What they were doing while you were at the beach

Summer Profiles from the Class of 2015

The summer after a first year of undergraduate studies leaves students with several months of unstructured time. For those not enrolled in summer courses, this season allows for some escape from normal methodized learning and provides opportunities to seek out jobs, fellowships and internships in order to gain experience outside academia and pursue career interests. While many Swatties use their summers to travel, connect with old friends and read some books not on a syllabus, the following rising sophomores used their summers to sharpen their academic intent, live closer with nature, and simply take a breather and enjoy themselves.

Steve McFarland, Class of 2015, Political Science and Education Double Major
This summer Steve McFarland was one of 48 students in the U.S. who had the opportunity to work as a Summer Academy Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. The progressive think-tank has two other academies in D.C. and Chicago, but McFarland says he ended up in Manhattan because his “passion and dedication for figuring out the disparities in the American education system” fit best with the New York academy’s focus on education and economic development.  McFarland’s work required that he attend policy briefings on issues within the spectrum of education and meet with speakers from various think tanks and other political outlets.

He used these conversations and much of his own research to produce a policy proposal that addressed summer learning loss — loss of academic skills and knowledge — in low-income neighborhoods throughout Pennsylvania. His final product “demanded a funded mandate in order to provide summer enrichment centers” which would keep students’ minds active throughout the warmer months and “would lead to eventually curbing the educational achievement gap.” McFarland chose to attack the educational disadvantage in this manner because he wanted to provide a realistic solution to the problem and because it related to the other half of his summer work: working as a teaching fellow for the Partnership of Afterschool Education and teaching and developing curriculum for a neighborhood corporation in the Bronx. Both allowed him to give a face to the problem he was researching and allowed him to back up the statistics he included in his policy with first hand experience.  Although he finished the policy for the summer, McFarland plans to expand it into an intensely detailed plan that he can present to local lawmakers.

When asked how he thought his experiences this summer would affect his studies, McFarland said, “I feel that this summer gave me that clarity that I was lacking. Now I feel that I know what I’m looking for and I know what I want to accomplish. Studying PoliSci and Education no longer just means a bunch of papers, but feels more like an outlet to something greater not just after college but during it.”

Rebecca Senft, Class of 2015, Neuroscience Major
Last spring, Rebecca Senft saw a posting in the Reserved Student Digest for an internship at Copper Cricket Farm. She was one of several Swatties to apply and was chosen along with another current Swarthmore student to spend the summer at the Virginia farm founded five years ago by two married Swarthmore alumni. Both had other jobs, but decided that they were more passionate about sustainable living and founded their farm with a dedication to farming without pesticide, fertilizer or genetically-modified seeds.  “I come from upstate New York, an area full of dairy farms,” Senft said. “For me the internship represented an opportunity to get back to my roots in a setting very different from home.”

On half of her working days, Senft did chores around the farm and the other half were devoted to harvesting and delivering the farm’s vegetables to its in-state customer base. “I learned so much throughout my stay at the farm,” Senft said. “I learned to respect our food and the energy and work required to grow it… I think before I was under the impression that I was striving to make my future life easy as possible. I discovered on the farm that ‘easy’ is not the same as ‘gratifying.’ In my studies and beyond, I want my life to be a meaningful experience, not merely a means to an end.”

Jamie Burke, Class of 2015, Physics Major
Few can begin an anecdote with, “I got in an argument with a Canadian border patrol officer.” Burke spent the summer working for Overland, a company based in Massachusetts that sends high school students on outdoors trips throughout the Northeast and across four other continents. “When driving the trailer to pick up the Nova Scotia bike trip at the ferry in St. John, the trailer that I had contained bikes that students were renting out from Overland,” Burke explained. “The border patrol officer insisted that, since Overland owned the bikes, they were ‘commercial property,’ and that I couldn’t cross into Canada without the proper paperwork. Having gone over this exact same bridge into Canada carrying Overland bikes twice before with no problems, I was confused, but decided not to argue too much. I went over a different border crossing five minutes away, and encountered no such problem.”

Burke had gone on many of Overland’s trips while in high school and this summer decided to work for the outdoors company. The multiple roles he played at Overland, from maintaining bikes to taking groups out on their trips, proved lots of stories throughout the summer. “Once we were settled into camp and about to eat dinner, a park ranger came by and told us that we were under a tornado watch. Since there were no sold standing structures, we decided to get off the mountain, which involved me driving down the gravel road (which you are told specifically not to do), loading up the U-Haul, and then heading to the local high school to sleep in the locker rooms there.” While Burke says he definitely learned “some concrete useful skills,” he says that “working at Overland changed the way I approach group living.” He found that “there is almost always something you can help with, if you look for it. I might be picking ramen wrappers off the floor and being there for someone who just needs to complain about the number of hexagons they had to draw on their last Orgo homework.”

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