As many Western students and alumni can attest, summer internships can be a mixed bag – some are incredibly rewarding and offer great experience that translates directly into their career after graduation, others, well … not so much.
There’s no question about the internship experience that Alexia Suarez, a senior Journalism/Public Relations major from Puyallup, had, however.
“It was the most amazing summer of my life, no doubt about it,” she said.
Suarez, who is also focusing on dual minors in Women and Gender Studies and Leadership Studies, completed her summer PR internship at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, where she worked on press release copy, pitched stories to the media (and those pitches paid off in stories done by the Boston Herald, and NPR), worked with content providers and reporters every day and, in general, immersed herself completely into the world of medical public relations.
Suarez said she has a cousin that works at Dana-Farber who heard about the internship, and she encouraged her to apply.
“So I did … and I got it,” she said. “It was an amazing feeling to get chosen, but I knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Suarez said there wasn’t any time to get up to snuff once she got to Boston – she was thrown into the fray immediately.
“It was pretty much constant contact and facilitation with the media, every day,” she said. “I was working in one of the world’s leading labs fighting cancer, and I knew I had to quickly understand cancer in depth so I could convey that information effectively to others.”
On top of the steep early learning curve was a profound case of homesickness.
“I am from a big Mexican family and being away from home was really, really hard at first, but in the end I loved it,” she said. “Once I got over that, the world just seemed to open up to me. It was amazing being in an incredible city on the other side of the country.”
The job, she found, was as rewarding as it was challenging. The story she pitched to the Boston Herald, about a brave little two-year-old girl named Stella Downey and her family surviving a harrowing neuroblastoma diagnosis, is one she said she will never forget. An ongoing story by New York Times, about a teenage girl undergoing treatment for her sickle-cell anemia via a new drug trial, will run sometime this winter.
“These are people’s lives, and it was impossible to forget that, and about the stakes involved,” she said.
Suarez said she credits her work and time in Western’s Karen W. Morse Institute for Leadership for being able to not only hit the ground running but approach the internship with confidence and professionalism, even when she was feeling desperately homesick.
“I had no friends, I was on the other side of the country – but I knew I could express myself, be professional and because of that confidence, create my own community and feel good about it,” she said.
These are people’s lives, and it was impossible to forget that, and about the stakes involved.
“I am so proud of Alexia’s work with the Dana Farber Institute this summer! She was always pushing herself out of her comfort zone and looking for opportunities to contribute to their work, learn more to develop her skills and knowledge, and connect with others,” said Karen Stout, director of the Karen W. Morse Institute for Leadership. “Her internship director there was effusive in his praise of her work and made clear he would love other students from Western – if they were anything like Alexia.”
As for what comes next, Suarez said she would love to work in medical PR after she graduates – and hopes for that to happen in Boston or New York City.
“I will need to work that through with my family for sure, but they will understand,” she said with a laugh. “But I can’t wait to get started.”