How I Spent My Summer Vacation: The Important Role of Internships

Final exams. Research papers. Group presentations.

Surviving the end of an academic year can be a challenging exercise for students. With their final assignments and exams completed, no one would blame these students for wanting to recharge their batteries and take a long, relaxing summer vacation.

But for many, once the rigors of the academic year have been completed, a new challenge takes its place during the summer: landing a competitive and impactful internship that can put them on the path to a fulfilling career once they graduate.

Three current students—Tianyi Zheng ’25, Bakary Darboe ’25 and Gift Onyenkwere ’25—discussed how their summer internships will set them up for lifelong career success, the valuable lessons they learned on the job and how they feel energized to pursue their professional goals after their internships.

Three students smile while posing for headshots

Tianyi Zheng ’25, Bakary Darboe ’25 and Gift Onyenkwere ’25 participated in summer internships that each one of them feels will set them up for lifelong career success.

Tianyi Zheng ’25

A woman smiles while posing for a photo outdoors.

Tianyi Zheng ’25

Zheng is a senior in the School of Architecture who plans on becoming both an independent architect and a farmer when she graduates. For her internship, Zheng traveled to Fukushima, Japan, which in 2011 experienced a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the country.

Zheng says a community of scientists, architects and artists formed in the village following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Zheng’s internship—which was fully funded thanks to the Office of Central Career Services and its Internship Funding Award—served as the perfect compliment to the architectural theories and ideas she’s been studying at Syracuse.

“I transitioned from being a student to a member of society, as various real-world factors were presented, such as finances, materials and structure. These factors imbue the designer with a greater sense of vitality and uncertainty. In school, I envision society through books and lectures, while in the real world, the richness of reality helps me construct a new intellectual realm. The combination of university studies and this internship nurtures my ideals through the intertwining of theory and practice,” Zheng says.

Company: Korogaro Association, an architecture office established by architect Kengo Sato in the Otama Village in Fukushima, Japan. Korogaro coexists with the landscape and the community, drawing inspiration from the land, the farmers and daily life. Its projects range from artworks to public buildings.

How will this internship help you achieve your career goals? “Architects can come in a variety of forms. There are architects who focus on urban scales in cities or who are involved in rural development in the countryside … My questions are: What kind of architect do I want to be? How can I become like that? These two questions became clearer after the internship in Japan.”

Most important lessons learned: “Learning advice and skills from others has served as inspirational guides for my future. The person who has influenced me the most is my boss, Kengo Sato. His architectural practice, rural lifestyle and personal charisma as a leader have shown me another dimension of what an architect can be. At the same time, being able to participate in every process of each project has shown me the direction and steps needed to become an independent architect.”

Bakary Darboe ’25

A man smiles while posing for a headshot indoors.

Bakary Darboe ’25

Darboe is on the pre-law track as a political science major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Upon graduation, Darboe plans to earn a law degree. His career ambitions include becoming a lawyer, an entrepreneur, an international businessman, a real estate investor and a philanthropist.

“The more of an asset you can prove to be, the more likely those positive impacts will come back full circle. What can I do to help should always linger in your mind when meeting people instead of, ‘What can this person do for me?’” Darboe says when asked about the most important lesson he learned from his internship.

Company: Vornado Realty Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns and manages Class A commercial properties across North America.

Responsibilities: Routing invoices to the assistant property manager for approval to process payment to various vendors; learning about the company’s leases, contracts and the different languages, amendments and clauses contained in various documents.

Other important lessons learned: “The importance of relationships—that relationships should be a two-way street—and to be personable, always willing to learn. So long as you are willing to be a sponge and have that drive and tenacity, there are no shortage of individuals who are eager to teach you. I will apply such an attitude whenever I embark on a new venture.”

Favorite part of the internship: “During my 10 weeks with Vornado, they hosted weekly lunches for the interns with executives, and we heard about various individuals’ paths and their journeys to success. It was reinvigorating to learn there’s no set path or formula to succeeding. I never got the sense that these folks were doing these lunch and learns to get something in return. They took time out of their busy lives to give us guidance and wisdom on how to better thrive in real property. I, too, intend to give back to those who come after me.”

Gift Onyenkwere ’25

A woman smiles while posing for a headshot indoors.

Gift Onyenkwere ’25

Onyenkwere is a junior majoring in supply chain management, retail management and marketing management in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Once Onyenkwere graduates, she plans to work as a supply chain manager, specializing in areas related to inventory control and logistics. Onyenkwere is interested in becoming an area manager in the retail sector, overseeing multiple locations while contributing to efficient operations, and she aspires to become a marketing analyst, relying on data-driven insights to create effective marketing strategies that drive business growth.

“As part of my internship, I spearheaded the implementation of a comprehensive training program for a team of over 100 employees. This initiative resulted in a significant improvement in customer service scores, as validated by customer feedback surveys. Additionally, I successfully developed and executed promotional events that substantially increased foot traffic to the store, leading to a considerable boost in sales,” Onyenkwere says of how she made an impact on the store through her internship.

Company: UNIQLO USA, a prominent retail organization known for its innovative approach to fashion and a commitment to delivering high-quality apparel to customers.

Responsibilities: “As a store management intern, I contributed to the day-to-day operations of a UNIQLO store in Orlando, Florida. I had hands-on experience in tasks such as inventory management, stock replenishment, customer service and contributing to the overall store presentation. This practical experience not only broadened my skill set but also deepened my appreciation for the critical role that effective store management plays in creating a positive customer experience.”

Most important lessons learned: “I gained a comprehensive understanding of the collaborative efforts required to maintain the brand’s reputation for quality and innovation. I learned how each team member—from sales associates to managers—plays a vital role in delivering exceptional service and upholding the brand’s values. I received valuable hands-on experience, participated in team collaboration and learned about the customer-centric approach to retail, and the importance of time management, adaptability, attention to detail and problem-solving.”

Most valuable piece of advice: “Embrace learning and be proactive. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative to learn beyond your assigned tasks. Seek opportunities to gain exposure to different aspects of the company or your industry. Ask questions, engage with professionals and demonstrate your eagerness to contribute.”

By John Boccacino