Class of 2019: Internships and study abroad shaped new grad's world view

Rachael Steer will be the student speaker at the Spring Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m. She is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Political Science and Economics (PPE), summa cum laude.

Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

High School: Saint Vincent-Saint Mary High School in Akron

How did you come to choose your major?

At first, I came into UA undecided. I wanted to see if any of the General Education courses sparked my interest, and I loved my experiences with the Philosophy Department. I also liked the practicality of economics and the course material in the Political Science Department offerings. Once I found a degree that combined all of them, I was set.

What brought you to The University of Akron?

I’ve been involved with the University for many years because my parent works here, so it has always felt very comfortable to me. After I received a generous scholarship and admittance into the Honors College, it was hard to say no!

What’s next?

Currently, I’m applying to graduate programs, jobs and service positions. Ideally, I’d like to pursue a career in either national security or law. I plan to take a year off between undergraduate and grad school to find out which! 

Q: What college experience contributed the most to your personal growth?

Though it was not a single experience, the friends I have made at the University have definitely contributed most to my personal growth. Freshman year when I was nervous and new brought me to a lifelong friend – and my Honors College roommate – and courses across all departments helped me really develop a base in Akron. I have grown with them, and they have tremendously impacted me. Regardless of where we are in the world, the friends I have made here and ways we have grown together will stay with me for a lifetime.

Q: Where’s your favorite place on campus? Why?

My favorite place on campus, as much as it needs a renovation, is Crouse Hall. When I was young, my dad would take me to work; so I felt like I grew up there (his old – and current – office is in Crouse). As a preschooler, he showed me colorful rock exhibits and spun me in his office chairs when no one was there during the summer. Maps etched his walls, and it even smelled like a second kind of “home” to me. Often, when I had a day off in grade school, I knew exactly where I would be – walking the halls, looking at a bear skeleton and talking to friendly faces. Several of those faces still brighten my day when I come to Crouse to study – especially the Geology Department’s administrative assistant, Elaine. Because of this, Crouse will always occupy a special place in my heart.

Q: Did you study abroad? How did the experience shape you and your view of the world? 

In 2017, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Beijing, China. The program I participated in was through the London School of Economics and explored China as a world power. I was the only American student in a class of nearly 50 people, so I fought hard to listen more than I spoke. Several other participants were diplomats of the British, Australian and New Zealand governments; their outlook enriched my understanding and changed the way I approached global affairs. Studying in China among students, academics, diplomats and more exposed me to a wide array of opinions. This was incredibly beneficial because it challenged me to consider numerous interpretations of a single issue. Being in Beijing itself also shaped my view of the world because I was able to taste authentic food, talk with locals about their lives and experience a culture completely different from that of Akron.

Q: If you had an internship or co-op, what did you get out of it? 

In my two undergraduate internships, I learned immensely about myself and working in a professional environment. I interned in the U.S. Department of State twice; in Arlington, Va., then in Rome, Italy. Through these experiences, I met individuals that have become lifelong friends and mentors, but also honed numerous career skills. The two internships could not have been more different from each other; yet, both of them helped me grow as a young professional and person. I am grateful for three lessons that the experiences taught me: never assume you are the expert in the room, “rejection is just redirection,” and every person – no matter what position they occupy – is still fundamentally human.

Q: How do you hope UA will be different in five years?

I hope that the University continues to grow and adapt to changing circumstances. Having a strong sense of community is vital for the University to succeed, and it seems that has really been lessened in recent years. While Akron is a wonderful base, I would love to see investment into our international programs, better scholarship opportunities for those wanting to travel, and generally improved student support. Resources like ZipAssist and the remaining tutoring services are fantastic; it would be great to see these areas continue to be advertised and used. In the next five years, I hope that UA focuses on enhancing academic counseling, improving communication between colleges, and increasing transparency between faculty, staff and students.