Center for Community Engagement

CCE Launches Summer 2010 Internship Programs

Now that finals are (finally) over, Amherst students are spreading across the country, headed for home, summer jobs, or, of course, those all-important internships.  As a valuable way to boost a resume, the summer internship is to many students an essential part of their work portfolio.  But even for an Amherst student, finding a position that promises more than filing and data entry can be challenging.  How have students found internships that will value them, challenge them, or teach them about how to engage with the local community?

That's what the Center for Community Engagement's summer internship programs are for.  Whether students are wondering about the broader Pioneer Valley community, want to feel valued and appreciated as an active contributor, or just need the funding to make a dream internship come true, these programs and their coordinators have been essential in helping a wide variety of Amherst student interns find the place they want to be.

The Amherst Select Internship Program

The Amherst Select Internship Program exists to bring Amherst students together with employers who prefer Amherst-educated interns.  Some employers are parents of current students; others are simply companies that have been impressed by Amherst interns in the past, and would like to repeat the experience.  But most often, employers in the Amherst Select Internship Program are graduates of Amherst College who are looking for a way to give back to and maintain a connection with the Amherst community.

That alumni connection is certainly what Kenneth Koopmans, the manager of internship programs, finds most important about the program.  He says that the Amherst Select Internship Program was started in order to supplement the Alumni Network.  Although many students do find the Alumni Network helpful, using it to find summer internships can be challenging.  “Maybe an alum's profile says that they want an intern, but they said it five years ago,” he says.  “Sometimes they fail to update when they move to a new job, or often there will be no description of the internship.”  The Amherst Select Internship Program aims to eliminate these problems by providing its student participants with an up-to-date collection of internships.  Koopmans and the other program coordinators reach out to alumni and find out where they're working, whether they want an intern, and what kind of internship they can offer.  Ideally, this process will begin from day one of each fall semester, so that Amherst students will always have somewhere to look for quality, Amherst-preferred internships.

For alumni, hosting interns is a way to stay connected to the Amherst community.  “There are so many great alums who want to give back,” says Ken.  Perhaps for this reason, Ken feels that alumni tend to be more emotionally invested in Amherst students' success, making them the perfect mentors for current students and new graduates.  Maikha Jean-Baptiste '10 found that Adrienne White '82 was instrumental in making sure that Maikha was given opportunities to participate during her internship with the American Cancer Society in Chicago.  “As busy as she was, it was good that she still saw time to make sure that we were having a good internship experience,” she says.  Whether or not this was due to their common education, “it was nice to have something in common.”  Peter Krensky '11, who contacted Susan Prosnitz '84 directly to find his internship at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service in Boston, had a similar reaction.  “You're going into a professional atmosphere with someone you don't know, but you have that instant connection.  You're going to talk about 'Did you play a sport at Amherst?  Where did you live when you were at Amherst?  Is this professor still there?'”  Both Jean-Baptiste and Krensky have stayed in contact with their alumni hosts.  Krensky even helped Prosnitz choose a new Amherst intern, while she assisted him in his job search for this summer.  “We help each other out,” he says.

The ASIP database contains over 250 alumni-sponsored internships so far, but it's nowhere near complete.  “My goal is to get over a thousand internships,” says Koopmans – and more than that, he hopes ultimately that every Amherst student will be part of the Amherst Select Internship Program.  “Everyone needs internships,” he says, “except people who don't want a job, ever.”

The Pioneer Valley Program

When the Amherst Select Internship Program began, a number of locally based internships were grouped together as the Pioneer Valley Program.  This year, for the first time, this program is its own entity.  “The purpose of the program is to provide students an opportunity to gain practical work experience, as well as learn more about civic and community engagement,” says Oscar Lanza-Galindo, the CCE's community partnerships and programs coordinator.  Thirty-six students are given Amherst housing, a $2,000 stipend, and internship positions working with education, human rights, agriculture, and many other community issues.

