By Ryan Goodwin | Photo by Jean Lachat

Andres Serrano Gutierrez, an international student from Mexico who worked last summer at Banco Santander in Puebla, Mexico, got off to a faster start than he had imagined doing risk management at his internship. Before long, he was being assigned more responsibilities by his mentor, and even received a full-time job offer by the end of his internship.

Serrano is a second-year student in the Odyssey Scholarship Program, which provides comprehensive academic, social, and career support for students from lower-income families. Starting with Serrano’s Class of 2019, all Odyssey Scholars are also guaranteed paid internships through the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program in the summer after their first year.

UChicago is the first university to provide such a guaranteed internship opportunity for lower-income students—a total of 214 students from Serrano’s class took part in this inaugural year for the program. Meredith Daw, assistant vice president and executive director of Career Advancement, says the approach is designed to help students during an important period as they consider possible careers.

Odyssey Scholars share their internship experiences. Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85BMHSKx8No (Video by UChicago Creative)

“We noticed a significant difference in graduation outcomes when comparing students who’d had an internship after their first year versus students that didn’t,” Daw says. “It’s wonderful to see how much these students have gained from the experience.”

Every Odyssey Scholar who sought a funded Metcalf internship this summer secured one. Several secured more than one internship, resulting in 240 internships in all. The Odyssey Metcalf Internship Program already spans 13 countries, with 192 employers worldwide. It is supported through a $50 million gift and challenge announced last spring from Harriet Heyman, AM’72, and her husband, investor Sir Michael Moritz, with additional support from the University of Chicago Women’s Board

Andres Serrano Gutierrez worked in risk management for Banco Santander in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Andres Serrano Gutierrez)

Students worked for employers as varied as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, the alumni-founded BallotReady organization, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These internship opportunities reflect the central mission of the College,” says John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Career resources help our students apply the critical and creative skills from the Core to their goals beyond the classroom. The provision of Metcalf internships for our Odyssey scholars means that all of our students, regardless of background, can develop their insights and intellectual personalities in this way. Our students benefit greatly, and so do their employers.”

Student experiences

One of the scholars is second-year Lukas Gondek, an international student from the Czech Republic, who has long had a passion for marketing—a field he says is the perfect mix of creativity and business. Working as an intern for the Hypocrites Theater in Chicago over the summer, he developed a social media campaign that became one of the theater’s most successful to date. He hopes to build on his experience learning from the theater’s executive director, whom he dubbed “a nonprofit and fundraising rock star.”

On the campus tours that Gondek leads for College Admissions, he points to his experience as a positive lesson for prospective students. “Engage with Career Advancement and keep in touch with your advisers,” he says. “There are so many great resources on campus to benefit students. It is amazing.”

Lukas Gondek worked on marketing and social media for the Hypocrites Theater. (Photo by Rob Hart)

Ash Siddiqui, another Odyssey scholar starting her second year, has always been interested in law. Her interest was sparked by watching law dramas as a kid, Siddiqui says, “but I like the fact that in order to be a lawyer you have to be outspoken—it forces you to self-improve and strive toward bettering yourself and your community.”

Siddiqui’s internship with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office gave her just such a challenge. Working in the domestic violence and misdemeanors unit, she spent much of her time calling survivors of abuse and preparing files for attorneys.

“It surprised me that even though not all of the cases amount to much, they all get equal treatment and scrutiny from everyone in the office,” she says. “I enjoyed learning that every case matters and about all of the work that is put into them.”

Ash Siddiqui worked in the domestic violence and misdemeanors unit at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. (Photo courtesy of Ash Siddiqui)

The benefits go beyond just learning new skills, says second-year Duncan Payne. “Being independent, experiencing a professional setting and making connections are entirely worth it,” says Payne.

Payne, who found an internship with the American Medical Association in Chicago, worked mainly on market research. His largest project was to help develop a networking website for physicians, requiring him to study how social networks attract and keep users involved over time.

“I have a good feeling of how people approach and advertise to doctors,” says Payne, who currently plans to pursue research in medicine, “and I definitely think that will help me conduct myself in the future.”

Duncan Payne worked in market research for the American Medical Association. (Photo courtesy of Duncan Payne)

Building career skills

The internship program brought far-reaching benefits for the employers as well. “We are beyond delighted with our Odyssey interns. They are wonderful—bright, talented, creative and dedicated,” says Roxanne Ward, AB’75, AM’76, director of community relations & corporate initiatives at the Women’s Business Development Center.

Banco Santander, the bank where Serrano interned, recognized his hard work by asking him to take on a full-time position. Although he had to turn it down because he wanted to continue his studies at UChicago, he believes the experience will help him in his future job search. “I haven’t heard of other universities that have a similar program to this,” he adds.

Getting an immediate job offer “is practically unheard of for a first-year,” says Cristina Rodriguez, deputy director of Career Advancement. “It goes to show how much employers value our Odyssey Scholars.”

Continuing to focus on students early in their career is a priority for Career Advancement and the Odyssey Scholarship Program, Daw says. “To help our students be competitive applicants in today’s market, we need to provide substantive professional opportunities throughout their four years, not just in the months leading up to graduation,” she adds. “We plan to continue to invest in the program, get more students involved, and increase the number of opportunities for students.”

Originally published on November 8, 2016.