SEP Interns Gain New Perspective on Careers and Community
August 3, 2018
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — This year’s 12 participants in Illinois Wesleyan University’s
Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) took away valuable insights into themselves, their peers and their potential
careers, upon graduating from the program during a ceremony held Thursday, Aug. 2.
Each year for the past two decades, a cohort of students from diverse, underrepresented
backgrounds take part in the summer-long internship program at sites across the Bloomington-Normal
area. Students develop hands-on experience in their field of study and explore themes
of diversity in weekly group discussions and activities.
“I think the professional development is incredible,” said Hanna Mesouani, assistant
director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “This is the first time a lot of the students have had eight-hour work days, so
it’s kind of cool for them to figure out their path. But, I think the most impactful
thing about SEP is the way that individuals are navigating their own identity, but
in a space that is encouraging of discomfort, encouraging of challenge, and encouraging
of all of us to figure out each other as well.”
The program began at IWU more than 20 years ago as a means to provide minority students
with meaningful work experience. It has since expanded to include international students,
who made up nearly half of this year’s cohort.
One international student, Theo Bantas ’21 (Bucharest, Romania) found herself interning
at the McLean County Law and Justice Center for Illinois JusticeCorps. As a member of the Illinois JusticeCorps team, Bantas helped patrons without the
means to hire legal representation navigate the judicial system. Throughout her internship,
she also made connections with attorneys, clerks, judges and other professionals in
“Interning with JusticeCorps was the perfect first step for me in becoming more familiar
with the legal field,” said Bantas, a pre-law philosophy and political science double major.
While the chance to participate in a summer internship helped students like Bantas
solidify their intended career paths, other experiences proved just as valuable in
helping students discern which avenues to avoid.
“I had a great time at my internship, but being in a hospital is just not for me,”
explained psychology major Ivana Valencia ’21 (Villa Park, Illinois), who interned at Advocate BroMenn
Medical Center. Not only did Valencia spend time assisting nurses in her area of interest
at the Mental Health Unit, but she also gained insight into the inner workings of
a hospital as a whole by tackling various assignments in guest services, the emergency
unit and other departments.
Through hours of providing comfort to anxious families or attending to the needs of
patients, Valencia learned that a hospital is not her best fit, but she did discover
a passion for engaging one-on-one with a wide range of people.
“I loved it, going to talk with patients,” she said. “I love understanding a person
and the events they’ve gone through during their life, how that has changed them and
made them into the person I’m meeting right now.”
Beyond professional experience, SEP aims to foster similar moments of self-discovery
in its participants. During weekly Thursday meetings, guest presentations and bonding
activities, the group explored their personal views on current social topics in a
setting that promoted understanding and respect toward differing opinions.
“I think the personal development is incredible,” Mesouani said. “I don’t think there’s
any other opportunity in a classroom or outside a classroom to get this deep with
a room full of strangers.”
Valencia said joining the program was “the best decision” she has ever made in her
“It was fantastic. I learned so much about myself as well as the community I live
in and how our generation is trying to create a new and better world,” Valencia said.
“Being a minority at the moment, it’s difficult, especially in this climate. Not a
lot of minorities get these opportunities. But with SEP, it brings these opportunities
to amazing, smart, gifted students.”
The SEP class of 2018 included: Theodora Bantas ’21, philosophy and political science double major, Bucharest, Romania Davida Boron ’20, psychology major, Country Club Hills, Illinois Kaylan Boyd-Harris ’19, business administration major, Calumet City, Illinois Patrick Capalad ’19, political science major, Chicago Shaurya Gulia ’19, finance and theatre arts double major, Kolkata, India Quentin Jackson ’21, French & Francophone Studies and international studies double
major, New Orleans Ziyan “Sevyn” Liu ’19, computer science and physics double major, Beijing Jinyu “Cathy” Peng ’19, interdisciplinary education studies major, Nanchang City,
China Ngan Pham ’19, biology major, Chicago Shaela Phillips ’21, philosophy and political science double major, New Orleans Ivana Valencia ’21, psychology major, Villa Park, Illinois Robin Williams ’21, design, technology and entrepreneurship major, Chicago