A world-class experience
The UC International summer internship just wrapped up its fifth year
Six women stood in front of a crowded room in the UC International office this July to present their collective accomplishments after two months of close work. They had come from different countries, disciplines and backgrounds, but were brought together by UC International’s now-annual summer internship program.
First formed in the summer of 2014, the UC International summer internship has provided practical work experience to almost 30 students, representing eight different countries — China, Croatia, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Tanzania — and 10 from UC.
The program demonstrates the University of Cincinnati's commitment to creating work-integrated experiences that help prepare students for a global workplace, part of its Next Lives Here strategic direction
A modest request
In spring 2015, UC International received an email from Franziska Schmidt, a recent graduate of Ludwig-Maxmilians Universitat (LMU) in Munich, Germany. She had been routed to the office by the Cincinnati Sister City Association and wanted to know if she could do an internship in the United States.
Vice Provost for International Affairs Raj Mehta offered her a six-week position in the office. He saw the internship as a unique opportunity to strengthen UC’s relationship with LMU and empower student ambassadors for UC at partners all over the world.
As Schmidt was a marketing major, she was tasked with providing recommendations for website updates and for study abroad promotional materials.
Mehta realized before Schmidt’s arrival that she — and the office — would have a more valuable experience if she could work alongside peers who had experience in website editing, graphic design, video editing or social media. The office put out a call to UC departments whose students might have those skillsets.
“I was working on my master’s in professional writing at the time. One day, the director of our program emailed us saying there was an opportunity available in UC International. They needed someone with web design experience and a strong knowledge of information architecture,” says Natalie Ochmann, who is now a full-time staff member in UC International and the supervisor of the internship she participated in five years ago.
Ochmann was hired along with two other students, one who had experience in video editing, and another with social media skills. That first team provided the office with a potential website reorganization, a campaign for study abroad and an office introduction video.
Building the program
“Really, that first year was about shaping the internship into what it would become. It was an experimental program that worked really well,” says Ochmann. “I’ve never seen another internship that so deliberately pairs domestic and international students together. We got to use our knowledge and skills to write, edit and design items that UC International needed, but we also got to learn about one another and the cultures that we came from.”
The summer 2016 cohort provided the basic model for recruitment: two UC students are joined by four international interns to work on a variety of projects. UC International puts out a call to its strategic partners, institutions with which UC has deep, university-wide connections, such as the University of Zagreb and Future University in Egypt. Eighteen of the interns have come from these partners over the past five years.
With the input of Ochmann and the first team of interns, Mehta extended the internship to eight weeks, opened up more spots for international applicants and added housing for the international students. The internship remained focused on marketing and communications, as these were areas where Ochmann could provide ongoing mentorship and guidance.
This year, the program expanded to include another office overseen by Mehta, the University Honors Program.
The students’ backgrounds have been as varied as the countries they come from. A computer science major, an advertising student and a master’s student in film have all found roles in the program.
“The whole premise of Next Lives Here and Co-op 2.0 is showing just how far the university has come and how we are able to innovate,” says UC student Kalea Lucas, 2019 intern and double major in international business and marketing, “For me, this summer internship is a big part of that. Getting to work with diverse people from different fields and countries has helped us come together and become better leaders.”
For the students from abroad, UC’s culture of real-world learning has major advantages. “I didn’t realize until now how much doing an internship for two months outside of Europe, and even outside of France, can be a good thing for your career,” notes Berengere Lavedrine, an advertising student from the University of Bordeaux who joined the 2019 group. “For me, it was an opportunity to see how people communicate outside of France and to experience unique American culture.”
This summer’s group was the first all-female cohort. Besides UC students Lucas and Sweatland, and Bordeaux student Lavedrine, it included Ana Smeštiko, a journalism student from the University of Zagreb; Nourhan Nihad, marketing major from Future University in Egypt; and Dora Curkovic, the UHP intern, a master’s student in business systems organization from the University of Zagreb.
