By Jacob Hosier, Features Editor
The drawing room in Adams Hall was humid and filled with dust, but it did not stop senior urban studies major Ed Vere from talking about his summer internship experience with passion. This summer, Vere worked in the Philippines as a part of “Companion with the Poor,” a Christian non-profit organization that plants churches in Metro Manila’s poorest neighborhoods. He spent nine weeks with a host family doing ethnographic research, including participant observation, a method of research that involves engaging on a personal level with another group of people over an extended period of time, and conducting interviews.
Wheaton students wouldn’t normally have a chance to engage with communities such as the one Vere served because of the cost. Even students that remain in the United States face high transportation costs, rent and grocery bills that threaten to keep them from participating in summer internships. Because of the scholarship he was granted by the Center for Vocation and Career (CVC), Vere was able to gain ministry experience outside his comfort zone.
This past summer, the CVC contributed to 42 students’ unpaid or underpaid internship experiences, with scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 per student. The scholarship program began in 2017 as a collaboration between the former organization Opus: the Art of Work and the CVC. Because Opus recently shifted its focus to entrepreneurship and became the Center for Faith and Innovation, the CVC alone was responsible for raising funds for student interns this summer. Thanks to donors, the CVC was able to provide students with $96,000 in scholarships, far surpassing previous totals. Dee Pierce, Director of the CVC, told the Record in an email interview, “Providing funds to students doing unpaid or underpaid internships is about the opportunity … We want to do all we can to help all students have an internship experience that will help them develop skills, explore possible careers and begin to discern their future path.”
The scholarship comes with conditions. Students are required to complete coursework throughout the summer, which the CVC hopes will enhance their overall scholarship experience. In an email interview with the Record, Associate Director for Internships Ethan Jones cited a 2017 study from Mount Holyoke University, which linked reflective curriculum to increased participation in multiple internships. The study found that “college graduates who had internships in college, years later as alumni, were twice as likely than those who did not have internships to be engaged in their work and 1.5 times more likely to report high levels of well-being.”
Students gave overwhelmingly positive reviews of the curriculum, which is titled “myInternship.” Junior anthropology major Emily Ding worked at the National University of Singapore as a research assistant for a sociology professor. Ding says she would have done her internship even without the scholarship, but partnering with the CVC changed her experience. “To an extent, it was a drag to have to do homework over the summer,” Ding said, “but I think it was really helpful in terms of encouraging me to get to know more about the research I was a part of and the interpersonal things behind the scenes.” Junior international relations major Grant Dunnavan agreed and said the curriculum “gave us a great template on how to approach work.”
Scholarship recipients had weekly assignments and were each given project coaches from the CVC with expertise in the student’s field of study. “The curriculum was very comprehensive, almost like a class,” said senior international relations major Cody Wollin, who spent his summer working for the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. The care the project coaches put into giving the students feedback also made the process more enjoyable, according to senior business economics major Emily Alkire, who spoke highly of her advisor, Alley Kammer (‘19). “[Kammer] would write back giant paragraphs about what I had turned in; it was so nice. It really had me reflecting on the work I was doing,” she said.
In an email interview with the Record, Kammer said, “I found it was helpful for my students to have a specific place of structure to process, and questions that pushed them to see those they may not normally notice. [The curriculum] gave them a stronger idea of how their work contributed to the greater mission of the organization and strengthened their sense of how they want to move and work in the world.”
The process of applying for scholarships was also easier for students this summer. The CVC streamlined the application form allowing students to apply for the Wheaton Center for Faith Politics and Economics (FPE) and Global Experiential Learning (GEL) scholarships in the same form. The application questions were also simple. “You basically just wrote details about your internship and how much you were getting paid and the hours you were going to work and how it aligned with your idea of vocation,” Wollin said.
Many students who spoke to the Record were grateful for the CVC’s support. Dunnavan, who spent his summer interning on Capitol Hill with the House of Representatives Human Rights Commission, sees the new scholarship as “part of an initiative to make Wheaton more competitive” in the larger college community, highlighting the reality that many universities already supply their students with scholarships for their summer work. “I would not have been able to intern without the scholarship; rent in D.C. is absolutely insane.” Similar to Dunnavan, junior English and theology double major Giselle Gaytan normally would have likely spent her summer working at her mother’s restaurant, Los Tres Manantiales in Appleton, Wisconsin. The CVC scholarship enabled her to spend the summer working for 826DC, a nonprofit that works to support youth from under-resourced schools. For Gaytan, the experience was liberating and formative. “I ended up teaching one lesson on food and water security and one on wildlife conservation, and it ended up being really cool. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, though,” Gaytan said.
Alkire commented on the personal growth she experienced as a result of her internship working in public relations for Lady Boss Blogger. “My internship supervisor ended up going out of the country for half the summer so I was totally on my own. Working remotely was completely different for me … my communication skills definitely improved.”
Vere also mentioned how good it felt to have people support his vision for how he could integrate his faith and learning. “I’m really thankful for the CVC, particularly Dee and Ethan, for hearing my stories, dreams and visions and giving me the resources to pursue that vision, and not only equip me, but come alongside me. Now it feels like a community,” he said.
Pierce shared that Wheaton has committed to raising another $100,000 for Summer 2020 scholarships in an effort to empower more students. “The vision for the Center for Vocation and Career is that we would help students discover the ways God has uniquely designed them: their skills, their interests and the experiences they have had,” she said. “We want to do all we can to help students make the most of their Wheaton education as they finish this chapter and move on to the next.”