What I Did That Summer

6 August 2013
Illustrations by Gary Locke

Strenuous or silly, a college student’s summer job often provides skills and perspectives that the classroom does not. Here, Carls talk about the summer employment that gave them an education they’ll never forget.

Once Bitten


Chloe Meisner ’11 is currently enrolled in nursing school at the University of Southern Maine.

“I spent the summer after my freshman year at Carleton working in an entomology lab at the University of Maine. Populations of stinging fire ants have boomed in Maine in recent years, and researchers are trying to develop organic insecticides to eradicate the invasive species. I liked the work so much that it inspired me to declare biology as my major when I returned to campus.

“We used little vials that had two tubes coming out of them to collect specimens in the field. You placed one tube into a swarm of fire ants—they make their nests under rocks or rotting logs—and you suck on the other end, pulling the ants into the tube. A screen stops the ants from entering the second tube.

“One day, though, I inadvertently took a vial that was missing its screen. I put the tube into the swarm, inhaled, and ended up with a mouthful of ants. They went crazy, stinging the back of my tongue, and I was worried it might swell up. Thankfully, I’m not allergic, but we were in the middle of nowhere, so even after I spit them out, I couldn’t go brush my teeth. Trust me, you don’t want the flavor of fire ants lingering in your mouth. After that, I always checked for the screen. Nobody wants a mouthful of ants.”


War of Words

Yuvika Diwan ’13 (Panchkula, India) interned last summer at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations in New York City.

“On August 3, 2012, my supervisor and I attended the General Assembly session where a resolution was introduced condemning the Syrian government for its violent actions against citizens.

“The Syrian representatives fought back, blaming the United States for arming insurgents. They claimed their country was the victim of a vast media attack and said the draft resolution violated Syria’s national sovereignty. It got pretty heated. The Israeli delegate claimed, ‘If lying were an Olympic event, Syria would be a gold medalist.’ Syria responded in kind: ‘In the Olympics of terrorism, Israel would get the top prize.’

“It was surreal to be in a room full of people from all around the world trying to find a solution. Diplomats must represent their governments’ national policies, even if they might personally disagree with them.

“I’m still interested in a career in international relations, but I learned that I do not want to be a diplomat.”


Swimming in Slime

Cole Frank ’15 (New York) and Luke Fairchild ’15 (Wausau, Wis.) worked on the dock of a salmon cannery in Alaska during the summer of 2012. 

Why Alaska? “Luke and I wanted an adventure,” says Frank. “So we flew to Anchorage in mid-June and interviewed with companies that run the canneries on Bristol Bay, roughly 300 miles west of Anchorage. We were hired to do processing work and boxing, but later we switched to unloading the tenders that brought in the catch. We were the only workers younger than 20.”

What was the work like? “We worked 13-hour days, seven days a week. It’s a very hectic environment. We needed to move fast in order to get all the boats unloaded and back out before the tide went out. Speed was generally prioritized over safety.”

Was it dangerous? “We used a hose to suck up the salmon, but we had to go into each hold and use a metal stick to push the last foot or two of salmon into the mouth of the hose. You can’t see the floor because it’s covered with fish. Plus, the floors are sloped. Moving around in two feet of fish and slime is difficult. Both of us wiped out a couple times. Luckily, we were wearing construction helmets. Nothing more than bruised egos.”

Did anyone get hurt? “One of the guys we worked with lost his index finger when a plastic tote full of ice fell on it.”

Did you make any friends? “We met some characters. We got particularly close to our deck boss, Robert. He was 25 or so and had a wife and kid in California, but he came up to Alaska to work during the summer. He had been in jail for two years when he was younger, and he said it was hard for him to find work in California. Robert was always upbeat, laughing, and cracking jokes. I admired his optimism.”



Waiting for Normal

Last summer, Elicia Cousins ’13 (Tokyo) volunteered at an evacuation retreat for families from the Tohoku region in Japan, which was heavily contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011.

“Coming to the camp was therapeutic. It allowed families to forget about the problems at home and swim, snorkel, fish, and canoe. Every night, camp organizers would gather the adults—mostly mothers, because the fathers were working—to talk. It was emotional.

“Many of the parents were worried that their kids’ exposure to radiation would cause fertility problems, immune deficiencies, or psychological problems. More than 36 percent of children from the region who have been tested have bumps on their thyroids. Families talked about potential medical costs and other financial worries. Many of them said they feared discrimination. They worried people would treat them differently if they saw Fukushima license plates on their cars, for example. Every day they questioned if they’d made the right decision by choosing to stay in Tohoku.

