crash course in cleveland: intern programs immerse young pros in city's assets

Plugging “Brain Drain”

Imagine if we'd all had a crash course in Cleveland -- a tutorial, administered while we were still young and impressionable, on all the great things this city has to offer. What if we'd "seen the light" -- learned firsthand how the former jokes have melted away, leaving behind a place and region that is repositioning itself in a battered but recovering economy?

Each year, hundreds of high-school and college students are getting just such a lesson. Thanks to internships offered by dozens of local firms and non-profits, students from within and without our region's borders are learning about Cleveland and its potential as a place to live, work and play.

Summer on the Cuyahoga

“We started Summer on the Cuyahoga in 2003 to address the Cleveland ‘brain drain’ -- to bring new talent to the region,” says Bernie Gosky, the program's director.

Started by a local Yale alumnus who sought to reposition Cleveland as a great place to live and work, Summer on the Cuyahoga (SOTC) attracts approximately 50 college students per summer from Case Western Reserve, Colgate, Cornell, Smith, University of Chicago and Yale. Starting next year, Ohio Wesleyan will join as well.

Once in Cleveland, interns are paired with an adult mentor from their college. They live on the CWRU campus and complete projects with both for-profit and non-profit Cleveland companies. After work, the interns are immersed in all things Cleveland, taking in an impressive 56 events in 56 days. By visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Blossom Music Center, or going kayaking on Lake Erie and shopping at the West Side Market, these young professionals begin to sprout local roots. They leave, hopefully, with a better sense of the city.

Gosky’s proud of the numbers. “Of the 420 students who have interned to date, 67 have settled in Cleveland," she explains. "And as a bonus, students who chose not to stay talk up the city wherever they land.”

Brittany Radford, a social work major at Case, recently completed a SOTC internship at University School. Concerned about the high incarceration rate of African American and Hispanic males, Radford established a moot court in class that taught students how to defend themselves. "Most of their exposure to the criminal justice system is negative,” she explains.

Radford plans to attend law school and become a political advocate in the juvenile courts. "Overall, I hope to radically change society, like my role model, Ella Baker,” she says, referring to the renowned heroine of both the civil rights and human rights movements.

PNC Plants Seeds  

PNC Bank’s internship program is 15 years old and, apparently, recession proof. “We have never stopped hiring during the financial downturn; we continue to seek top talent," explains Campus Recruiting Manager Kristi Milczarczyk. "On average, some 80 percent of interns are offered full-time positions with PNC.”

As with SOTC, the goal not only is to fill a company's pipeline with "top talent," but also to introduce that talent to the city around them.

“Many of our markets -- like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago -- are rich in culture and we want our interns to experience it," adds Milczarczyk, "to introduce students to a city they might not otherwise have known.”

While interning with PNC's Corporate Banking Group this summer, Michael Trivelli conducted industry analysis and financial modeling for bank clients. When he heads off to his junior year at Miami University (Ohio) this month, he will do so with a vastly different opinion of Cleveland.

“The people are fun and down-to-earth, but also have a good work ethic like myself," he says. "If I start my career in Cleveland, there’s no doubt that I’ll live on East 4th Street. It has an energy about it that reminds me of New York City in the summertime.”

But it isn't all fun and games that might lure Trivelli back here after graduation -- it's the career potential.

“Cleveland provides young professionals with more opportunity for advancement than other cities," he notes. "Your voice is heard here no matter what age or experience level you’ve reached. I would love to work for PNC."
Taking Cleveland out of the Rearview Mirror

It appears that Cleveland internships are like Lake Erie zebra mussels, multiplying exponentially year after year. Community development organizations teem with programs, as does the Regional Transit Authority, the City of Cleveland planning department, countless educational and business institutions… In a nutshell, everybody!

Nora Romanoff, associate director of ParkWorks, is an unabashed fan of both Cleveland and interns. “The interns see Cleveland with fresh eyes,” she says. “It’s exciting when someone discovers something about your city you didn’t know." She laughs about a recent intern “who ate her way through Cleveland," she recalls. "She went to every restaurant I suggested, every event."

What does Romanoff look for in an intern? “What does that person have?" she asks rhetorically. "What smarts, what capacity that we can’t define?”

Whatever it is, Paul Vogelsang has it. The Buffalo native and Colgate graduate in Environmental Economics just completed his second internship with ParkWorks, where he programmed and promoted events in the city’s parks.

“Cleveland is a promising city for youth,” he states. His Warehouse District apartment building is chock full of young people. “There’s so much going on downtown. Interns are introduced to everything from art camps to soccer camps, from band performances to movies and ice cream socials.”

Vogelsang hopes to settle in Cleveland and is just waiting for the chance to say "yes" to the right job opportunity.
It’s Not Just for College Anymore

Here's the thing about planning your future while you're still in high school: Some of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives while others know precisely what the future holds. And then there are the poor souls who want everything in sight.

Well, not so fast. An internship just may throw a spanner into the works. "Internships either change their minds or confirm their initial goals," says Erin Chester, Program Manager of University Circle, Inc.'s Future Connections program.

Now in its 14th year, Future Connections links high school-age interns with work opportunities at University Circle-based cultural and medical institutions. After a series of skills-based workshops, interns spend four weeks at a non-profit institution followed by four weeks in a business setting.

The program often provides some much-needed clarity for the young interns, says Chester. "One intern at first thought she wanted to be a doctor, but since she really wanted to generalize, changed her goal to physician’s assistant. Another started out in research, but realized she would prefer working with children.”

Occasionally, the internship and the initial goal meld, as in the case of one recent intern who told Chester: “I thought I wanted to be a surgeon, and after working with a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, that’s exactly what I want to do!"

Christine Taylor, now a first-year employee at Medical Mutual, graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts. She has since earned her Masters in non-profit administration from Cleveland State University. As a Future Connections intern she worked at the Dunham Tavern urban garden and the Cleveland Clinic.

“When I interned with UCI, I didn’t know what I wanted,” she explains. “This experience gave us high-school students a heads-up on what to expect in the real world. Most of us enter college not knowing what the other side is like. I was already a step ahead of my peers with this experience under my belt.”

Photography Bob Perkoski
- Photos 1 - 3: Christine Taylor
- Photo 4: Brittany Radford
- Photo 5: Bernie Gosky
- Photo 6: Brittany Radford & Bernie Gosky
- Photos 7-9: Paul Vogelsang
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