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"Impractical" Experience, Practical Learning

May 2, 2017

Portrait of Spencer Buchanan

Portrait of Spencer Buchanan
Photo by Matthew Weber, CLAgency
Chinese major Vy Duong used her scholarship to support a teaching internship through LearningWorks, a public-private partnership between Minneapolis Public Schools and The Blake School. As a first-generation college student, she is "so thankful for the opportunity to get hands-on experience in a field that [she is] not 100 percent sure I want to pursue, but that [she] wanted to try." Though she hasn’t decided whether she will pursue teaching in the long-term, she confirmed that she is "interested in a career that allows [her] to support kids and teens so that they can pursue their dreams and their goals."                                                         Economics major and Chinese minor Kongfuechi Moua took an internship with the US Commercial Office. He is grateful to the scholarship donors "for providing students with the opportunity of interning in places where the experiences would have a huge impact on their own careers." His taste of working in government helped him better understand his career goals—leading him to the valuable discovery that he would prefer to work in the private sector after he graduates. Read more about their experiences.

Jim Lawrence held six different internships over the course of his university education. Some were positive-pointing in his career direction. Even a couple that weren't so positive helped to steer him to the right path!

For that reason, he and his wife Mary have established the new Lawrence Scholarship in Experiential Learning, which supports internship experiences for Asian Languages & Literature (ALL) undergraduates, giving them the chance to apply skills they've learned through their classes to the real world.

Senior Spencer Buchanan is a recent recipient of the scholarship. The Bloomington, MN, native will graduate in May with a degree in political science and minors in leadership and Arabic.

Buchanan's desire to pursue a minor in Arabic stems from his interests in both Middle Eastern culture and how the US government performs counter-terrorism operations. His studies have given him unique learning opportunities, including a study abroad experience in Morocco and—with the assistance of the Lawrence Scholarship—a summer 2016 internship with the Minnesota Federal Executive Board (FEB).

Buchanan was interested in the government internship because he believes it is a venue to influence systemic change. "I want to make an impact, and I think the federal government is a place where that can happen," he explained. He recognized the internship with FEB as work experience that aligns with his career goals.

One of the projects he tackled as an intern was to work with the department of emergency management and the department of interior to develop Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans. All government agencies need to have one of these plans because they allow the agency to function in the event of an emergency, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The plans establish confidential locations for agencies that serve as a place of refuge if their main office is out of commision. As a part of his internship, Buchanan had the opportunity to develop a COOP plan of his own for an international agency based in Minnesota. "I just found out a few months ago that my plan was approved," he said with a smile. "It's a pretty rewarding feeling knowing that I developed the plan from scratch and made a significant impact."

The experience was eye-opening for him, as he had never fully grasped the role of the government and how it operates. "I'm now a bigger fan of federal employees and the work that the federal government does," he said. "They work incredibly hard and make great use of the limited resources they have. I think what they do is really underappreciated."

Buchanan hopes one day to work in the Middle East as a diplomat for the state department, and he is even considering running for political office. "Having this internship solidified my desire to move forward with a career in government," he said.

Buchanan expresses much gratitude to the Lawrence Scholarship and its donors for giving him the opportunity to get hands-on experience working for the federal government. The internship was unpaid and would not have been financially possible for him to take advantage of this opportunity without the generously donated scholarship money. Although an unpaid internship might be considered an ‘impractical experience, he thinks they are incredibly important. "I would not have the opportunities that I currently have if it was not for my unpaid internship experience," he explained.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.