IWU Students Intern for a Cause

July 28, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University students are turning the causes closest to their hearts into summer internships.

Several students are working across the nation and overseas at internships for not-for-profit groups. According to Laurie Diekhoff, assistant director for the Hart Career Center, more students are choosing internships outside the traditional corporate world. “I believe this generation of students is very socially aware,” Diekhoff said. “They come to campus with a history of volunteer and community service experience, so it’s natural that they want to continue to be involved in meaningful service work.”

From helping in the fight against breast cancer to making the arts affordable, students are tackling internships that satisfy their desire to make a difference or give back to the community.

For the Cure

When Illinois Wesleyan University senior Lauren Gearhart sought out a summer internship with the St. Louis affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, she knew volunteering would mean supporting breast cancer activists and survivors like her sister, who was diagnosed this past November. “I always had an interest in the foundation,” said Gearhart, a business administration and sociology double major. “But I never took action to discover more about it until the cause hit home.”

Working under the director of marketing and public relations for the foundation, Gearhart began her internship in the middle of preparation for the 25th annual Komen Race for the Cure, which took place on June 21. Considered to be the largest series of 5K runs and fitness walks in the world, it is the Foundation’s most lucrative fundraiser; over a billion dollars has been collected for cancer research to date.

Gearhart recalls both the chaos of her first two weeks, describing the office phones as ringing off the hook in preparation, and the satisfaction of the day of the race itself. “Preparing for it was more challenging than I thought it would be, but well worth it when you see over 64 thousand people supporting your cause,” she said.

For the Pride

Junior Erin Strauts, an executive board member of IWU’s Pride Alliance, has taken her cause all the way to Washington, D.C. The political science major is living and working in the nation’s capital while she interns for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

The HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) equality. As part of her internship, Strauts is writing a research paper exploring the correlation between visibility of same-sex couples in society and public opinion of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

A research intern, Strauts is responsible for pulling together polling information, statistics and research on GLBT issues into one central document. “One of the careers I’m interested in is working in survey research and having not-for-profit clients,” said Strauts. “At HRC, I’ve gotten the experience of helping design a national survey, and I’ve made connections through this internship that will definitely help me in the future.”

For the People

Lauren Nelson, who is majoring in international studies, spent the second semester of her junior year abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia before traveling to Prague, where she attends classes at Charles University and interns at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) with the Russian language service.

RFE/RL’s mission is to provide uncensored news and information to countries where a free press is either banned by the government or not fully established. Broadcasting to 30 million listeners in 28 languages in 21 countries, the station reaches Eastern and southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central and Southwest Asia. Compiling news from diverse sources across the world, Nelson’s reviews are translated into Russian and broadcast on “Time of Liberty,” a daily program.

“I’ve covered the primaries in Oregon and Kentucky, the disasters in Burma and China, and the EU Summit with President Bush in Slovenia,” said Nelson, who noted one of her most intense assignments was interviewing Corinna Csaky from the UK organization Save the Children about her recent report concerning sexual abuses against children by peacekeepers and aid workers in Sudan, Haiti, and Côte d’Ivoire. For the Central news broadcasts, Nelson also wrote a major features project about Soviet war photographer Yevgeny Khaldei and the exhibition of his work in Berlin.

For the Globe

“I’ve always been passionate about youth empowerment and particularly interested in international relations,” said Marie-Claudine Villacorta, a senior international studies and French double major. The IWU Peace Fellow, who was born in the city of Makati in the Philippines, has secured internships with two major global organizations: LeadAmerica and interrupcion.

Villacorta spent the first part of her summer acting as team leader for the Global Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. under LeadAmerica. Designed for high school students, the program features guest speakers from the State Department and the World Bank, and builds youth leadership experience through various activities. As team leader, Villacorta played the role of both student and educator. “When simulating the United Nations Security Council mission in Côte d’Ivoire, I was able to share with my group my knowledge of African international relations, which I learned from my professors at Illinois Wesleyan,” she said. “We eventually decided to solve the ethnic violence through a grassroots movement, specifically through education, sports, and the arts.” Villacorta plans to expand on the topic for her Peace Fellowship research paper.

When the LeadAmerica Summit ended in late June, Villacorta traveled to New York City to begin her work as a Responsible Consumption Campaign Liaison for interrupcion, a not-for-profit organization that promotes fair trade and social entrepreneurship, founded in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For the Earth

Experience is the key benefit cited by Anthony Gunnell, a senior, whose internship as part of the Wilderness Ranger Team has him stationed at the Middle-Fork Ranger District of the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Challis, Idaho. Working primarily in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest mass of designated wilderness in the lower 48 states, the environmental studies major spends eight-day stretches of 10-hour days clearing trails to ensure the least amount of degradation to the area.

“This internship has given me incomparable backcountry experience,” Gunnell said, crediting the internship for heightening his topographic map skills, GPS, and Leave No Trace Skills, as well as allowing him a chance to be certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. Dedicated to conservation, in the future Gunnell plans to work outdoors, particularly in wilderness areas, either by conducting research within the area or ensuring its health from an administrative position.

Said Gunnell, “This internship has done a lot for me mentally. Finding peace of mind through the solitude is great. A college student’s life is often very busy and by using the time out here correctly, I have been able to really look within my self and plan out my next few years.”

For the Music

Senior viola performance major Molly Price is the development intern at the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colo., where one of her responsibilities is creating an alumni networking database for the orchestra. Comprised of 18 to 28 year-old national and international musicians selected from 850 possible candidates, the program accepts 89 Fellows a year. The NRO’s main goal is to provide extensive training for musicians entering the professional world. While Price allocates the majority of her time to searching and applying for grants, she also helped organize the silent auction for the NRO’s Summer Gala, the not-for-profit’s largest fundraiser.

Perhaps the most exciting aspects of the internship involve the music itself. “The NRO does many outreach events in addition to their summer concert series. This includes playing at other venues around town for free and educational events for children,” said Price. “I believe Arts Education is incredibly important to the development of young children, so I think it’s great that the NRO includes this in their mission. It’s also wonderful to see how much community support the orchestra garners, and you always get a sense of pride when you see a rather full auditorium.”

Price is gratified by the amount of responsibility her internship has afforded her, as well as the time it allots for her to take masters classes. “My life is in music, and if I don’t end up performing, I would love to stay involved by being a grant writer or administrator for a not-for-profit organization,” said Price, adding that she is thankful for the experience, as, for the first time, it has given her an idea of what is like to work “in the real world.”

While the reasons IWU students choose to intern for a cause are as diverse as the internships themselves, according to Diekhoff they have one thing in common: “They are a win-win situation,” she said. “Students get great experience, while providing valuable service and support to non-profits with limited staff and budgets.”

Many students say that once they are able to translate their causes into action that makes a difference, the effort they put forth is more than equaled by benefits returned. “Altruism is a wonderful characteristic to have shining through on a resume,” said Diekhoff. “Employers like hiring students who can think and act beyond themselves. So choosing to intern at a not-for-profit can not only feel good, but it can also open doors for opportunities in the future.”  

For additional information about the internships described, visit the official Web sites. For more about internship opportunities for IWU students, contact Diekhoff at (309) 556-3071.

Contact: Teresa A. Sherman, (309) 556-3181