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JANJ Internship Experiences - Oriana Nelson

JANJ Internship Experiences - Women's Future Leadership Academy

Oriana Nelson - High School Hero Alum Intern
Oriana Nelson

Image caption: Oriana Nelson

Our interns are the heartbeat of our organization - offering refreshing ideas and demonstrating incredible work ethic every day. Without a doubt, their contributions have helped shape our organization internally and externally, improving our overall messaging. As students, their opinions, and experiences matter, tying them to our mission – to inspire and prepare young people to succeed.

In the first blog post of 2022, and to kick off Women’s History Month, High School Hero Alum Intern and Princeton University student, Oriana Nelson, shares her internship story and involvement in one of our leading programs, Women’s Future Leadership Academy (WFLA). Continue reading to learn about her educational journey and impactful role as an intern.


Life is a winding road is advice I’ve heard throughout my high school career and my college experience thus far. Even as an undergraduate sophomore, I can attest to the validity of this claim. I matriculated at Princeton University thinking I’d graduate with a Bachelor of Science and Engineering degree. After taking introductory classes in environmental and chemical engineering, I realized that something felt off. It was difficult leaving the engineering program because I loved STEM my whole life; I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. As a woman of color, I also felt internal pressure to become an engineer to make a difference in the field and to make those around me proud. Despite all my doubts, I knew I had to make a change, so I decided to look into social sciences and pursue a degree in psychology. I’m still not exactly sure what I want to do, but I constantly step outside my comfort zone and explore my options. This mentality is what led me to set up an appointment with a career advisor.

During the session, she had me reflect on my experiences in high school. Countless memories entered my thoughts, filling me with nostalgia. I reminisced about all the times I collaborated with my peers to carry out meaningful projects. Naturally, my experiences as a High School Hero (HSH) came to mind. Although my time as a HSH was cut short by the pandemic, I still learned how to collaborate with others despite busy schedules, how to think on the spot, and how to engage an audience; all skills I currently use as an intern. Being a HSH also allowed me to connect with children in my community on a deeper level. Not only did these students absorb the financial material taught to them, but they looked to me and my partner for advice outside the classroom as well, yearning for interaction. To them, we were relatable and insightful; we were mentors.

The High School Heroes initiative isn’t the first time JANJ blessed me with the opportunity to practice mentorship. As an intern under Christy Biedron, I learned that I love mentoring others through co-managing the Women’s Future Leadership Academy (WFLA). This program started as a one-day event meant to empower women. Participants would visit the JANJ education center in Edison to network with intellectual professionals who served as personal mentors for the day. As a mentee, you would learn how to create an elevator pitch, how to prepare for an interview, and how to network with confidence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged us to reimagine the program. During my first year as an intern, that was my main priority: expanding WFLA into an inspiring, informative virtual series. I had to brainstorm various discussion topics, host reflection sessions, collect feedback and moderate our panels— one of my favorite responsibilities. Not only did it give me an opportunity to hone my oratorical skills, but I got to interact with knowledgeable, powerful women.

Even as a facilitator I learn extensively from our guest speakers. They always offer such profound advice. One that stood out to me was from panelist Angela Guy and she said, “it is not about the title, it is about the work.” Her wise words resonated with me because I spent a lot of time in college reflecting on what my life would look like post-graduation.  Angela’s quote is a good reminder to not search for a title, but to search for a job or career you thoroughly enjoy. Panelists Lizabeth Coffey-Dawe and Alison Banks-Moore also taught me valuable career advice. I reached out to them separately to hear more information about their college experiences. The conversations were thought-provoking and provided me with a lot of clarity; I plan to keep in contact with both amazing women! This is one of the many wonderful benefits of WFLA: you get to expand your network.

Our panelists and volunteers sincerely want to help our participants, so attending sessions is a great way to ask pressing questions and build connections with a variety of people. Even if reaching out to people is out of your comfort zone, the academy creates a friendly platform to “...get comfortable with being uncomfortable”— one of the countless, valuable lessons the series emphasizes. Attendees also learn about college essay tips, goal setting, effective communication, and strategic preparation for future employment, just to name a few. Christy and I are also expanding WFLA even further through the ambassador program and the WFLA council, which provides an experience similar to an internship. We hope that these new initiatives will significantly impact young women all around New Jersey, helping them build the skills and develop the qualities they need to be successful, empathetic leaders.

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