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Funding from Emory’s Pathways Center opens doors for unique internship experiences
students in discussion

A new fund fueled by donors allowed more than 270 students across 47 majors to say “yes” to unique internship experiences — and discover the paths they’re meant to follow along the way.

— Moses Sparks from Radar Creative

A new fund fueled by donors to Emory’s Pathways Center helped 274 students say “yes!” to summer internships on six continents. The cohort represented 47 different majors across the university’s four undergraduate colleges, and each student returned to campus with eye-opening experiences to share.

By providing a one-time stipend to offset the expenses of everything from studying environmental tourism in Nepal to working in legal aid in California, the internship program lifted barriers to the skill-building and networking that come with practical experience. Nearly all of the $850,000 in funds was provided by donors, either collectively through the Pathways Fund or through individual funds established by donors themselves.

The grants are part of the center’s major inaugural initiatives helping undergraduates realize how to apply their liberal arts education to potential professions. The internship grants complement Career Treks, which bring students to major-city workplaces of Emory alumni, and the Pathway Scholars cohort, which focuses on the entertainment industry.

“We are committed to helping Emory students reach their full potential by making sure they are able to say yes to the opportunities that their education and hard work open for them,” says Ed Goode, the center’s director of experiential learning. “Ensuring equal access is an important way to prepare students for global competitiveness.”

Digging into work with a deeper meaning

Lucia Buscemi, who is paying her way through college, used her stipend for travel and living expenses while working at the Himalayan Museum and Sustainable Park in Nepal.

Buscemi completed all the requirements last year for a degree in anthropology, including a highest-honors thesis on how manmade activities affect the Khumbu region and people. She returned to campus this year to complete a second bachelor’s degree in environmental science to broaden her understanding of the impact of pollution and trash on the world’s highest mountain and around the world.

Her unpaid internship called for her to develop a sustainability-certification program for the 100 or so small lodges around the mountain — a tall ask in a region with unstable weather and such limited infrastructure that trash pickup takes five days on the back of a yak.

Piloting the program at the Yak and Yeti hotel in Kathmandu, Buscemi first established a project to build a water filtration and glass bottle-filling facility. The initiative reduces the use of plastic, ultimately saving larger hotels money. In turn, those savings will fund grants for small lodges to install their own small-scale water filtration systems.

The experience convinced Buscemi, who is applying to graduate programs in environmental science, that she wants to research and spearhead policies with grassroots organizations to continue seeing results firsthand.

“The work I did had meaning. That’s a feeling I think everyone at Emory is searching for,” she says. “Donors to this program are helping me clean up the Everest region and really making a difference in the world, with me.”

That mindset reinforces Emory’s values across generations to Sonia Sharma, who graduated with a degree in psychology and religion in 1993 without an internship experience.

Working with the Emory College Alumni Board prompted Sharma to consider how Emory could have helped with her career path, including becoming a founder of a nonprofit organization serving the South Asian community.

“For a student in need, you want to give them the opportunity to do an internship, but it’s hard to actually visualize how a student will use this stipend,” Sharma says.

“To have a student giving back in South Asia, a region that’s close to my heart, it’s just amazing,” she adds. “I am thrilled to see the beauty of Pathways come to life.”

Senior Ciarra Coston, a physics and astronomy major, expressed a similar reaction from her internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

An Oxford College continuee from Massachusetts, Coston had never spent time on the West Coast. The housing stipend allowed her to explore Los Angeles when not focused on age-dating stars using data from rotation periods.

“To be around so many people who also genuinely find joy in discovery gave me the clarification that I want to pursue research to understand other worlds,” adds Coston, whose honors thesis explores other methods to predict the life range of older stars.

Junior Claudia Smith, majoring in economics and human health, also spent the summer immersed in cutting-edge solutions. During her internship at venture-capital firm GoAhead Ventures, Smith acted as a scout, allowing her to apply her interdisciplinary education in a tangible way.

Smith was inspired to see tech solutions tackling real-world problems with passionate people behind them, such as one founder of an app that works to perform X-rays on feet and ankles to offer analyses without needing a podiatrist.

“What I’m sure of is that this summer experience has given me a fresh perspective on the potential trajectory of our health care system,” Smith says. “It's left me super excited about exploring the world of health tech, especially when it comes to making these innovations accessible to everyone.” 

Discovering a new path

California was more familiar terrain for junior Noah Lian, whose family moved there from Singapore for his high school years. Less certain was whether Lian, an Oxford College continuee majoring in English and philosophy as well as politics and law, wanted to become a lawyer.

He also was weighing careers in teaching, theater and the military, the latter after he earned the rank of sergeant during his mandatory service in Singapore.

Lian was awarded a stipend through the Independence Fund to work as an unpaid intern with Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County, showing clients who are unable to afford attorneys how to represent themselves in court. Lian typically worked with litigants on his own, only calling in the supervising attorney if he was stumped.

One case stands out to Lian: Helping a Chinese litigant find a translator to successfully fight a manipulative eviction notice. Neighborhood Legal Services Los Angeles has been open to Lian returning in the future, especially as a legal fellow, and Lian is preparing to take the LSAT this spring.

“As I got the hands-on experience, I realized the things I’m learning or doing were not for a class grade or to make money,” he says. “The work I was doing was important because I was helping someone’s life, which is what I could always see myself doing.”

For Terrence Lurry, working at the Emory 1915 Scholars Program led him to reconsider his thoughts on working in education, a field he had never found appealing. A junior majoring in chemistry, Lurry spent the summer developing programming frameworks, laying foundations for marketing and communication materials, conducting outreach to campus partners, creating curricula and researching advocacy initiatives to benefit first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students on Emory’s campus.

I eventually started to feel empowered and confident in my decision-making skills to progress the mission of the office,” says Lurry. “It was an incredible experience and, for me, was a summer of self-discovery and personal advancement.”

Junior Yifei (Greg) Wu was also looking to branch out with a summer internship. A biology major who initially planned a pre-med path, during his sophomore year Wu realized he was more interested in biotechnology and innovation in health than clinical care.

He was thrilled when Shuchi Takayama selected him to work in his regenerative medicine lab at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory.

Wu was ready to decline because he would struggle to shoulder the costs of living in Atlanta and visiting family in China for the first time since the pandemic began.

The Pathways stipend covered his housing costs on Emory’s campus and the commute to Georgia Tech, where he began a part-time bioinformatics job in Karmella Haynes’ synthetic biology lab this fall.

“This was a new opportunity for me, to take a more interdisciplinary approach to biology and to develop my computational and engineering skill sets,” says Wu, whose research projects focus on triple-negative breast cancer.

“I never expected to receive any kind of financial aid or funding, and I am very grateful for the support,” he adds. “It’s special when you realize you have so many people who believe in you.”

A few of the students who were able to experience unique internships through Emory’s Pathways Center included (top, l-r) Yifei (Greg) Wu, Miranda Wilson, Miraya Choudhury, Lily Hollenberg, (bottom, l-r) Kaleb Branch, Jungwoo Seo, Zeke Razzarday and Amaia Ince.

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