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Students find they're "up to the task" in summer internships

By Sally Jongsma

Every summer students land interesting internship or study opportunities. That’s nothing new. What is “new” is the enthusiasm and renewed motivation that students bring back to campus after these experiences. That enthusiasm is partly because they’re putting abstract information to concrete use: they realize that what they are learning is going to be useful in their profession. It’s also because they learn that they’re up to the task.

Eric Van Otterloo studied brain abnormalities of people who had suffered from depression.

Eric Van Otterloo studied brain abnormalities of people who had suffered from depression.

“I feel like I’m finally heading in a direction,” says Eric Van Otterloo, who worked in the lab of Dr. Grazyna Rajkowska at the University of Mississippi Medical School this summer. “I’ve found my courses interesting and I love science, but doing something like this opens my eyes to the possibilities out there,” he says. “Now I know I can do this.” He was exposed to rigorous cutting-edge research in the field of psychiatric neuroscience.

Van Otterloo, who intends to work in forensics, studied the brains of elderly suicide victims and those of a “normal” control group to gather data for a study of the pathology of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar manic depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. Rajkowska’s lab works in collaboration with the lab of her husband, Dr. Craig Stockmeier (‘77), to identify abnormalities so that better therapies can be developed.

Van Otterloo studied different types of cells. His findings, taken alongside studies of younger brains, suggest that late onset depression is different from depression that manifests itself earlier in life.

“Eric made a significant contribution to important ongoing research,” says Rajkowska. “He was a credit to Dordt College as a mature, focused worker with a deep knowledge of biology, computers, and creative writing.”

Gloria Ayee (second from right) and other Hubbard Fellows pose with the Honorable Ann Williams, Federal Judge, in the United States Court of Appeals Courtroom in Chicago during the Philip G. Hubbard Law School Preparation Program.

Gloria Ayee (second from right) and other Hubbard Fellows pose with the Honorable Ann Williams, Federal Judge, in the United States Court of Appeals Courtroom in Chicago during the Philip G. Hubbard Law School Preparation Program.

Gloria Ayee spent part of her summer at the University of Iowa in a program for students from under-represented or minority groups who are interested in law as a profession. The competitive program, which included forty students from across the nation, gave students a short but intensive introduction to the law profession. Classes on such things as criminal justice, international law, and writing skills were accompanied by sessions giving tips for applying to law schools and taking the LSAT. Participants also talked with lawyers and judges and visited law firms.

“It was academically challenging, giving us an idea of what law school would be like,” says Ayee. She says it gave her a sense of urgency about getting into a good law school and a renewed commitment to keeping a high GPA so she could do so. It also made her choose courses she might not have considered taking before. This year she’s taking Latin and micro-economics because she’s come to understand how important it is to have a broad background in a variety of areas if she is to be a good lawyer.

Ayee, who received a stipend for the session, plans to practice international corporate law. Having lived in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and the United States, Ayee looks forward working with people from countries around the world.

Carrie Spronk spent two weeks at the Eastman School of Music, honing her organ playing skills.

Carrie Spronk spent two weeks at the Eastman School of Music, honing her organ playing skills.

Carrie Spronk says she felt extremely privileged to be able to study with David Higgs at the Eastman School of Music this summer. Spronk, who was awarded a scholarship for further organ study after winning a competition last year, pursued the opportunity with advice from Dr. Joan Ringerwole, a graduate of Eastman, and assistance from an aunt who teaches at Eastman. Spronk had played for Higgs two years ago when he was on the Dordt College campus.

In addition to learning a great deal, Spronk says the experience has made her more motivated than ever. “Taking lessons from someone who has performed and recorded all over the world is inspiring,” she says. During her two weeks at Eastman, she performed pieces that she already knew well so she could benefit from instruction on finer points of playing them. She learned new techniques and came to value the benefit of having different perspectives on how to perform a piece.

“Just being there was encouraging and motivating,” Spronk says. The level of excellence and the opportunity to interact with other organists was something that confirmed her desire to go on to graduate school once she leaves Dordt.

Ethan Koerner was looking for a summer internship that would give him a sense of what working in the world of professional theater would be like. He also wanted some concrete experience to add to his resume. He did both by working at the Santa Fe Opera, a premier opera house with one of the biggest internship programs in this country. Koerner, who is interested in technical theater, was part of a stage crew of eighteen people who changed the sets daily. The Santa Fe Opera had five shows in repertory this summer, with a different show each night.

“I learned so much about the way technical theater operates on a professional level,” he says. He learned backstage etiquette—to be invisible, quiet, polite, and not cause offense. He learned ways to get sets on and off stage more efficiently.

While Koerner found being part of big theatrical opera productions intriguing, it was the technical aspect that was most eye opening. “They’re so much bigger and more elaborate than normal theater,” he says of the sets.

Koerner partially credits the opportunity to his presence at the American College Theatre Festival in Denver last January when All My Sons, in which he had a lead role, was performed at the festival. He interviewed for an internship while there and was selected based on his three years of acting in main stage productions and helping with technical theater at Dordt College.

Koerner, who thinks he might eventually like to teach on the college level, plans to go to graduate school to work in technical theater. Like the others, his summer experience has convinced him he’s ready for the challenge.