This story originally appeared on the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement blog, DDCE Central.
Ashley Garcia's involvement in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Graduate School Internship led her to the prestigious Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Duke University last summer, where she performed intensive research on political party corruption and Mexican drug trafficking. Her project, "Mexicanos al Gritode Guerra: What is Causing the Drug War in Mexico?" was one of only 10 selected for presentation at the American Political Science Association conference in September.
Garcia's story is just one of the many success stories among the 1,200 students who have participated in the Pre-Graduate School Internship since it began in the fall of 2003. The internship allows undergraduate students to discover what they ultimately want to accomplish in the future by working with graduate students and faculty in academic fields that are of interest to them. The program accepts freshman to seniors in any major at the university.
Garcia, a Radio-Television-Film and Latin American Studies senior, took part in the program this past spring. In the fall of 2010, Ashley heard about the IE internship through Manú Avilés-Santiago, the teaching assistant for her U.S. Latinos in the Media class.
"One afternoon he sent out an email telling the class he wanted to be a mentor for a student interested in grad school," Garcia said. "That semester, I was thinking about grad school, but I really didn't know the process on how to get there."
Hoping that a mentor would guide her in the right direction, Garcia applied and began interning with Santiago. During the course of her internship, Garcia shadowed her mentor and even attended a media studies conference in New Orleans.
During the spring semester, Garcia heard about the Bunche Summer Institute, which encourages students to pursue academic careers in political science. She applied to the program and heard of her acceptance a few weeks later. The summer institute covered her airfare, housing and meals, along with a stipend.
"It was four weeks of pure research and reading," Garcia said. "I had 15 books to read in four weeks, plus articles." Garcia also had to take GRE prep courses.
"It was very intense, but it was definitely worth it," she said.
Garcia accredits the IE Pre-Graduate Internship for preparing her for graduate fieldwork.
"The biggest thing I learned in IE is to not be scared to talk to professors or graduate students," Garcia said. "There are people out there interested in your work. I thought I was the only one interested in certain specific issues, but thanks to IE, I know that I'm not."
Garcia is currently applying to graduate schools across the nation including: Stanford, UC Berkeley, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas AandM, Vanderbilt, Georgetown and Brown.
"I love to do research, find things, answer questions," Garcia said. "I would like to have a more active role in the future. I can see myself as a policy maker or a professor."
Rick Cherwitz, founder and director of the IE Pre-Graduate Internship emphasized that the goal of his program is to help students mold their own futures. "I'm equally proud of the students who find out that they don't want to go to grad school as the others who never thought about it and now are," he said. "This program is and should be student driven."