Together, the women delegated tasks based on each individual’s strengths, teaching and learning alongside one another. Smeštiko combed through collected footage while Sweatland and Lavedrine prepared a study abroad commercial and student testimonials. Lucas and Nihad designed and enacted surveys for domestic students and former summer program participants. Curkovic created technology manuals for UHP professors and took gorgeous campus photography.
And outside of the office, they explored Cincinnati and the United States. As part of the program, the interns are encouraged to experience classic local culture, like Cincinnati-style chili — “It’s just pasta Bolognese!” remarked Lavedrine — and to hang out as a crew on the weekends.
"I studied abroad, but I never got an opportunity to be around international students like this,” remarked Sweatland, who graduated this summer with a degree in marketing and e-media. “Any global experience is very eye-opening and shows how you can get along with people from different backgrounds. But now, the other interns are like family.”
Nihad has been to UC twice. She came first in 2018 to study at UC International’s annual summer program, a three-week session offered by faculty from the Carl H. Lindner School of Business and CEAS to students from UC’s strategic partnership universities like her home institution, Future University in Egypt.
“When I was here last summer, I got to talk to the interns about their experience. Even then, I knew I wanted to come back here to this campus,” she says. “I got a lot of experience and learned so much. I plan to take it all back to Egypt and encourage my classmates to come to UC!”
A UC connection
Like Nihad, the other interns have realized what an important experience the internship was for them.
Shimiao “Birdo” Wang joined the 2015 intern group as a student from Chongqing University in China. UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science partners with CQU in the Joint Co-op Institute, the first engineering education program in China that includes mandatory co-op as part of a 4+1 degree program with UC.
Birdo was an electrical engineering major looking to complete her first co-op rotation, but she was considering a career in user interface and user experience design. The internship program gave her an opportunity to fulfill her co-op requirement while pursuing her interest in UI/UX. Along with the team, she developed an online pre-departure course for study abroad students.
Wang returned to UC in fall 2019 to complete the final year of her engineering degree. She was part of the second cohort of students to graduate from the JCI program and is one of the 87% of graduates who will be continuing studies in the United States. She has been accepted to a master’s program in human-computer interaction, where she’ll be able to further pursue her passion for UI/UX.
Inspired by the internship, UC marketing major and information technology minor HaRoon Khan was the very first student to go on exchange to the University of Zagreb, one of the university’s newest strategic partners.
“My exchange program at the University of Zagreb truly changed my life,” Khan states. “All thanks goes to UC International and the summer internship, as it gave me confidence to succeed and challenge myself by studying abroad. Zagreb, in the end, has become my home away from home. I plan on living in Croatia after I graduate from UC.”
Some former interns still meet up to reconnect after years have passed. Ochmann stayed with Schmidt while on vacation in Europe; Khan traveled to Colombia to see fellow 2018 intern Juan Rodriguez; Kyle Shuja and Maéna Gerault of the 2018 cohort met up while Shuja was studying abroad in France.
And while the students return to their home countries, former interns’ shared experiences at UC create valuable connections for their lives and their careers. Each cohort continues to maintain lifelong friendships and spread their positive experience at UC around the globe.
After five years, UC International’s internship program is highly thought of by the participants and by UC's international partners. Students and their home universities are clearly interested in unique opportunities for multinational collaboration and real-world experience.
Preparation for next year’s internship is already underway, according to Ochmann. “I always have to have next year’s project ready to go by October so we can market the opportunity to our international partners with plenty of time to spare.” While some projects are yet to be determined, Ochmann expects that the interns will be working on a variety of videos for international students and a manual for faculty members leading study abroad programs.
“The expansion of the internship to the University Honors Program was a total success, so we’re looking for new ways to pair up students in other departments,” she says. She’d also like to plan more structured team-building activities into the experience as a way of integrating the students together.
“I’m not worried, though,” Ochmann assures. “The interns always find a way to amaze me.”
The feature image shows UC International's 2019 interns: from left, Ana Smetisko, Berengere Lavedrine, Kalea Lucas, Nourhan Nihad, Lindsey Sweatland and Dora Curkovic. All photos by Natalie Ochmann unless credited otherwise.