While college study abroad programs garner a lot of attention, a growing number of study away programs are offering closer-to-home options for students seeking internships, college credit, and a chance to make a meaningful difference.
Clark University and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) are founding partners for one Boston nonprofit organization whose pilot program year has done just this, and more.
By fusing liberal arts education with mentor-rich internships, College for Social Innovation (CfSI) lets college students receive full academic credit while spending a semester doing hands-on learning as interns in the social service sector. The students participate in a transformative 15-week program called Semester in the City that allows them to address current social issues and develop essential skills and connections to prepare them for working life after graduation.
“The opportunities provided our students by the CfSI are a near perfect fit for Clark’s approach to liberal education and effective practice, or LEEP. Students get deeply immersed in the work of an organization beyond the campus while also making the connection between this work and what they are learning in the classroom,” said Davis Baird, Clark University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
During its fall 2016 launch semester, CfSI welcomed 14 Clark and UNH students combined. The program matches each student with a different host organization which include organizations like Freight Farms, the Petey Greene Program, and the U.S. Green Building Council. The students spend four days each week in their internships, with Fridays reserved for specialized skills classes.
The host organizations provide the CfSI fellows with a dedicated mentor, more than 30 hours per week of front-line and project work, as well as opportunities to shadow staff members and senior leaders. The program goal is to bridge the gap that exists between attending college and building meaningful work experience for the real world by creating a “bigger, stronger and more diverse talent pool for the social sector.”
CfSI is the brainchild of Lisa Jackson and Eric Schwarz. Jackson, who spent nearly two decades working in Boston’s nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, serves as the co-founder and Managing Director, and Schwarz serves as the organization’s co-founder and CEO.
Schwarz, who is also co-founder and former CEO of Citizen Schools, a nonprofit which partners with public middle schools in low-income communities to provide extended learning days, spoke at a Clark University President’s Lecture in 2014 about the need to improve public education and the “unprecedented inequality” that stands in the way of closing the achievement gap.
As CfSI points out on its website, U.S. college graduates face a critical problem: Those who lack internships or meaningful workplace experiences during college are statistically far less likely to succeed. Also, internship opportunities are highly dependent on financial stability, income, and class.
College students typically utilize their summers or school breaks for internships, the majority of which are unpaid and do not offer college credit. While in privileged spaces internships seem to be a norm, they are not always an option for low-income students who may need to spend their breaks working to save money for tuition. CfSI wants to change that. In fact, it’s their mission.
“An internship with a great mentor can be the difference-maker in someone’s career, but low-income kids don’t tend to have access to those life-changing internship opportunities, so we’re trying to give them that,” said Schwarz to the Boston Globe.
Working with Clark’s LEEP Center, CfSI allows Clark students to remain fully enrolled at the University, to continue their financial aid and receive the credits they need per semester to stay on track for graduation. Students receive a living stipend, a free T-Pass to get around the city, and students from all majors are welcome.
Clark alumna Markiesha Duverneau ’17 and sophomore Linda Mindaye ’19 were the first CfSI Fellows from Clark. Duverneau credits a social entrepreneurship class she took during her sophomore year for her interest in social innovation. After attending an info session on CfSI, “I was sold, I couldn’t turn back,” she said.
During her semester at CfSI, Duverneau interned as a Social Media Fellow for Playworks, a national nonprofit that aims to improve the health of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. “I was able to capture pictures and videos of what the organization does and show that to people who may or may not be familiar with what Playworks does.”
Mindaye, who interned at Citizen Schools, added, “The most challenging part was being in front of a classroom. I have never worked with class sizes as big as the ones through CfSI. I really valued how much this program believed in me and my abilities to grow and become a better leader within a semester.”
Duverneau’s mentor added: “We would hire our Social Innovation Fellow in a heartbeat. We're now re-thinking what it means to have a volunteer in the office and to have someone be really dedicated. It has made us flip that idea of ‘intern’ on its head.”
Three Clark students are now among CfSI’s Spring 2017 Fellows: Eriberto Mora, working at the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing; Julie Liang, with Green City Growers; and Taylor Miller, at the JP Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Clark 2016 alumna Sam Wallace is Development Coordinator at the CfSI. “I’m really excited that Semester in the City is available to Clark students. I think that the chance to do a supported, well-networked internship in which you can test-drive a career is essential for all students. Having been a first-generation and low-income student at Clark, I’m happy to be connecting fellow Clarkies to these opportunities.”
Students interested in participating in Semester in the City can email firstname.lastname@example.org or make an appointment with Clark's Study Abroad and Study Away office. The deadline to apply for the fall 2017 program is March 26. The application can be found on the Semester in the City website.