Standing in front of the Jordan River this summer, University of Miami sophomore Landon Coles was reminded of where John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophet, baptized Christ. A few moments later, Coles was submerged into that historic river, formalizing his spiritual journey.
Coles, a legal studies major, traveled to Israel for two weeks with 59 other student leaders from across the country. The trip was sponsored by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israeli policies. Although Coles grew up attending a Baptist church in his hometown, Tallahassee, Florida, he had never been baptized.
So the highlight of his first summer vacation as a UM student, he said, was his baptism in Israel.
“To give my life over to God in front of friends who I now consider to be family, and to have one of the vulnerable moments of my life be where Jesus was baptized was life-changing,” Coles said.
Coles is not alone in experiencing life-changing events in Israel this summer.
Matthew Katz, a senior business technology major, spent 10 days in Israel with Hillel’s Birthright Israel, a program that sponsors young Jewish adults to visit Israel, exposing them to the country’s history and culture.
“It was awesome,” Katz said. “I made a lot of friends. I had been to Israel a few times before but nothing like the Birthright experience.”
Like Coles and Katz, scores of UM students, faculty, administrators and staff say they too made the most of their summer break, from traveling to far-away places to spending time with family at home, to gaining career experience through internships, to catching up or getting ahead with their academic goals.
Over the three-month summer break, students delved into internships, from positions at the United Nations in New York, which senior anthropology and ecosystem science major Georgia Young had, to working locally with the Miami Dade County League of Women Voters, a job UM political science major Maia Hunter grabbed.
Junior political science major Randy Fitzgerald was accepted into the White House Intern Program.
“I’m still in shock that I was there,” said Fitzgerald, who interned at the White House in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. His role included communicating with people who have sent gifts to the president to answering phone calls.
Interns sat in on lectures and heard from a number of guest speakers, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president; Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services; Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and even the president himself.
The White House Intern Program has a long legacy of being bipartisan for college students or recent graduates and people in the military, Fitzgerald said.
“We had Democrats and Republicans in the program,” he said. It’s a program for people who really have an affinity for politics, for government.”
One of his favorite part of his internship was being able to attend Bible study in the vice president’s office every Wednesday with coworkers and interns.
“The vice president did make an impromptu appearance on occasion,” Fitzgerald said of Mike Pence. “It was really cool to get to go and be a part of that.”
Locally, Angelica Toruno-Rios, a second-year graduate student in the School of Communication, interviewed a bevy of celebrities during her 10-week internship with NBC6.
“I had fun getting to know Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer, stars of the new HBO show “Euphoria,” said Toruno-Rios, who interviewed them formally for the station.
Several students, including Danielle Glassman, a senior creative advertising and psychology major, headed to New York for internships.
Glassman said she lived in the dorms at Marymount Manhattan College, a liberal arts college on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, during her summer internship at Vector Media, an advertising company in New York, where she helped with graphic designs for the marketing team.
Glassman said she came away with some marketable skills: “I am proficient in Photoshop now,” she said. But the experience showed her that graphic design at an advertising agency may not be the best career choice for her.
“I don’t see myself sitting at a desk for the rest of my life for design because it gets really repetitive.”
Cool takeaway: “I lived in Midtown East, which was nice because I was a subway ride away from a lot of cool places in Manhattan. “
Summer school was in the picture for several UM students.
Oliveah “Veah” Hope, a sophomore public relations and media management major, took two classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Perhaps she thought attending a school north of southern Florida would provide a respite from the heat. Wrong.
“It was hot, hotter than Miami,” she said.
Hope noted the difference in attending a public university, adding that many classes at UNC are taught by grad students.
“Since UNC is public, you have to pay for a lot of stuff that you don’t normally have to pay for at the University of Miami, like laundry and the gym,” Hope said.
Meanwhile, Jenna Ferolie, a junior majoring in legal studies, spent the “Summer 1” session in a finance class at UM.
“It was a challenging class,” Ferolie said, “but I am so glad that I took it over the summer.”
UM staff members say they like to take advantage of the less-hectic atmosphere in summer.
Jennifer Ruggiero, a staff associate in UM’s Multicultural Student Affairs Office, took summer classes at UM to pursue an undergraduate degree in general studies, a continuing education program designed to help staff members and others finish their bachelor’s degree.
Her summer consisted of classes and work, “with a little fun in between,” she said, but now she is two classes closer to graduating in December.
Faculty used the summer months to travel, do research and like many students, unwind.
Jaime Correa, an associate professor in practice in the School of Architecture, spent most of his summer working on various School of Architecture projects.
“The academic summer is one of my favorite moments of the year,” Correa said. “It gives me an opportunity to relax, to catch up with unfinished projects and half-cooked ideas, and to prepare with greater enthusiasm for years to come.”
Correa is especially proud of his work on Capstone Charrette, an accelerated planning and design workshop to complete Brickell Center in downtown Miami. He also led a trip to New York City with the urban design senior class.
Correa also found time to visit his daughter’s family in Mexico for a short trip.
Ferolie, the student who attended summer school at UM, also spent time with family, which included a vacation to Turks and Caicos Islands.
“It finally felt like I was on summer vacation,” said Ferolie, who is winding down from summer mode.
“I am happy to be back and super motivated for this year,” she said. “It was a very fun summer, but I am ready to get back to work.”
Alexa Binday, Sydney Boyo, Ozzy Dominguez III, Jayda Graham, Jaime Harn, Jaqueline Lopez, Isabel Tragos, Mackenzie Trexler and Greta West contributed to this reporting.