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Seeds of a Career

Tisch College Summer Fellows get a taste for working in the nonprofit and government sectors

This summer, Jack Colelli, A18, found himself on a farm outside of Alexandria, Virginia, interning at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. He did everything from harvesting crops to teaching schoolchildren about the farming life.

Colelli was one of 83 Tufts students selected for this year's Tisch Summer Fellows program. They work full-time for 10 weeks doing jobs with a focus on public interest in a range of government offices, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations in and around Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston and receive a stipend of approximately $4,000. Students can also pursue international projects, working on issues related to health, education, and the environment in places such as Ghana and Malaysia.

The demand for these kinds of real-life experiences working for the public good is increasing as more students look for ways to road test potential careers and expand their skill sets. The Tisch Summer Fellows program—which supported 83 fellows in 2016, up from 46 in 2015—is growing, but landing one of these highly coveted summer work experiences has become increasingly competitive. The stipends are funded by alumni and others, and the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts also relies on them to identify sites for summer placements.

"Our goals are for students to consider their own civic identity, connect their coursework to real-world experience, and understand communities different from their own, all while exploring potential career paths," says Maggie McMorrow, a program coordinator associate at Tisch College. "Whether they were on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon, in the Massachusetts State House, or at community nonprofits, our fellows were learning while making a difference."

"I wanted on-the-ground experience, working at a nonprofit especially, because there's so much going on at all times," says Colelli, a Vermont native who was looking to learn more about what he could do with his majors in quantitative economics and food systems.

Planting and harvesting crops such as Swiss chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and garlic, Colelli says, "I saw so many aspects [about] the vertical integration of growing on a big farm. I got an in-depth look at the food system in D.C., what shapes it and the challenges it faces."

On one of his first days at the Arcadia Center's Farm Camp for kids ages 6 to 11, Colelli faced an overgrown plot that had to be cleared in two days—not a huge challenge for someone who started his own garden in fifth grade and later built a hydroponic greenhouse. But how do you convince a dozen 10-year-olds to weed?

He dangled a carrot: If they weeded, they could plant vegetables—and then eat them. It worked. Now he's considering a career at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

At the end of his farming stint, Colelli joined the other D.C. Tisch Summer Fellows for a visit to the White House. "I was wearing this under my suit," he smiles, pointing at his sweat-soaked tank top and cargo shorts. "I was Farmer Jack on the inside."