International experiences pave postgrad path
After her first year at St. Olaf College, Caryn McKinney ’13 spent the summer studying coral reefs near the Caribbean island of Bonaire.
The summer after that, she traveled to Peru as a medic with the Engineers Without Borders program.
And this past summer, she landed an internship at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris. The youngest of the 15 or so interns selected from around the world, she spent several months studying energy policies and climate change.
It was that internship — which ended with an offer for McKinney to return to the agency after graduation — that has helped the St. Olaf senior determine her career path.
While she won’t return to France just yet, this fall she will enroll in a dual-degree graduate program at Middlebury College’s Monterey Institute of International Studies that will enable her to earn a master of business administration and a master of arts in international environmental policy. From there, she plans to pursue a career in international climate or energy policy with an organization like the IEA.
“Working at the IEA showed me what life was like in the international sector,” McKinney says. “It also gave me invaluable professional writing experience and networking opportunities.”
Yet McKinney notes that it has been the combination of all of her experiences abroad — and the assistance she’s received along the way from the Piper Center for Vocation and Career and St. Olaf faculty members — that has helped set the path for her post-graduation plans.
Staff members in the Piper Center helped McKinney navigate the process of finding and applying for international programs, and she says that support played a key role in turning her ambitions into reality.
“Students who leverage the Piper Center’s resources are able to expand their career and vocational aspirations exponentially,” says Piper Center Director Branden Grimmett ’03. “Caryn started early by meeting with center staff in the fall to identify opportunities and develop a strategy for achieving her goals prior to graduation. Her hard work has definitely paid off.”
Faculty members also supported and helped McKinney fine-tune her ambitions, even encouraging her to use her senior capstone project to reflect and expand upon the interests she cultivated at the IEA.
McKinney, who is majoring in environmental studies with a concentration in neuroscience, has conducted both an independent study and independent research project at St. Olaf. Those projects have examined the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls, an environmental toxin. Combined with her hands-on work in environmental studies, she is well prepared for a career in the scientific study of climate change.
“My education at St. Olaf definitely helped prepare me for these experiences,” McKinney says. “It gave me the tools and skills necessary to get these opportunities, especially my IEA internship.”