Centre College is home to a deeply engaged community of students who often take part in life-changing service projects that have a local and national impact. Each year, four Centre students are selected to pursue this passion for service off-campus in the Shepherd Internship Program, an initiative supported by the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.
This summer, those students given the opportunity to positively impact the lives of those fighting for social justice were Emma Jackson ’18, Ellen Matthews ’17, Ionee Patel ’16 and Abigail Tudor ’16.
Centre first became a member of the Shepherd Consortium in 2012, joining forces with nearly two dozen other institutions of higher learning to inform students about the causes of and remedies for poverty and to prepare them for a lifetime of professional, civic and political activity that will diminish social injustice. To this end, the Consortium integrates rigorous academic study with internships assisting disadvantaged communities.
“Participation in this Consortium opens up a myriad of new opportunities for exciting student internships,” Stodghill Professor of Religion Rick Axtell explains. “It also places Centre within a collaborative network of institutions of higher education that are committed to addressing one of the key issues of our era in creative new ways.”
The Shepherd Internship Program, says Axtell, aims to integrate academic study of poverty issues with “on-the-ground experience in service and advocacy agencies. “Students gain practical street-level knowledge that makes their classroom study come alive,” he continues. “And, the required coursework on Centre’s campus places their experiences within broader evaluative frameworks and systemic analyses.”
Matthews, who participates in the Bonner Program, first heard about the Consortium’s internship program from Centre alumni.
“I was particularly interested in pursuing this internship because of its basis in poverty studies,” she says. “All of the placements through the Shepherd program are with organizations that work to alleviate poverty all over the country.”
Once she and the other students were selected by a panel of Centre faculty and staff to participate, they were matched through a mutual selection process with their sites for the summer.
Jackson worked with the United Planning Organization (UPO), the designated community action agency of Washington, D.C., as a communications intern. She spent most of her time meeting volunteers, customers and staff members in the field, and she interviewed them for the organization’s upcoming brand campaign.
“It allowed me to hear so many amazing stories about what this organization has done for people,” she explains.
Matthews worked with the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC) in New York City as their Transit Homeless Outreach intern. She spent four weeks shadowing the outreach team and later assisted these workers in the field, driving a van to pick up shelter residents at 10 stations along the same subway line.
“This summer provided me with an excellent opportunity to work with individuals who were directly benefitting—or, unfortunately, not benefitting—from temporary housing systems in place,” she says. “I was able to begin to understand the hardships suffered by much of the population living in the shelter system, and I am looking forward to developing my career path in light of what I learned.”
Tudor and Patel were placed at the Renaissance University for Community Education (TRUCE) Media and Arts program within Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York. Throughout the summer, they collaborated with the center’s students to apply their critical and creative thinking skills to a variety of projects.
Patel supervised the center’s entrepreneurship unit, which was modeled after the television show Shark Tank.
“My students were split into teams in order to create a prototype, learning to price, package and produce their creation and then pitch their product to a panel of investors,” she explains.
Tudor collaborated with students in the music and film production unit.
“Throughout the summer, the students worked together to write and produce three original songs and shoot a documentary-style music video,” she says. “Though I am not musically inclined, these kids inspired me to be passionate about whatever I set out to do in this world.”
Their time in the Shepherd Internship Program allowed each student to have new and life-changing experiences.
“I was able to experience New York for the first time as a resident,” Matthews explains. “My time with the BRC pushed me to be confident in a new setting and to learn and develop interpersonal skills from a population with whom I am rarely in contact. I am so grateful for Centre and the Shepherd Consortium for providing me with such an opportunity.”
Tudor shares this sentiment and credits her Centre education with preparing her for success at Harlem Children’s Zone.
“A liberal arts school like Centre College provides students with the critical thinking skills, humility, intentionality and determination that were essential for completing this internship,” she concludes. “This experience would have seemed unattainable without previous summer opportunities available to me through Centre.”
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
October 8, 2015