At the mouth of the Thames River in New London, Connecticut, beachgoers are enjoying a pristine day in the middle of July. Less than a mile away, surrounded by security fences and tucked into a state-of-the-art research facility, Franciscan engineering students Erica Leigh Terranova and Zachary Mercugliano are hard at work at their summer internship. Outside the windows of their office building they can see dry docks surrounding by cranes. The sleek black hull of a Virginia class nuclear attack submarine awaits sea trials.
Erica and Zachery return to work at General Dynamics Electric Boat, which in 2012 won a $1.85 billion government contract to research and develop the Navy’s next-generation ballistic-missile submarine. What’s emerged is the Columbia class—a potential “game changer” according to defense experts. While the first of the 12-sub fleet is still over a decade away from commissioning, Mercugliano and Terranova spent their summer working—and learning—on the fly.
“I got there on the first day, and after numerous security checks and trainings, they just got me started reading sub schematics,” says Mercugliano, a sophomore. “I looked at my supervisor and told him, ‘This is way over my head’ and he was like, ‘Yep, freshman, junior, or graduate, this is how it always is. You learned how to learn in school, now this is brand new knowledge. Eighty percent of your education is on the job.’
When it comes to what Mercugliano and Terranova actually worked on, it’s all very hush-hush. But both say they grew through the internship, and have a better idea of the myriad of defense-related engineering jobs that are available after graduation.
“It’s given me some insight into what I want to do after I get my degree,” says Terranova. “The great thing about the company is that you get a look at all sides of engineering and you can find your niche.”
Their experience is far from unique. When classes ended during the first week of May, hundreds of Franciscan students set their sights on the next stage of their education. In fact, Franciscan students travelled throughout the country—and in some cases the world—to gain real-world preparation through internships and missionary work. For many of them, it was not only a chance to explore career opportunities, but to get a head start in a competitive job market.
Finding the Right Fit
The value of an internship can’t be overstated. A recent Georgetown University study found that college graduates who completed a paid internship received job offers at twice the rate of those who never interned during their time in school. What’s more, the same study found that college graduates who completed paid internships earn starting salaries 28 percent higher than those who didn’t complete paid internships.
With those kinds of numbers in mind, it’s no surprise the process of securing a summer internship can be competitive, with acceptances often involving equal parts résumé, luck, and networking.
Clarke Peterson, a senior psychology major, spent his spring sending out internship applications to no avail. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with the mother of a childhood friend that he found a lead with the Army Research Institute (ARI) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“I worked on writing literature reviews on creativity,” he says. “The army will use that information, along with the work my coworkers did, to develop ways to train army leaders to think in a more innovative and strategic manner.”
Andrea Moury also interned in a researching and writing role—in her case, a block from the White House.
Moury, a senior political science major from Michigan, interned with the American Principles Project, a conservative nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. A year earlier, she interned with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. She credits Franciscan’s Career Services Office with helping her discover various internship opportunities.
“When I was first looking for an internship last summer, Career Services put me in contact with about 20 political science alumni who reached out to me over email or phone and shared ideas for internships,” she says.
Moury also says her professors were influential in preparing her for the kind of work she’s completed.
“I have had so many wonderful professors from all different departments,” she says. “They’ve helped me to critically think and learn to evaluate policies through the lens of ethics, Catholic social teaching, and human dignity.”
History major Katie Hugo echoed Moury in crediting both her professors and coursework at Franciscan with preparing her for her internship at Gunston Hall, a living history museum in Fairfax County, Virginia, dedicated to the life of Founding Father George Mason.
“I’m applying what I learned in Dr. Bob Doyle’s Historical Methods class, using databases in research” she says. “Also, Dr. Doyle talked about the importance of digitizing records and how technology changes quickly. I’ve used this in my internship by helping scan film and then turning them into computer files.”
Hugo had a particularly busy summer researching the details about how an 18th-century mansion would have looked and functioned. In addition to working on a project to recreate Mason’s bookshelf, she helped organize living history projects to engage children in an interactive and educational manner.
“I’m thinking about museums as a career option,” she says. “It’s been a lot of fun and a very good experience.”
A Call to Serve
While many Franciscan students participate in both private sector and government internships, mission trips and other evangelistic efforts are also popular. A group of six theology and catechetics students spent the summer in the Diocese of Shrewsbury, England, visiting parishes and schools, leading Holy Hours, and giving personal testimony to local youth. A continent away in Magadan, Russia, where Vice President Henry Wallace famously toured a sanitized gulag in 1944, eight Franciscan students lived, worked, and taught in the local community.
Of course, not all evangelistic outreach takes place abroad. Luke Welsh, a junior theology and catechetics major, spent his summer working as a youth minister for St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Coppell, Texas. Aside from fellowship activities like taking the local teens to the park for pickup games, or Chick-fil-A for milkshakes, Welsh led youth in a question-based video series called Alpha.
Using videos to spur basic questions about the meaning of life, the role of religion, and the nature of God, Welsh helped teens explore different dimensions of their faith.
“It gets people to think about, and be open to, religion and the idea of Catholicism,” he says.
Additionally, he helped lead the parish’s youth on a mission trip to Laredo, Texas, where the group did construction work in a town on the border with Mexico.
“It’s a very impoverished area,” says Welsh. “We replaced a woman’s roof, put up a new ceiling in her house, painted her house—we did a lot of significant work.”
Emmanuel Anderson was one of several Franciscan theology students to spend their summer working with youth in the United Kingdom.
Aside from providing valuable experience to complement students’ academic study, internships offer a chance for personal growth, career exploration, and networking possibilities.
“I’ve learned more about my gifts and talents and how to use them,” says Emmanuel Ambrose, one of the students on the England mission trip. “I didn’t realize I had the ability to speak in front of crowds.”
Mercugliano, who also has an interest in teaching, says his time at Electric Boat has been “fantastic” and that he can see himself working at a company managing defense contracts.
“It’s a fascinating field, with the coolest tech, and you’re serving the country in the process,” he says.
Perhaps no Franciscan student received more of glimpse into their future than Clarke Peterson, who says working at the ARI has opened his eyes to organizational psychology opportunities at government agencies. When he told his bosses his goal of earning a doctorate at George Mason University in Washington, D.C—where the ARI has another location—they offered to bring him back on staff and transfer him when the time comes.
“What started as a summer internship may actually end up being my job for the next half a decade or so.”
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Franciscan Magazine.