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2020 community-based interns demonstrate impact of virtual community engagement

2020 community-based interns demonstrate impact of virtual community engagement
Through the Community-based Internship Program, several students worked to support the Bailey's Trail System in the Wayne National Forest.

Undeterred by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the students and community partners working together through the Ohio University Center for Campus & Community Engagement’s Community-Based Internship program successfully transitioned to remote partnerships and achieved tangible, mutually-beneficial outcomes for both the students and community.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2021, the 2nd Annual Community-Based Internship Showcase highlighted the impact of the program on the students, community partners, and southeast Ohio region.

“While there are many traditional internships and field placements available to students, community-based internships are unique in that they are jointly designed with organizations that have a multi-county regional footprint,” said Mary Nally, director of the Center for Campus & Community Engagement. “These interns work on community-identified priorities, engage in reflection, and realize personal, professional, and regional impact through their work.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and Amesville Mayor Gary Goosman worked alongside interns Margo Hohenstein, Communications ’21, and Kaitlyn Cummings, Communication Studies and Public Advocacy ’22, with the Mayors Partnership for Progress (MPP), a coalition of mayors from across southeastern Ohio. Guided by the priorities of the MPP, Cummings and Hohenstein worked together to improve communications processes across MPP membership, share important information about CARES Act funding and how to access it, create a childcare resource guide and research other available assistance through local Jobs and Family Services Agencies and Community Action Agencies, and promote the Census.

The interns were an important capacity builder for the MPP during the pandemic. “We are a 501(c)3 representing the mayors and we have no paid employees,” said Mayor Goosman, “So what’s invaluable is having internships, volunteers, and VISTA members [to build our capacity.]”

The internship sparked a renewed interest in pursuing careers in local government for both students. “I applied for the opportunity because of my interest in pursuing a career in government and the MPP re-affirmed that for me,” said Cummings. “Since working with the MPP, I have added an Appalachian Studies Certificate so I can learn more about the region I worked for over the summer.​”

The interns also reflected on their experience in the context of the year’s political climate. “Working with the Mayors Partnership sparked a new interest in government for me,” said Hohenstein. “This group acts as a bipartisan group and they embody what it means to be ‘for the people’. The work they are doing is for their communities to prosper. It’s not about political party or opinion, it’s about the people they serve.”

Hannah Wintucky and Vlad Kovalevsky, graduate students in Communication and Development Studies, worked with Dan Vorisek, resilient communities coach at Rural Action, to develop marketing and communications materials for the newly opened Bailey’s Trail System. Wintucky and Kovalevsky produced a marketing plan, social media strategy and other outreach materials that brought increased visibility and awareness of the Bailey’s Trail, which resulted in higher use of the trail this summer.

After Wintucky and Kovalevsky completed their internships, senior Alli Mancz, a senior English and Environmental Studies major, supported communication efforts for the Bailey’s Trail project through her internship with Wayne National Forest and project lead Dawn McCarthy.

“Where we really needed assistance from Alli was to be able to interview our partners and write stories to start creating content for the new Bailey’s website” said McCarthy. “[She] was working not just for the Wayne National Forest, but for ORCA [Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia] and the team of folks working on the Bailey’s Trail System.”

As the trail opened for its inaugural summer, Mancz supported the communications strategy for the trail by writing a series of blog posts featuring partners and stakeholders, drafting press releases, creating social media content, and developing the Bailey’s Trail website. Mancz also helped develop a "complete streets" policy and community survey for the Village of Chauncey and contributed to development of Economic Development Association grant proposal with ​ORCA. 

In addition to learning new skills like grant writing, interviewing, and blog composition, Mancz said she had to learn how to accept and adapt to uncertainty. “Not only was this position new, it revolved around a brand new trail system, and a brand new organization--and on top of all of that is COVID,” said Mancz, “The ability to re-evaluate and really remain resilient became crucial.”

Dr. Sam Dodd, Director of the Center for Collaborative Arts in the College of Fine Arts, connected Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society to the program this year. Through her internship, Kiara Recchione, a strategic communications major, created a new, robust website for the organization. The website was created to highlight the important story and historical significance of Mt. Zion for the Black community in the region and serve as a tool for fundraising.

“The Society is committed to preserving and rehabilitating this building,” said Dr. Dodd. “This is an ongoing effort to stave off the very slow erasure of sites associated with Black histories within our region, and within our country at large.”

Web design was a new skill for Recchione, who has since graduated and reported leveraging her experience in the interview for her new job as an associate project manager with an advertising agency. 

“This internship not only fostered new technical skills but gave me a really deep understanding and exposure to the achievements of the Black community and greater understanding of [their] struggles,” said Recchione. “It was transformational to be able to interact day to day with people different than myself.”

Over the past few years, OHIO has been building its capacity to engage all students in experiential learning opportunities. “I have seen the transformative power of experiential learning that is why I was genuinely thrilled to see Ohio University really commit to it,” said Director of Undergraduate Experiential Learning Dr. Lindsey Rudibaugh, whose office was created in 2019.

Dr. Rudibaugh sees community engagement as a critical element of experiential learning that “makes good on the promise etched into Alumni Gateway: So enter that you may grow in Knowledge, Wisdom, and Love. It is hard to move the needle on values--on love--without actively engaging with the people and the places and issues we want our students to care about.”

The 2020 Community-Based Internship Program was funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation and Career and Experiential Learning Programmatic Fund.