Project L/EARN: Graduates Reflect

Aug 14, 2012, 11:45 AM

Project L/EARN is an intensive, 10-week summer internship for undergraduate college students who are from socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in graduate education. The program, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides students with training, experience and mentoring to make them stronger candidates for admission to graduate programs. Interns attend lecture sessions, complete Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) preparation, and work with mentors to write a research paper, which they present as a poster. This year’s program was held at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.This is the first in a series of posts where scholars who completed the program discuss the experience. Learn more about Project L/EARN.


Symonne Kennedy
Hometown: Teaneck, NJ
Rising senior at Rutgers University
Major: Psychology
Internship Research Project: The Association between Prenatal Substance Exposure and Adolescent Emotional Competence

Human Capital Blog: What’s the most surprising thing you learned during internship?

Symonne Kennedy: The most surprising thing I’ve learned in Project L/EARN is the sheer extent of the amount of work that goes into a research project and the amount of statistics it takes to do it. I’ve taken advanced research statistics, so I thought I was “big man on campus.” But no, there’s so much more to learn, and I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg.

HCB: Are there any insights about your Project L/EARN experience you’d like to share?

Kennedy: The program is really tough, it is a grueling program. They said that beforehand – it’s going to be difficult, it’s an intensive 10-week research program, and that’s exactly what it is. They said you’re not going to believe us, but when you start going through you start to feel it. For future Project L/EARN students it’s important to know that it is a lot of work but it’s very doable. The program is good preparation for what grad school’s really going to be like. It’s tough but you just have to put your mind to it. It’s very accessible, you can do it.

HCB: Would you recommend Project L/EARN to others and why?

Kennedy:  Yes, for students especially who are going to pursue a PhD or something like that, I think that it really does prepare you for grad school. For me especially, the stress is pretty hard to handle, and to know how to cope with that stress now, before things really matter in grad school. It’s a good experience because not only does it prepare you for the kinds of stress that you might experience in grad school, but for the experience with the materials and research. Is this something I really want to do now or focus on later? It can give you an idea of what it will take to reach your goals.


Imani Baker
Hometown: Plainfield, NJ
Rising senior at Rutgers University
Major: Public Health
Internship Research Project: The Association between Nursing Home Culture Change and Quality Indicators: Deficiency Citations and Antipsychotic Medication Use

Human Capital Blog: What did you expect before you arrived? How different is the reality?

Imani Baker: I knew other students from Project L/EARN who said it was extremely hard. So I came into it with the notion that this is going to be really tough. I kind of thought it was going to be like my experience in nursing school where it was just constant work, studying. But it actually proved to be a little bit harder because of the amount of work we actually did and how you have to manage all of it. But that’s part of what I expected. So towards the end it proved to be a lot harder than I thought, but at the same time I was ready, trying to prepare myself mentally for something I wouldn’t normally experience.

HCB: Are there any insights about your Project L/EARN experience you’d like to share?

Baker: Being in Project L/EARN will definitely make you think about what you want to do in life. When I came in, I didn’t really know too much about research, but as the program progressed I felt like maybe research is not where I want to be in the future. But I don’t know – maybe my opinions will change later. Once I go back to nursing school I may find something that I want to do. But just be open when you come to Project L/EARN. Have an open mind. You may not feel like you like research during Project L/EARN, but just know that the skills that you learn will follow you throughout your career. You may find that research will propel you forward.

HCB: Would you recommend Project L/EARN to others and why?

Baker: Yes, because Project L/EARN prepares you not only for your academic career, but your professional career as well. They teach you skills that help you learn how to manage your time. They teach you how to deal with criticism, which a lot of students haven’t had to deal with in prior engagements at school. But in Project L/EARN, constructive criticism is essential for the final product. It makes you a better presenter, a better person and just makes you more successful. If you listen to differences in others, you can apply that to your job as well.

Jane Miller, PhD, is the Project L/EARN faculty director.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.