“On the last day, we all came together to say goodbye. One mother told me her son’s Christmas list usually consists of ‘I want this, I want that.’ But when she looked at it that year, all he’d written was: ‘I wish for radiation to be gone.’ I was really moved by that.”


Villagers with Pitchforks

Courtney Halbach ’13 (Madison, Wis.) studied sustainable agriculture last summer by living with a family on a dairy farm in Luxembourg.

“The thing that impressed me most during my stay was how hard the farmers worked—and how the community came together to get work done. For example, during haying season, they had to cut the hay, let it dry in the sun, and then bundle it or make it into silage. Whenever there were a few dry days in the forecast, the farmers would make a schedule of who would help whom.

“When it was time for my host family to harvest hay, three tractors and a dozen neighbors lined up in the field next to the harvester. The process took all day, with people rotating between jobs. Those of us who weren’t in the fields prepared lunches. At the end of the day, everyone had an ice-cold drink to celebrate the day’s hard work.

“I learned that you can always make time for others. Even though life at Carleton is super busy, I try to put my own projects on hold if a friend or an organization needs help. There’s a great deal of gratitude, satisfaction, and pride within your community when you work together.”


The Art of the Tattoo

tatoo.jpgThe summer before her freshman year, Emily Ness ’14 (Birmingham, Ala.) applied temporary tattoos at Alabama Adventure, an amusement park in Bessemer, Alabama.

Most popular color: red

Most asked-for designs: skulls, unicorns, Chinese characters

Typical customers: “Guys with mullets, moms with young kids.”

Lesson learned: “I tend to be shy, so being in an environment where I had to talk to different people every day was alarming at first. But eventually I learned the art of chitchat. It helped me break out of my shell and, when I got to Carleton, I found it was easier to start conversations with people.”

Strangest scene: “My station was across from the swimming tubes. Sometimes the huge tubes would get away from the guests and roll down the shallow slope, stopping for no one. I don’t think anyone was ever bowled over, but it was always a risk. Several times a day the lifeguards would gather up the tubes, using every limb and muscle to carry them. It was like watching a bunch of Michelin men strut along the beach.”

The tattoo she got: “That’s not really my thing.”


Ah, Wilderness!

Russell Aguilar ’13 (San Rafael, Calif.) is an environmental studies major.

The job: Field leader with the Student Conservation Association, introducing inner-city families to the pleasures of hiking and camping in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. “We taught them how to set up tents, cook over a campfire, pack a first aid kit. We also taught them how to
research other places to camp and hike.”

The motivation: “I love being outdoors and I want other people to love it, too. But when it comes to camping, there are a lot of barriers to entry: lack of knowledge, lack of experience, fear of insects and snakes. We call it ecophobia. This program is designed to overcome a lot of those obstacles.”

The biggest challenge: “The challenging part was convincing the parents to stay in tents. We were pretty persuasive, but it didn’t always work. One woman was so afraid of poisonous bugs that she slept in her car.”

The biggest kick: “Most of the kids had never had s’mores. At first, they thought the concept was really weird: chocolate, graham crackers, and roasted marshmallows? But once they tried them, they couldn’t stop eating them.”


The Job That Got Me My Career

computer-boy.jpgErnie Soffronoff ’94 is information technology director for the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Before the Computer and Math Center (CMC) was built at Carleton in 1993, the computer systems labs were located in a wooden building behind Laird and in Goodsell, which also housed the department offices. When the CMC was built, everything had to be moved into the new space. As a former lab assistant in the computer science department, I was hired to help out.

“A big part of the job was configuring the spaces and setting up the new equipment. But my supervisor, Mike Tie, also gave me the opportunity to make decisions that involved more complex issues: What sort of security system would we use to keep the units from being stolen? What sort of file server was right? How would people use the space? I had never had to think about providing technology as a ‘service.’ Plus, it was really cool to unbox 40 computers in one day.

“I was a computer science major because I was good with computers. But computer science is really different from information technology. That summer, I realized I was a mediocre computer scientist, but I was a really good IT person. I remember thinking ‘this is the absolutely coolest job in the world.’ That’s why today I’m in IT, not computer science.”


Joel Hoekstra is a regular contributor to the Voice. 

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