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Shepherd Interns Spend the Summer Learning about Poverty

If their internships are anything like the one Washington and Lee University senior Tilden Bowditch had a summer ago, the 73 students who began their Shepherd Alliance internships this week are in for life-altering experiences.

“My internship changed my world view in the best of ways,” said Bowditch, a journalism and mass communications major from Williamsburg, Va. “It’s something that I’ll carry with me wherever I go in the future, and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity.”

Bowditch spent the summer before her junior year working in Chester, Pa., as a Shepherd Intern, working with a non-profit organization that helps students succeed in high school and make it on to college. She shared her experiences with the current interns during their two-day orientation program on the W&L campus last weekend.

“For me, the experience was completely eye-opening. I got a glimpse of a part of life that I didn’t know before and had a personal experience of what it’s like to grow up in a low-income community,” Bowditch said. Although she witnessed the limited opportunities students had because of their circumstances, she said she was encouraged to see “the hope in the community and to see how the people there were striving to better their students’ lives.”

This is the first year that the internship program has operated as part of the newly formed Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), which is introducing coordinated poverty studies into undergraduate education at the 14 member schools.

Previously, W&L had administered the internship program in collaboration with a small group of institutions. This summer, for the first time, all 14 members of SHECP will have interns. The member institutions, in addition to Washington and Lee, are Baylor University, Berea College, the College of Wooster, Elon University, Furman University, John Carroll University, Lynchburg College, Middlebury College, Niagara University, Spelman College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Notre Dame and Virginia Military Institute.

Based on 15 years of success by W&L’s groundbreaking poverty program, the Shepherd Consortium seeks to initiate and advance sustained curricular and co-curricular education focused on poverty and human capability in order to prepare students for a lifetime of professional, civic and political efforts to diminish poverty and to enhance human capability.

Addressing the interns during orientation sessions, Harlan Beckley, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion and director of the Shepherd Program at W&L, emphasized the educational benefits of their experiences.

“You’re going to be serving individuals and agencies and communities in efforts to get people who are being held back by poverty to a point where they can function and then flourish in our society,” he said. “But your primary motivation, I hope, is not simply to serve and to be involved in the community. Instead, you will be participant observers and will learn for yourselves what poverty is and how to deal with it.”

The summer internship places students in both urban and rural settings, from Boston, Mass., to Klagetoh, Ariz. Some of the agencies with which they will be engaged include the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, the Fan Free Clinic in Richmond, the N Street Village in Washington, D.C., and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Fayetteville, W.Va.

Joseph Wegener, a senior at Notre Dame, will work at PAVE Academy, a charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I’ve taken a few poverty classes at Notre Dame and gotten that side of the story,” Wegener said. “Now I want to be involved on a grassroots level. I don’t know exactly what this summer is going to be like, but I know that I want an experience that is going to change me as an individual and as a citizen.”

Lauren Gunderman, a junior at John Carroll University, plans to be a physician and will be working in rural southwest Virginia at C-Health, a clinic serving 18,000 area residents that was founded by Washington and Lee alumnus Dr. Hughes Melton.

“As a physician, I want to make a difference on poverty instead of being someone who is blind to the issues,” Gunderman said. “This opportunity will allow me to figure out how a free health clinic functions.

Caroline Gill, a Washington and Lee junior minoring in poverty and human capability studies, believes her internship with the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in Camden, N.J., will take her beyond textbooks or lectures. “I’m anxious to be learning from people who’ve dedicated their professional lives to addressing issues of poverty,” Gill said.

The Shepherd Consortium anticipates expanding from its current membership to 20 partner institutions by 2014. Each institution has signed a memorandum of understanding that commits it to coordinated courses focused on poverty and human capability and to funding summer internships for its students. In addition to the internship program, the consortium offers an annual symposium on teaching poverty in undergraduate and professional education as well as a website for networking, disseminating information and knowledge, and facilitating applications and meetings.

At the conclusion of their internship, the students will reassemble at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., where they will be hosted by the Clinton School of Public Service and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for a two-day session, in which they will report on their experiences.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459