International student AnnMarie Bediako guided teens in Philadelphia and South Jersey in explorations of career possibilities.

Annmarie Bediako
Bediako, at left, with fellow student Jochebed Airede, and Donna Nickitas, Rutgers–Camden’s Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, at the Rutgers Summer Service Internship (RSSI) celebration held in New Brunswick in September.

Before she enrolled at Rutgers University–Camden, Ghana native AnnMarie Bediako had never set foot in the United States. When she arrived, an aunt in New Jersey picked her up from Newark Liberty International Airport and drove her straight to campus. From the onset of COVID-19 just a few months after she enrolled to getting established as a student and making friends, her first two years at Rutgers–Camden were like a rollercoaster, she says.

This past summer, Bediako, now a junior double majoring in French and psychology, had an uplifting opportunity to build on those first two years thanks to the Rutgers Summer Service Internship (RSSI) Program. She was among 100 students selected for the inaugural year of the program—an initiative of Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway that provides funding in support of public service opportunities for students. RSSI placed Bediako with Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, a nonprofit network that works to support girls. “My RSSI experience was life changing,” she says. “I was able to help contribute to young girls’ dreams. I was a guide to a person’s discovery of their passion, their future, and their profession.”

The internship mentoring girls going into their sophomore year of high school wasn’t always an easy assignment. Founded in the 1860s and formerly called Girls Club of America, Girls Inc. helps girls navigate career opportunities. From the start, Bediako put her heart and soul into things as mundane as making PowerPoint slides and Canva presentations, which she felt the girls didn’t fully appreciate at first. But she reminded herself it wasn’t about getting recognition. As the students warmed up to her, the experience became more rewarding. “Being a program facilitator at Girls Inc. was a test of my ability,” she says. “I was always on my toes.”

While she was helping the students in Girls Inc., she also was able to explore potential career paths herself. A few times, leaders at the companies they were visiting didn’t realize she was one of the facilitators. “I was like a student,” she says. “I was learning from scratch, asking questions—I was one of the girls.”

She says it was incredibly inspiring to see the girls explore opportunities in STEM fields. Those types of careers tend to be lucrative and rewarding, Bediako says, but they are dominated by men. Through Girls Inc., she saw other young people willing to break down perceived barriers. “The career exploration just helped the girls know that there are so many things you can do,” she says. “You don’t have the limitations that it looks like you have. You can make a way for yourself.”

The internship appealed to her from the start because it reminded Bediako of a program she enjoyed as a grade-school student called Ghana Girl Guides Association, which is akin to Girl Scouts in the U.S. and shares its motto, “Be Prepared.” As a Girl Guide, Bediako had twice visited the United Kingdom on weeklong trips with other girls from around the world, building social networks and teamwork skills. Bediako saw working with Girls Inc. as a natural extension of her inspiring experience with Girl Guides. “I had been through it before in a certain way,” Bediako says. “I had enjoyed it and thought it would be nice to do something for somebody. The values just matched mine.”

With the summer internship behind her, Bediako is still navigating her own future. She plans to play to her strengths—many of which she discovered and honed through the RSSI program. The experience ignited a new interest in leadership and inspired her to declare a minor in management. Bediako says she’s considering a master’s degree in management or a Ph.D. in organizational psychology after she finishes her bachelor’s degree. “I want to learn everything I can,” she says. “I’m not ever going to stop learning.”

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