Slice of Life

Why some students spent a semester off campus — but didn’t go abroad

Courtesy of Francois Acosta

Francois Acosta posing with Assemblyman Michael Blake while finishing his semester in Albany. Being in New York state's capital city gives students like Acosta, a senior political science major, the opportunity to intern with state politicians.

NEW YORK — Most Syracuse University students only get a few short years in college. So it’s never easy to give up one of those precious semesters on campus.

Still, many choose to study abroad and have an international experience at one of SU Abroad’s seven centers or one of dozens of partner programs.

But others opt to leave campus while still staying in the United States. Syracuse University offers semester-long off-campus programs tailored to specific majors, concentrations and the locations in which the programs are held. Architecture students study urban planning in New York City, and political science students immerse themselves in government in Washington, D.C.

It’s all in an effort for students to build real-world experience and to get a head start on their careers. Many leave campus during their last semester enrolled at SU to do just that.

One of those students is Francois Acosta, a senior political science major finishing up his semester in Albany. The New York state capital city provides an opportunity for students like Acosta to intern with state politicians. Right now, he’s wrapping up a semester serving as scheduling coordinator for Assemblyman Michael Blake.

Acosta has interned during summers in the past, but being in Albany during the semester means he gets to experience the action of the legislative session.

He’s coordinated meetings between Blake and lobbying groups and watched passionate citizens work for the policies they care about. This session, one of those issues was raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, and Acosta watched Blake work tirelessly to make it happen.

It’s all given Acosta a deeper understanding of politics that can’t be learned from a textbook.

“I’ve read about what it’s to work in politics at the state and federal level,” Acosta said. “But it’s very very different to see how these members interact with other people, how they negotiate, how they debate bills.”

There’s also a classroom component to the Albany semester, where students read about and discuss New York state politics and public policy. Then they get out of the classroom to network with assemblymembers and attend issue forums with officials such as the state comptroller and the speaker of the New York state assembly.

Other students head further downstate to New York City, where the Fisher Center serves as SU’s academic home base in midtown Manhattan. SU’s Department of Drama, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the School of Architecture all have programs for undergraduates in the city that incorporate professors and experiences students couldn’t get anywhere else.

Newhouse students learn from professors such as Joy-Ann Reid, host of MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” and hold down internships in the media world. Architecture students focus on the city’s architectural history and produce projects that tackle design projects tailored to New York City, such as redesigning subway stations. And drama students in the Tepper Semester see about two shows each week and meet people in the theatre industry, all while taking seven classes at the Fisher Center.

Senior acting majors Pascal Portney and Mary McGowan said there’s no better place for them to be right now, especially as they are about to graduate. The Tepper Semester has given them a taste of the world they’ll likely be living in in just a few months.

“It’s about learning how to hold your own in the world, and it’s a big time commitment,” Portney said. “I’ve never felt true exhaustion until this semester.”

It’s a big difference from studying abroad, Portney and McGowan agreed. They both spent a semester in London and got experience working at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. But while studying abroad is a time of self-discovery, Portney said, staying in the country has been the right move for their careers.

Meredith Coccoluto echoed the same feeling from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs’ program in Washington, D.C., “Maxwell-in-Washington.” She also spent a semester in London her sophomore year, where she also had an internship, but she said this semester has given her important career and networking experiences.

“I would never discount going abroad,” she said. “I think that was a different experience, and it was definitely more of a personal one, but professionally this one was probably more valuable.”

While she isn’t graduating until December, fellow Maxwell student Chloe Kempken has already seen the Washington program impacting her career prospects. In addition to providing a potential summer internship, she said her time in the nation’s capital has shown her what kind of work may be right for her.

Kempken, an international relations and political science major interning at the Atlantic Council, said the Maxwell program can also be exhausting. The students in the program intern four days a week, which is more than students in New York City or L.A., in addition to taking three-hour classes at night. The classes in the Maxwell program are all taught by working professionals, and each week the professors coordinate and teach with a “theme,” such as “immigration.”

With a group of only 17 students, Kempken said, the classes are much more engaging than those back on campus.

“When we have discussions, everyone is kind of involved and everyone is interested,” she said. “I feel like sometimes when I took classes at Maxwell, you’re kind of almost afraid to speak up because people don’t participate. I feel like here we’re all really nerdy about it, so it’s not awkward.”

Students from a variety of majors travel to Los Angeles for the SULA Semester program, where they also take classes with experienced professors at night after interning all day. This semester, the professors included David and Julie Chambers, who have written for “The Simpsons,” and Bob Boden, who has produced dozens of game shows and reality series.

Jesse Segaul, a television, radio and film major interning at Mike Mathis Productions, said the professors add to the experience.

“It’s people that aren’t really teachers first,” he said. “But because they aren’t just professors, they’re professionals, they know what it’s like in the industry so it’s a little more laid back.”

Segaul, who knew he wanted to attend the L.A. program since he was in high school, said the experience — specifically the internship, networking events and a mentorship program set up by Newhouse — will likely help him find a job post-graduation.

Michael Rubloff, a senior in the program interning with Warner Music Group, agreed and recommended the program, and others like it, specifically to seniors as a “transition semester.”

“It’s really given me a really big head start,” he said. “I can interview in person out here. I think it’s been an incredibly smart decision … I think it’s been a pretty unanimous thing that it’s been a great way to jump into your career.”

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