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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

A critique of summer internships

Students should be encouraged to seek out traditional American blue-collar jobs, which provide unique opportunities for growth.

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Crops are pictured at Morningstar Farm in Hudson, N.Y.

There’s a quiet grace in the evenings, when the auburn sun gently rests on the horizon, casting the fields in a dusky glow. Every hour or so, the rustling of crops in the wind is disturbed by the sound of a passenger train in the distance, cutting swiftly through the fields.

As the season of internship applications arrives, it is valuable to make an argument against the hunt for corporate internships, which are grossly overvalued in our Tufts echo chamber.

Last summer, I had an internship at the nonprofit Amber Waves Farm. This experience served as a stark reminder of the value of agriculture, both for communities and workers. During my time there, I was exposed to a vast wealth of agricultural, practical and professional knowledge that I could not have learned anywhere else.

Despite the pervasive pressure for college students to find a white-collar internship, at the farm I found a sense of purpose. I could immediately see the impact of our work on the local community. In 2022 alone, Amber Waves donated over 15,600 pounds of produce to local families. The opportunity to gain professional experience while simultaneously seeing how my work helped the community served as a motivator throughout the summer, encouraging me to come ready to work each day. I felt as if I had stumbled upon a revelation, but in fact, I had just discovered what blue-collar workers have known for generations: Seeing your labor come to life leads to greater happiness. It’s no surprise that construction workers have the highest job satisfaction out of any profession.

America has a long history of farming and trade jobs. It’s likely our increasingly automated society will result in these traditional job sectors taking a big hit as more students head to college after high school graduation now versus before the turn of the century. It also doesn’t help that the population of farmers and trade workers is aging rapidly.

In the next 10 years, over 50% of farmers in the United States are expected to retire. One third of U.S. farmers are over 65, and the majority of farmland is controlled by farmers over 55 years of age. This trend is mirrored in similar positions that once represented American manufacturing dominance. Fifty-nine percent of welding, soldering and brazing machine setters and 58% of welders are at least 45 years old. One hundred years ago, the most popular profession in the United States was farming, as compared to today, when “retail worker” is listed as the most popular job, and “fast food and counter worker” as No. 2.

This is by no means a critique of alternate career paths that don’t require a college diploma. I believe that everyone who works for a living deserves respect regardless of the “glamour” of the job. The problem does not originate with the employees’ choice of workplace, but rather, with the access to employment in these positions. While farms were commonplace 100 years ago, today, it is harder to find farms to work at than in the past. In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States. In 2022, only 2 million remained.

Though it may be difficult to find a position at a farm, the benefits are numerous. As tiresome as it is to hear older generations complain about the dangers of modern-day technology, they have a point. Studies have shown that screen time can serve as a predictor of depressive symptoms, can lead to poor sleep and result in higher rates of obesity. Having the opportunity to work outside over the summer as opposed to staring at a screen in a climate-controlled office building can be great for your health. Additionally, it can be great for professional development, as these typically overlooked positions provide huge opportunities for growth and unique skill development.

Not all of my summer was occupied by stereotypical farm work. I was able to do graphic design and marketing, which allowed me to develop professional skills I could add to my resume. In these fields often disregarded by students seeking a summer internship, there are additional skills to be picked up as well, such as effective communication, networking and technical expertise specific to the profession.

If you’re looking for a summer job and want a chance to gain a unique experience in a profession that has been undervalued in today’s internship sphere, I cannot advocate enough for jobs that involve the hands-on work that has been undertaken in the United States for generations. There is a reason why these professions have endured for centuries, and this summer I implore you to find out why.