A Q&A with Albright College senior Mykala Harris, a first-generation college student who is seizing every opportunity that comes her way.
By Francheska Taveras '17
Mykala Harris '17
Mykala Harris ’17, a first-generation college student from Philadelphia, has spent most of her time at Albright gaining as much real-world experience as possible and planning her next steps. The business management major has studied abroad in Germany and held three internships in the last two years.
Her most recent internship, in summer 2016, was spent at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in New Orleans after she was chosen for the select Federal Diversity Internship Initiative through the Washington Center. At the VA, Harris worked in the Equal Employment Office, assisting with new employee orientations, researching policies, observing the care veterans received, and contributing ideas for the future direction of the VA and its relationship with the New Orleans community.
College Relations intern Francheska Taveras ’17 recently caught up with Harris to discuss her summer in New Orleans, her time at Albright, her post-graduation plans, and her advice for first-generation college students.
Francheska Taveras: The Federal Diversity Internship Initiative helps students gain experiential learning opportunities within the federal government. What made you apply?
Mykala Harris: I applied because I was able to research and choose what department of the federal government I would like to work in, and I was able to choose a city. I knew that it would be a valuable internship because I would be able to enhance previous skills and learn new skills, both professionally and personally.
FT: The VA has come under scrutiny in the last few years for problems with its service and care of military personnel. Through your internship, did you work to address those issues?
Harris: Definitely! My grandfather was a Navy vet, so I know the whole experience. Actually the VA in New Orleans received major backlash because of Hurricane Katrina, and everyone believed we needed a new hospital. So our office worked closely with the VA director and implemented different programs and strategic planning. I would visit different departments or hospitals and talk to veterans for hours and receive feedback. If we got the same answer from a lot of the vets, we would present it to the director and the director would always see what he could do. The VA actually took steps to implement the feedback.
FT: Is there one experience from your time at the VA that stands out?
Harris: One experience that will forever follow me is hiring our first transgender employee. Working as an Equal Employment Opportunity intern, and living in a world where you are constantly judged for your differences, it made me appreciate the VA and its core values. With the hiring initiative, I was able to be part of a leading governmental organization that genuinely supports diversity and inclusion.
FT: You interned with the Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) Leadership Ventures program, which provides MBA students with boundary-pushing adventure experiences to help cultivate leadership skills. Can you describe your role as program marketing intern?
Harris: I was creating social media platforms and doing five- and 10-year plans, working for the marketing director. I was highlighting different programs that would be essential for them like creating Twitter and Facebook hashtags, trying to get younger people involved, especially those who are trying to go into the MBA program. I was also surveying people and doing analytics. The Wharton internship helped me further understand the importance of networking, teamwork and creativity.
FT: How have your internships benefitted you academically and personally?
Harris: What I appreciated from of all of them is the chance to grow, learn my skills and discover what I am good at. With the VA internship, it felt like I had a purpose and I was doing something good, maybe because of the veteran status in my family, or because I was managing all these programs. That really was my favorite internship because I got a lot of real-world experience and it shaped what I want to do.
FT: What do you want to do after graduation?
Harris: Right now, I am living in the moment. I am a planner. But this semester I am taking it one day at a time. When I graduate I want to look into working with the government.
FT: You have spent two semesters studying away from Albright – in Florida through the Disney College Program, and at Reutlingen University in Germany. How did those experiences change your outlook?
Harris: I have always firmly believed that learning does not end in the classroom. I was able to learn life skills, such as the importance of taking risks, networking and compromise. I learned to approach everything in life with limited bias to ensure a better experience. I took my knowledge from inside of the classroom and put it into action outside of the classroom, which leveraged my knowledge and understanding of the material and the world.
FT: You are the first in your family to attend college. How does that motivate you?
Harris: Being a first-generation college student, you honestly do not know what you’re going to do. My mom has always been supportive of my education so that has always been my motivation. I have two younger sisters and it’s up to me to be the leader and show them that even though we come from a single-parent family, I would never want to limit myself. The people in my community have always had these dreams to do the things that I have done, so that has always been my mindset going into college. I don’t want to be that person who wakes up and says, ‘I wish I would have done that.’
FT: What advice do you have for other first-generation students?
Harris: Although we may be the backbones of our families, and we have to live up to certain and sometimes intangible expectations, to live for yourself. The best care is self-care. Whether it’s choosing a major that your family disagrees with openly, discouragement from partaking in certain activities because of money, or doubting your very essence and place in the world, believe in yourself. Find other students who share similar experiences and overcome adversity together. Never be afraid to ask for help, even if it feels embarrassing. Cry if you need to cry. Take a break if you need to take a break. And know that the world is yours to conquer in your own unique way.