Building Community at Columbia University

By Lauren Brener, Internship Program Manager, Students Rising Above 

This summer, Students Rising Above students pursued internships with leading Bay Area companies, including Autodesk, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Kaiser Permanente, among others. These incredible internship opportunities are made possible by our robust multi-year Career Development curriculum, comprised of workshops, webinars, an extensive network of career mentor volunteers in a broad range of professions, and individualized coaching. We are committed to ensuring that when our students graduate, they have strong resumes filled with meaningful professional experiences that have given them the skills, confidence, and connections to be competitive as they transition from college into the workforce.

Mae Isidro, Sonoma State University junior, spent her summer in New York City with the Internship in Building Community at Columbia University. Read on for Mae’s journey, a perfect example of the myriad of ways SRA students grow, both personally and professionally, through our robust internship program.


My internship this summer was at Columbia University in New York City. I was working for the Internship in Building Community (IBC) as a Residential Advisor and Program Assistant for Columbia’s Summer Program for High School Students, responsible for making sure all students in our program were safe, while also giving them a chance to experience New York City. I was very nervous leaving my family and going across the country since it was going to be my first time getting on a plane alone, but I knew I wanted to try something different.

Before the internship started, I was intimidated about working with students who were “different” than me. All my life I had been around and grew up with people with similar backgrounds: extreme poverty, violence, struggles, abuse, etc. These students were different, they came from wealthy families from actresses and actors to CEOs, and that was very nerve racking. I was afraid that my “struggle” would show and they would not be open to building relationships with me since they might look at me as “unrelatable.” It was common for me to find insecurities and put myself down since I started this internship being closed off, scared and quiet because I didn’t know if I belonged.

As I kept myself busy making friends, being a New York tourist, and working, I realized that I had not been homesick at all. With the help of Christina Craner, an SRA Alum who had worked with Columbia IBC multiple summers, I didn’t need to call back home. It felt like home, working with her in the office since we both were students rising above all the obstacles that came our way. I was not constantly calling home and that just shows a lot about the fun I had there and how important it was for me to prioritize my education. I was putting myself first – and I cannot express how happy I was in New York. Looking back, I cannot remember the last time I felt this true happiness.

Not only was I able to become a tourist in New York, from going to museums, Times Square, the Apollo Theater, and more, I also had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC with the help of my internship. I was able to tour the Capitol and see the White House for the first time! When I was a junior in high school applying to SRA, I never thought I’d be able to obtain these opportunities that SRA has provided for me.

Everything changed from the beginning of my summer to the end. I started to realize applying for this internship was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Spending my summer in New York City brought my self-esteem up and erased this idea that I had about rich and poor people being “different.” I started becoming comfortable in my own skin and those who know my story, understand that took a lot of courage. Spending the whole summer in New York has been my highlight of the year. I learned what true happiness felt like, I became such a positive person. I could not wait to bring this “new” Mae back home. For any SRA students who are thinking about applying to internships but are scared of leaving what feels like home to you, JUST DO IT. Let those worries go and explore the unknown. You won’t regret it!