Lending a Helping Hand Washington and Lee students gain new perspectives after internships through the Shepherd Program.
The summer is winding down and as Washington and Lee students return to campus for the 2023–24 academic year, many are bringing new perspectives and ideas shaped by their summer experiences, particularly those who participated in an internship available through the Shepherd Program at W&L and its summer internship course, POV453.
More than 40 students participated in an internship during the summer of 2023, working directly with communities across the country – and around the world – to better understand the causes and consequences of poverty and inequity. The eight-week internship program is a requirement for the minor in poverty and human capability studies within the Shepherd Program at W&L and also leans heavily into the university’s mission to develop students’ capacity to think freely, critically and humanely and prepare graduates for responsible leadership and service to others.
“The Shepherd Internship intends to complicate and challenge the way students think about ‘poverty’ and ‘inequality,” said Fran Elrod, associate director of the Shepherd Program. “Notably, the internship humanizes the experience of poverty and inequality. The experience often highlights the strength and resilience of individuals who occupy parts of our community where the deck is stacked against them in a million little and big ways.”
For Linda-Margaret Morse ’26, the Shepherd internship helps ensure that W&L students become global citizens who can create positive change and have an impact on the places they go. However, Morse believes that a “global citizen” does not have to travel far in order to make a difference in the world.
“We often focus on the ‘global’ aspect of becoming a global citizen, but it is important to acknowledge that wherever we go and whatever we do, we will be a part of the community that we live in,” they said.
Morse interned at Lexington City’s Office on Youth as one of three program leaders, where they aimed to provide a safe and comfortable childcare setting during the work week and help the kids make memories and strengthen friendships. A studio art major with a minor in education, this internship provided Morse with valuable insight into the impact of community-based learning and affirmed their ambition to pursue a career where they can work directly with children. They were particularly struck by the way childcare centers can serve as a foundation for community relationships and resources and appreciated the opportunity to help be a solution for the challenges poverty creates.
“As a QuestBridge student, I have faced my fair share of poverty in my own life,” Morse said. “Nothing I saw this summer necessarily surprised me, as it was all something I have gone through myself. However, working in Lexington specifically gave me an understanding of how poverty and inequality function on a small-town basis. I come from a city where everything is bigger and more spread apart – including relationships. But in Lexington, everyone knows everyone else and that offers a particular safety net that I didn’t know was possible.”
Supplementing time in the classroom with community-based learning is a distinctly W&L experience and something that Lizzy Nguyen ’25 appreciated being able to weave into her studies through the poverty and human capability studies minor. Nguyen participated in the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) and was matched with Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN) in Utica, New York, a non-profit organization that benefits underserved communities through a variety of means, including housing programs. A neuroscience major on the pre-medical track, Nguyen considers the opportunity to work directly with people in communities and apply classroom knowledge to “real-world” experiences to be a critical part of W&L’s well-rounded liberal arts education.
“You can spend all the time you want in the classroom or buried in countless books about a given topic, but that will never replace real-world experience,” Nguyen said. “By creating individual connections and providing personalized support to people trying their best to make it out there, my internship allowed me to be one gear in a system that helps members of Utica’s own community take advantage of local resources to secure a better future for themselves and their families.”
For Stephanie Boktor ’25, W&L’s emphasis on community-based learning is crucial not only to her development as a student, but as an individual. Through SHECP, she was matched with the Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta, Georgia, which allowed her to see the tangible impact of public health initiatives, confirmed her passion for medicine and greatly shaped her perspective on poverty and inequality.
“It’s one thing to learn about poverty-related issues in the classroom but witnessing firsthand how people can fall victim to circumstances has helped me understand the vicious, cyclical nature of poverty,” she said. “Being able to serve and apply the knowledge I’ve gained through my poverty studies courses at W&L was significant during my internship.”
Kendall Schlueter ’26 also found that concepts can be taught and explained in the classroom, but might be difficult to truly comprehend until one experiences the concepts and their consequences firsthand. Schlueter participated in an international internship through W&L’s Shepherd Program, interning at the Hospital Regional de Alta Especialidad de la Peninsula de Yucatan in Mérida, Mexico, a free government hospital for people with complex health conditions. She felt this experience helped her better understand the complexity of the societal barriers to healthcare access, something she had explored in the classroom but did not fully grasp until she saw it firsthand.
Applying classroom lessons to the real world is a meaningful step in advancing anti-poverty work and making a tangible difference in one’s community. Tetiana Kozachanska ’26 appreciates the way W&L and the Shepherd Program encourage and support students’ hands-on experiences and feels her internship helped add faces and stories to the numbers she learns in class by demonstrating how anti-poverty work can be organized in practice.
Kozachanska’s internship was particularly meaningful, as she returned to her hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine, to intern at Brave Foundation, a volunteer-driven organization focusing on the restoration of cities and villages affected by the Russian war in Ukraine. Her primary responsibilities were coordinating volunteer assignments in various locations of the de-occupied Kyiv region, managing the renovation of the bomb shelter in Bucha Lyceum #4 and organizing community events. Kozachanska found hope and motivation during her internship and plans to apply her W&L education to anti-poverty work back home in Ukraine following graduation.
“This field [of poverty studies and anti-poverty work] is going to be and already is exceptionally relevant due to the large-scale invasion of my country,” Kozachanska said. “I want to join the efforts of my people to reintegrate the occupied communities in the future. I believe that a high-quality education with an abundance of hands-on experience and a support network from W&L will be an invaluable resource along the way.”
By engaging directly with the people in the communities they serve, students in the Shepherd internship program are able to better understand the ways in which they can use their W&L education to help others and enact positive change. Students are given a unique opportunity to apply their education to community-based learning practices, see the impacts of poverty and inequity first-hand and work directly to help those it affects. By immersing themselves in diverse communities across the U.S. and abroad to undertake service-minded internships, Shepherd students live W&L’s mission to produce compassionate and engaged individuals committed to serving a globally and diverse society.
“No two internships are the same because the lessons we take away are shaped by our unique background perspectives coming in,” said Boktor, reflecting on her internship and hearing about the range of experiences at the SHECP Annual Conference at the end of July. “Sharing our stories with each other and receiving feedback from others’ perspectives allows us to take these priceless experiences beyond ourselves and into the world.”
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