Emily Shinay '11 was a student intern with Easthampton City Arts as part of the Pioneer Valley Program in 2009.  She points out that the employers in the Pioneer Valley Program often already have established relationships with the Center for Community Engagement.  “So as an intern you enter into a really positive environment where you are given legitimate responsibilities and are really appreciated in your work environment.”  Shinay enjoyed the experience so much that she'll be returning to the program in 2010, to work at the Amherst branch of the Peace Development fund.  On a practical level, she also appreciates the $2,000 stipend that the program provides.  “The reality is that most college students need paying summer positions,” she notes, “and the Pioneer Valley Program offers the best of both words: a fantastic internship and pay.”

Many students also find value in becoming personally involved in the community surrounding the college.  Yinan Zhang '12 believes that students benefit when they see the impact they can make on their own local community.  “Being in the Amherst bubble, sometimes we just don't see that there's a community out there that would really benefit from a lot of support,” she says.  As the Student Internship Coordinators for the Pioneer Valley Program, she and Michelle Glick '10 helped Lanza-Galindo bring the Pioneer Valley Program to adulthood.  Michelle was a PVP student intern herself in 2007, working at the Holyoke Health Center.  She quickly realized how little she had known about life just outside Amherst.  “A lot of the money that is so seemingly prevalent in this area is just not getting to Holyoke and Springfield.”  she says.   “That was sort of shocking to me.”  

The Pioneer Valley Program is, in a way, the Center for Community Engagement's practical demonstration of its own values.  “Change often begins at home,” says Lanza-Galindo.  “So we decided that one of the best ways that we could contribute to our home, our own back yard, is by providing these internship opportunities. The sites where the interns will be at this summer do some incredible work with very limited resources. We believe that this is one way that we can assist them with their work, while at the same time providing Amherst College students with the chance to get practical work experience that matters and can make a difference in the community.”

Civic Engagement Scholars

Formerly known as the Fellowships for Action, the Civic Engagement Scholars program provides funding for students who have found public service internships that connect to their academic, personal, and professional goals.  Students find and apply to internships around the world and the country, and when they have secured their own positions, have the chance to ask the Center for Community Engagement for a monetary stipend.  

Sarah Barr, the director of academic engagement programs for the Center for Community Engagement, considers it the most flexible of the internship programs.  “It really is you finding the thing that fits most closely with your personal, professional and academic goals,” she says.  Students have worked for environmental programs in Iceland; for U.S. Senators and representatives in Washington, D.C.; for grassroots activist organizations; and for countrywide nonprofit organizations.  Civic Engagement Scholars also frequently funds students who have received ASIP internships, but need to think practically about their finances.  Almost anything is possible, as long as the student can argue convincingly that the internship will provide an opportunity to learn about public service by experience.  

“I think it's really important for students to have a chance to test out the theories they're learning in the classroom in the world, and then bring those experiences back.  It's essentially this idea of theory, action, and then reflection,” says Barr.  In that sense, the Civic Engagement Scholars program complements the experiential learning courses offered at Amherst.  “Not everyone can take 'Reading, Writing and Teaching,'” Barr adds.  But an internship funded by the Civic Engagement Scholars program can serve the similar purpose of blurring the line between education and action.

That's what happened for Michelle Glick '10.  Inspired by Professor Kristin Bumiller's course “States of Poverty,” Glick applied for and received a grant to help run a children's day camp in Belize this summer.  “I really learned what poverty is and how it's conceptualized, how to understand the historical perspective and myths and facts about this 'culture of poverty' idea,” she explains.  And this internship is the next step in her education.  Working in Belize will allow Glick to turn the abstract lessons from the classroom into tangible experience, and to tie her career interest in public health to her academic program of study.  “That's what the CCE strives for, really,” Glick says. “How can you take a liberal arts education and really do something with it?”

Emmy Pierce ’11 is a staff writer for the CCE. She is a third-year student from Berkeley, California.  She is double majoring in Asian Languages and Civilizations, with a concentration in Japanese, and English.  Her interests include writing, examining representations of minorities in popular culture, and cats.  This is her first year as a  CCE staff writer.