Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Summer at the Federal Reserve Bank

This summer, I have the privilege of interning at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in the Community Development Department. I’ve been able to learn about my strengths, my interests, my dislikes, and my deal breakers. Knowing what you truly want out of a career and what you can’t stand is the first step in looking for a job and as a rising senior, my time to figure that out is quickly coming to an end. I got concerned about my future, stumbled about to get my resume in order, submitted it to the Career Development Center, went to a job fair, gave my elevator speech, and now I’m interning at the Federal Reserve. Chance or destiny? I’ll leave that up to you to decide but here’s my detailed account of how I discovered these things and how this unforeseen internship is actually setting the tone for the rest of my working career.
On Day 1, as a part of the training and orientation that all employees at the Reserve go through, I  was told to complete the Clifton Strengths Finder test. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s a standardized test that asks you basic multiple choice questions, does a mysterious tally of your responses, and then spews out a magical list of your top 34 innate strengths. In case you’re wondering, my top 5 are Empathy, Relator, Connectedness, Individualization, and Strategic. Though skeptical at first, I was surprised at how accurate my strengths were and how well they described character traits that took me years to figure out. It made me feel as if I knew myself and I could be confident in the fact that a random computerized test came to the same conclusions about my strengths as I did. It also made me feel empowered-- that I could capitalize on my strengths because they were indeed mine; not strengths I strive for, but strengths I innately have.
As the internship progressed, I’ve also been able to affirm my interests. As I suspected, I am incredibly interested in development work and I’ve proven this to myself by spending countless hours watching Raj Chetty lectures on YouTube and then passionately convincing the other interns that educational reform is one of the most feasible ways of combating income inequality. As a matter of fact, I find development work so fascinating that the idea of being able to produce a heat map based on data that could be used as a development tool spurred me into rearrange my whole course schedule and sending a brisk email to the Geography department to try and do a last minute registration for a GIS course next semester. I’ll let you know how that goes…
As with all experiences, interning at the Fed this summer has also opened my eyes to the things I dislike. There’s something awfully numbing about spending 8 hours a day surrounded by cream colored cubicles and army green office chairs that suck the passion out of you if you’re not careful. Data sets with thousands of observations, missing data values, and trippy Excel sheets will do that to you too. For the most part, I’ve learned to cope but if there’s one thing working at the Federal Reserve has taught me is that flexibility, opportunity to build your human capital, and liking the people that you work with, when coupled with passion for your field, are the keys to having a fulfilling career. Now that I’ve seen what that’s like, I simply won’t settle for less and knowing what you’re not looking for is sometimes the key to finding your dream job.
When I got an internship at the Fed, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had a ton of questions in my head: Would people be nice? Would I have to put on a tough guy facade? Would it be enjoyable? Would everyone be pretentious? Would I turn into a world class actor just to make it through the day? Would I do things that were meaningful? Would I discover high level corruption and then be sworn to secrecy? And the list goes on… While some of the questions are a bit farfetched, I can honestly say that working at the Fed has been one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had and I would definitely recommend it to any Macalester student (not just Economics majors) that values human capital development. I’ve been able to learn and grow and discover and those are 3 things that I’ve found to be invaluable. I’m not sure where my journey will go next but I do know that the things I’ve learned this summer have informed my perspective and I look forward to the next step.
By Jonathan van Arneman ’16