5 questions with Joey O'Donnell, Summer on the Cuyahoga 2021 participant

Career Consulting Intern, Lily TranCat '22 sat down with fourth-year student Joey O'Donnell to learn about his experience with the Summer on the Cuyahoga Program. Joey is a pre-med student studying sociology from Cleveland. He transferred to Case Western Reserve from the University of Notre Dame last spring while we were fully remote and has now become a vibrant member of the CWRU community.

Summer on the Cuyahoga brings together 50 to 70 students for an intensive summer immersion program designed to help interns explore the professional, civic and social offerings of the Cleveland area. SOTC offers students challenging internships, community introductions, alumni connections and group housing for the summer.

Read on to learn more about Joey's SOTC experience.

1. What got you interested in SOTC, and what made you decide to participate in the program?

It was mid-spring and recruiting opportunities for internships were basically gone at that point. I learned about SOTC through your office. What interested me at first was the free housing - I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to save money! But it was more than that. It was the prospect of having my first sustained housing experience at Case by living in the Village, especially as a transfer student.

Also, the entire program was about exploring Cleveland. I thought I knew Cleveland pretty well already but was open to exploring more while being close to home at the same time. I was also attracted to the sheer amount of internship positions listed on the SOTC site. There were A LOT and a good variety listed.

2. What kind of work did you do?

I specifically interned in the “Aspire Program” at Hathaway Brown. It’s a program for 6th to 10th graders to complete summer enrichment courses in math, science, language arts, and social studies. As a teacher, I was able to relate my experience tutoring undergraduate courses with teaching in-person in a classroom setting and grow in a different way.

Two-thirds of the day was lesson planning and direct classroom instruction. I received mentorship from a retired math teacher who would sit in class and give feedback. I loved classroom instruction. As a teacher, I had a lot of freedom to take class activities in different ways without the inhibition of standardized testing.

Once a week, there was a half or full day activity. For example, we had a talent show after a class in the morning where kids could perform TikTok dances and do lip syncs. Teachers went first to get everything started, so I was the first person to get up on stage and do my Mickey Mouse impression to get the ball rolling. Other activities included a Red and Blue Olympics Day, mixing all grades together to compete in a water balloon toss and racing around an obstacle course as well as a self-care day where we taught different things like the importance of sleep. We also had leadership seminars on topics like public speaking and college and career readiness, like “here are some other options to pursue besides college.”

3. Most challenging part?

There was a huge social aspect of the program. It was scary to transition and be around people again - especially returning to life outside of my parents’ house and remembering those small things like washing sheets and cooking for myself. I’d have thoughts like, “Oh, this is my first networking event,” and “Wow I have roommates again.” Overall, it was a very formative experience on how to live as an adult.

Having other college students from across the Northeast and Midwest living together was an important and inherently social experience that went beyond the job. We lived in Village House 5 with 3 people in a suite. It was easy to meet people considering we were all in the same age group. I became friends with not only other Case students but also students from Smith, Oberlin, Cornell, U of C, etc. who I still talk to today.

4. How has this experience helped you grow, career-wise?

I’m not sure. I’d need more information for what life is like in other career paths, but my ultimate goal is to go to medical school. Teaching in the Aspire program was very immersive. The perspective I got on teaching was amazing. I learned that teaching has the highest highs and lowest lows, at least of any job I’ve seen. It was lots of work at home and lots of effort, like introducing Algebra and making it interesting to 8th graders. Sometimes lessons didn’t work, and I wish I could’ve done better for the kids. But it was so rewarding to see those moments when things just clicked, and students’ eyes lit up as they understood something.

5. What kind of advice would you give to students who are finalizing their summer plans and are interested in SOTC?

Check the SOTC website early and often (starting now!). It’s simple to sign up as long as you have a college email address, and there’s rolling admissions on job positions. If you start now, you’re already early as admissions run until mid-April with things picking up in March. So it’s worth checking every week to see if there’s something else up.

It’s also easy to apply to 5-6 programs. Just upload a short profile and send it to a bunch of different internships. It’s quick. It’s painless. You might as well as the barrier to apply is low, and you have nothing to lose.

In general, people at Case live in a bubble and take the city for granted. There’s still a lot to explore. Don’t just write it off. There are attractions we just can’t see from our vantage point alone, so it’s worth approaching with an open mind. And this is coming from someone who’s had 19 years of experience in Cleveland. For example, the Metroparks. Most cities of this size have nothing to the degree of nature like the Metroparks, and it’s unique to Cleveland. Over the summer, I loved going to hiking events there.