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In tough economy, Capps Center-NSC Community Internship Program more important than ever

When the UCSB Capps Center and the Nonprofit Support Center launched their joint student internship program in 2008, Santa Barbara nonprofits were beginning to feel the effects of the economic downturn. Two years on, the situation has worsened for many nonprofits, as fundraising has suffered and the need for their services has increased. Students, too, have been affected by higher fees, and many are taking on extra jobs to pay their way. The Capps/NSC internships, which are paid, are helping a select group of UCSB students and Santa Barbara nonprofits to bridge these gaps.

Benefactor Sara Miller McCune, bottom right, with the 2010-11 class of interns, now part of the Sara Miller McCune Internship and Public Service Program.

Under the program, which covers a full academic year, the Capps Center and the NSC place 10 juniors and seniors with Santa Barbra non-profits selected specifically to match their interests and experience. The interns work for 10 hours per week during the winter and spring quarters, and earn both a small stipend and course credit in an upper-level seminar held during the fall quarter. The Capps/NSC students learn about different aspects of managing non-profit organizations, working under the tutelage of mentors who plan their assignments and monitor their work. The mentors, who are senior staff members at their respective non-profits, receive training in mentoring from the NSC. The non-profits thus benefit from the work of skilled interns who not only believe in their mission, but also are able to undertake challenging assignments because of their skill levels and the bloc of time they are able to commit to their internships.

Just beginning its third year and bolstered by a recent endowment, what is now part of the Sara Miller McCune Internship and Public Service Program is already very competitive and the applicants are highly qualified, says Wade Clark Roof, director of the Capps Center and professor of religious studies. “This campus has a strong service ethos, and we found that these students already have a lot of experience with non-profits, and thus bring a lot of sophistication to the program.”

In September, the Capps Center announced a $500,000 donation from Sara Miller McCune to establish an endowment for the center’s internship programs. In addition to the NSC Community Internship Program, the Capps Center also sponsors interns taking part in the UCDC and UC Sacramento Programs. “The Capps internships provide intelligent students with meaningful work experience in carefully selected nonprofits in our own community, as well as the alternative of an eye-opening position in either Washington, D.C., or Sacramento,” said McCune in a UCSB news release.

Judy Hawkins, Consulting Manager of the NSC, adds, “the feedback from the non-profits has been overwhelmingly positive. In the current economic context of decreased funding, budgetary reductions, and increased demand for services, the interns have made a vital contribution to the these organizations and the non-profit sector. The mentors indicate that the interns are working on substantive projects that in better economic times might have been done by staff.”

To the greatest extent possible, the interns are placed with non-profits that match their interests and experience, and also help them to develop new skills and to network The non-profits selected this year include local institutions like Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Just Communities, and the Legal Aid Foundation. The program does not focus only on social justice issues, however, with SEE International and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation adding an international component, and both the YMCA and the Wilderness Youth Project focusing on youth. In future, the program hopes to include arts-related groups as well, says Roof, to reflect the wide variety of non-profit groups in Santa Barbara and broaden the range of options for potential interns.

Anna Giang, a senior majoring in sociology, was an intern during her junior year. Because she had volunteered extensively with youth and recreation groups, Anna asked for a placement that would allow her to learn about the management of a non-profit. She was placed in the office of Serena Kelsch, Financial Development Director of the Channel Islands YMCA, where she has worked on grant writing, fund raising, and campaign development. Maggie Hott, a global studies major who graduated in June 2010, previously had interned in the Scottish Parliament, studied in Spain, and raised funds for an orphanage in Malawi. Her mentor at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Rick Wyman, assigned her to manage a video contest and to assemble a report that will be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly. “This internship has been the best thing that I have ever done at UCSB, and have made the most incredible connections from it,” said Maggie in a email.

2009-10 intern Elizabeth Watson (left) with Niki Davidson, her mentor at the Legal Aid Foundation.
(Photo by Rod Rolle)

Fund raising is central to the work of every non-profit, especially in this difficult economic climate. Elizabeth Watson, a history and philosophy major who is now attending Georgetown Law School on scholarship, was assigned to the Legal Aid Foundation, where she helped to organize several high-profile fundraising events. Her mentor, development director Niki Davidson, said that Elizabeth saw how major events are organized from start-up through completion. Because the internship was also structured to expose Elizabeth to the law, she shadowed different attorneys, met judges and members of the legal community, and spent time at the Legal Resources Clinic. The stipend was critical for Elizabeth, who said, “I can’t stress enough how valuable this kind of program is for someone like me who … needs to work two jobs to pay for school. It is only because this internship is in Santa Barbara and paid (so it could function as my second job) that I could do it. It is really a unique opportunity.”

Emily Ludden, who graduated in June 2010, with local children at the Wilderness Youth Project.
(Photo by Rod Rolle)

At the Wilderness Youth Project, Emily Ludden, a political science major, helped organize the 10th anniversary celebration and also developed a blog and worked with the “Chickadees” preschool-age group exploring the wild places behind Tucker’s Grove Park in Goleta. “Working with the kids is magic, “ says Emily. “They have easily taught me just as much, probably more, than I have been able to show them.” Since graduating in June, Emily has been working as a teacher at a nursery school in Goleta, CA. “The school is focused on outdoor education, and my experience with the Wilderness Youth Project no doubt was the key to me getting a job there,” she says. Emily, who plans to apply to a graduate program in public policy next year, advises the new cohort of interns that “the internship is a privilege that will open up doors in the future. It has for me.”

In 2009-10, SEE International was one of several non-profits taking part in the program for the second time, and the staff there were enthusiastic about the substantive work done by the interns. Peter Solar, the International Clinic Coordinator, mentored Stephanie Welty, a political science major who wants to pursue graduate study in international public health. Stephanie’s work was very hands on, as she processed affiliate applications, prepared pre-clinic documents, reviewed surgical logs, finalized program reports for audit, and explored possibilities for new expedition sites. Stephanie says that as a result of her experience, “international health has become such a part of my life that I’m applying to nursing graduate programs for fall 2011. I’m interested in community and public health nursing and hopefully international nursing.”

Many of the mentors stressed the benefits they gained personally from the experience. Erika Lindemann, Assistant Director of the Wilderness Youth Project, said, “Emily taught me a good deal about how to be a better mentor.” Niki Davidson agreed, adding that Legal Aid has a lot of volunteer interns, but this was the first time they had a structured learning program, which made her think more carefully about her responsibilities as a mentor.

The new class of interns is enthusiastic about the program.Justin Galle, a third-year political science major, says, “the main thing that attracted me to the program is the underlying commitment to service that the Capps Center emphasizes.” As the program enters its third year, both the Capps Center and the NSC are more certain than ever about its value to Santa Barbara’s non-profit community, to the student interns themselves, and to the important relationship between UCSB and the wider Santa Barbara community.

The Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life aims to advance conversation on major public issues, ethics and values in a non-partisan, non-sectarian manner, and hence to contribute to a more informed and engaged citizenry. In addition to the Capps Center/NSC internships, the Center also sponsors internships in Sacramento, CA and Washington, DC.