Kevin Dinh

Scholar Voices: Kevin’s Search for a Meaningful Internship

Kevin Dinh is a Meritus Scholar and soon-to-be graduate of UC Davis. Through the Meritus internship program, Kevin spent last summer working at EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on upgrading the Internet access in every public school classroom in America. This is the first installment of a three-part series exploring Kevin’s internship experience.  

I’ve been an undergrad for a long time. Over the past seven years, I’ve switched majors four times, going from biology to abstract math to applied math to economics. I was enthusiastic about learning, but in truth I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. For me, a job would be more than a commitment that provided a paycheck—it would be an extension of my identity. I wanted to find a profession that positively impacted the world.

Being in school for this long means that I have a pretty solid understanding of academia. In considering my options for last summer, I felt I knew what to expect(-ish) if I chose academia as a career. However, I also knew there was an entire world beyond academics I had yet to explore. So while I worried that a 9-to-5 job would mean Excel spreadsheets, tired Monday meetings, and constant optimization to produce better numbers, I knew I needed to give it a fair chance.

As I applied for internships through Meritus, I developed a mental checklist for what I wanted from my employer and from myself. For my employer, I had three demands. First, I wanted an organization with a mission and values that extended beyond profit-maximization. I wanted to work for a company that cared about people just as much as I did. Second, the organization needed to be innovative. I am blessed to live in the Bay Area, one of the most innovative places in the world. I wanted to take advantage of the brilliant minds here and learn what “forward thinking” really looks like. Lastly, I wanted my employer to have high expectations—for itself and for me. Being in an environment where people are constantly pushing themselves to be their best helps me to be my best.

For myself, I had two goals. I wanted to commit to the internship as if I were a full-fledged employee. This would mean learning the jargon, the software, and connecting with coworkers. This would also mean being accountable and following through on my promises. If I promised something, I would stay late to complete it—even if others didn’t expect me to. I was determined to not be viewed as “the intern” by my internship’s end. I wanted to just be Kevin, the hard worker.

I also wanted to go into my internship watchful. I would assume the role of an ethnographer and observe as many interpersonal dynamics as possible. How do employees interact with their coworkers, or managers with their team members, or the leadership team with the rest of the company? How does lunchtime language differ from that of meetings? How do people interpret professionalism and carry it out? These questions, along with my two goals, would guide my understanding of the working world.

With these guidelines in mind, I applied for internships and, through serendipity, found EducationSuperHighway. ESH met all my requirements for a meaningful company. In fact, I knew I had found something special when, at the end of my phone interview, my future manager Heather and I were laughing about the Real Housewives. We set my start date and I stepped away knowing I had found a good place to explore this new chapter.