oberlin College classmate of his, and Erica Segovia, a Rookie Magazine staff photographer.

Boomer, who also worked with the publisher McSweeney’s this summer, met Segovia a few years ago over the photo-sharing service Flickr. During winter term 2013, he and Aquilina took a road trip to San Antonio to visit her and begin planning the show.

The three curators, each of whom had pieces in the show, learned that much of the work of curating is planning ahead and communicating clearly, says Boomer. They had to make sure artists’ submissions fit within the show’s overall theme, which juxtaposed the idealism and identity issues of the ’60s with those of today. “People have their own visions and things they want to do,” says Boomer. “It’s a lot of working with that.”

Boomer says that English classes at Oberlin were critical to learning to do this effectively, as was working for the Wilder Voice, Oberlin’s literary magazine. Aquilina adds that the school’s culture helped lead her to working on this show the project. “The type of people who I was meeting at Oberlin, the energy there—those are the kind of resources and opportunities that came about because of where I was,” she explains.

A Rolling Stone Gathers Clips

Rising sophomore Julian Ring interned this summer at Rolling Stone’s office in New York City. As part of the magazine’s online team, his duties included copy-editing, fact-checking, transcribing interviews, and following stories.

A longtime reader and admirer of Rolling Stone, Ring says he found himself working alongside many writers he admires. “I walked into this office, and all of a sudden I was being introduced to these people who I’ve been reading for years and just kind of shaking their hands and introducing myself,” he says. “That was a very surreal moment.”

Though Ring just concluded his first year at Oberlin, he already has an impressive résumé in music journalism. In addition to his internship at Rolling Stone, he has published articles in the Wall Street Journal and covered the Grammy awards for the Recording Academy’s summer camp. This year at Oberlin, Ring will serve as one of the Oberlin Review’s arts editors.

During his internship, Ring had the opportunity to publish two reviews, which appeared online and in the print editions of Rolling Stone. He says that working with the magazine’s editors was a valuable educational experience. “No matter the length of the piece, no matter what it is you’re covering, you still have a back and forth with the editor about eight or 10 times, tweaking every little thing just to make sure it really flows.”

A Stately Summer

This summer, Caroline Hui worked at the Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs’ Office of Public Diplomacy. The fourth-year politics major assisted the office, which oversees cultural and educational exchanges between the United States and individuals in Asia and the Pacific islands, by compiling information from news clips and government cables and coordinating logistics for events.

Though she has worked at several other notable political organizations, including the office of Senator Robert Menendez and South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, this was Hui’s first foray into public diplomacy, and, she says, an enjoyable one. “The impact feels more real when you interact with local people, which is what public diplomacy does,” she says.

Hui’s academic courses helped prepare her for the work. An East Asian studies minor, she was able to converse with Chinese delegations in Chinese when they visited the office.

The internship was also a valuable learning experience, she says. Not only did the office members provide the rising senior with advice, but they also provided opportunities for her to hone skills central to governmental work, such as writing memos. “If I wanted to work on something, they’d make an opportunity for that so I’d get a really holistic learning experience,” she says.

A Public Servant

Rising senior Cuyler Otsuka spent his summer working for Hawai’i State Representative Jo Jordan. As a legislative aide, he performed a variety of tasks, including designing Jordan’s newsletters, taking photographs, and drafting legislation. During the school year, Otsuka works for Jordan via the Internet.

Jordan is relatively new to the Hawai’i State Legislature, appointed to her seat in January 2011 by the governor. At the time, civil unions between same-sex partners were a hot topic of political debate. Jordan advocated for them, a stance of which Otsuka took note. “When she offered me an internship with her office, I was overjoyed and honored,” he says.

A comparative American studies and politics major, Otsuka says that his work with the representative provides a real-world application of his studies at Oberlin. “My experience working in Representative Jordan's office has compounded my formal education and vice versa,” he says.

One such experience was attending Ka Pa‘alana Traveling Preschool’s graduation as a member of Rep. Jordan’s staff. Ka Pa‘alana serves Oahu’s homeless population, many of whom live in Jordan’s district. Otsuka says that he found watching homeless families celebrate their children’s achievements encouraging. “I saw firsthand the profound effect of engaging community members in constructive dialogue.”

During fall semester, Otsuka will continue assisting Representative Jordan online.

An Education in Movement

Many college students spend their summers working as camp counselors. But there are few summer camps quite like those run by High Rocks in rural West Virginia, which are free and seek to educate, empower, and inspire young women by engaging them is such activities as hiking, math, and storytelling.

Fourth-year student Anita Peebles interned this summer with High Rocks, which also runs several other educational opportunities for its local community. Besides looking after the campgrounds, solving camper’s issues, and assisting with activities, she led a dance class called Peacemaking Through Movement, which tied dance to ideas of identity, place, and body. A double-major in religion and environmental studies, Peebles says her class was inspired by her studies with Ann Cooper Albright, chair of Oberlin’s dance department, who publishes extensively on these subjects.

High Rocks is the latest in a series of service activities with which Peebles has been involved. At Oberlin, she’s part of the Bonner Leader program, in which Oberlin students do part-time service work through AmeriCorps, and she is involved with Girls in Motion, an after-school program for middle school girls centered around movement ranging from dance to sports to yoga.

“Much of my Oberlin education has taken place outside the college classroom as well as inside it,” Peebles says. “Simply being a part of a progressive community that values and creates new ways of teaching and mentoring prepared me for my role as a teacher and mentor this summer.”

A Jet-Setting Intern

While most students spend their summer working for one organization, Poon Wangpaiboonkit landed a position with two different opera houses on two different continents. This summer, the second-year comparative literature major worked with both the Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York and the Grand Opera Thailand in Bangkok. He assisted in a range of activities with both organizations, ranging from providing customer service to compiling libretti and setting up for performances.

Though he wasn’t performing, Wangpaiboonkit says his musical knowledge helped him on the job. “When you have pile of 500 pages of photocopied scores to flip through, without a table of contents, it really helps to already be familiar with the music,” he says.

Wangpaiboonkit says that he chose to work at both organizations because of their drastic differences. While the Met has established a reputation of excellence over its century of operation, the Grand Opera Thailand was founded just last year.

Working with the latter provided Wangpaiboonkit with several interesting challenges. Because of its small staff, he often ended up, as he puts it, working on “everything you can think of that an opera company might need to do.” Occasionally, like on the night of Grand Opera’s summer gala, this meant translating. “I switched constantly between speaking English, Thai, and my elementary Italian, speaking to various technicians, singers, and my supervisor, most of whom do not speak mutual languages, giving translations of orders and instructions,” he explains.

Wangpaiboonkit plans on working with opera companies in the future, he says, “whether it be discovering more about opera through academic or scholarly work, or bringing opera to more audiences through administrative and artistic work

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