Photos by Ellie Thoma
Senior Devon Dietrich bent over her computer and jotted down the words she and Dr. Clayborne Carson had composed together. She could hear the protests and envision the riots from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birmingham campaign. She could feel history’s energy through the keys as she revised the screenplay. For Dietrich history was no longer slides of notes but instead a collection of documentary clips, journal entries and letters – a collection only possible through this internship.
Senior Portia Reneé peered over Dr. Jianping Zhou’s shoulder and watched him painstaking suction up the medium from the cell culture. One wrong move and years of research could be demolished. Perfect. They leaned back, exchanged a smile and continued on with lots more to learn about esophageal cancer.
Junior Jack Furla handed the fun-sized bag of M&M’s to the little boy and a flier to his dad. It might be a blazing hot Saturday after a long week of school but Furla couldn’t imagine a better way to spend his time. Kevin Yoder’s campaign staff moved slowly down the road in Bonner Springs. This is where Furla sees the connections, sees the Congressional candidate interacting with the crowd and sees just how intricate political campaigns are.
Through internships, Dietrich, Reneé and Furla found experiences that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Dietrich heard about the opportunity to intern at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute in February, sent in her application and resume and heard the good news by the beginning of summer. The internship was going to be a nine-week long experience at Stanford University, but Dietrich wasn’t deterred.
“I find the independence really refreshing,” Dietrich said. “Plus I think people miss out so much in life if they don’t put themselves in situations where they aren’t at least a little uncomfortable, and they have to figure it out themselves. It ends up being the best times of your life.”
Working alongside historian Dr. Clayborne Carson, she updated the website and created a video about the Institute, among other tasks. The Institute was founded in 1985 when Carson dedicated his entire life’s work to honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. after his wife, Coretta Scott King, asked Carson to be in charge of editing and publishing all of King’s undocumented manuscripts, correspondence, etc.
After putting finalizing the video, Dietrich was asked to help finish the Birmingham campaign screenplay that Carson had been working on for several years. Carson would walk through the scene, then the pair would talk.
“[Carson] would give me a scene to work on or say something that he wanted to convey or emphasize in the script,” Dietrich said. “We discussed some of our ideas, bounced thoughts back and forth and then he would hand me his laptop and let me write the scenes.”
For Reneé, her interest in medicine solidified through her experiences at the research lab in KC’s local Veterans Affair Hospital. Reneé started a few weeks before school started, and now during her seventh hour Independent Study, Reneé travels to the research lab to spend a couple of hours shadowing the scientists as they work.
“This year it’s like an educational internship where I’m not very hands-on,” Reneé said. “They don’t want to put anything in your hands until they really trust you so these upcoming months are [for] learning techniques.”
According to Reneé, because the scientists’ work is so precise – and the equipment is expensive – they have to have a lot of faith in the “interns” before allowing them to be hands-on. Once Reneé turns 18 over the summer, she’ll have the chance to officially apply and do actual research.
One of Reneé’s favorite parts about the experience is her relationship with Zhou. Even though the doctor doesn’t speak English very well, he will slowly work with her until things are just right – even if that means pipetting water over and over for an hour before it meets his standards.
“I love him. He’s the funniest and just the most interesting guy ever. Whenever we are talking, we’re always laughing,” Reneé said. “He’s just really caring, and teaching me things is not part of his job description, but he takes the time out of his day and works with me.”
Furla’s role as a campaign staffer has him doing phone banks and walk books — going door to door — for about two months now. He doesn’t plan on pursuing political science, but still has learned so much from his experience.
“My parents were involved in these kinds of political internships and affiliations when they were my age,” Furla said. “As of right now I think it’s a great learning experience – [you] get a lot of connections, learn how that whole field of politics works [and] learn how to win an election.”
Overall, all three stress the fact that internships are totally attainable and should be done by everyone.
“[Shadowing at the research lab] would not have been possible if I had not taken the initiative to go and get it,” Reneé said. “It’s not a specified program; it’s not advertised anywhere. Basically I called up somebody and I asked them to help me. I think more often than not if you do that you’ll be surprised on how many people just say yes and it’s worth a try.”