The right kind of internship provides learning in both directions
By Sarah Amador-Guzmán for The Santa Fe New Mexican
Do you remember your first internship? Did it involve mundane administrative tasks such as filing papers, answering the phone and creating photocopies?
This was the sort of uninspiring experience the Santa Fe Community Foundation wanted to avoid when designing a summer internship program for Opportunity Santa Fe, its birth-to-career initiative that promotes education and training for youth who may be left behind. We want Santa Fe’s youth to gain real workforce skills that inspire future careers — not just engage in rote tasks.
Planning for this pilot program began in January with partners such as YouthWorks!, Earth Care, Community Learning Network, Community Educators Network, STEM Santa Fe, Santa Fe Public Schools, Santa Fe Community College and many others. Youths were tasked with designing a rewarding project with a mentor to help them explore a career in the nonprofit sector.
Sadly, gaining valuable workforce experience is no easy feat for some young people in our region. One of our 25 interns said she did not have a safe home environment conducive to completing coursework, making it that much harder for her to finish high school and advance to college. She decided to use her Opportunity Santa Fe internship to explore her interest in social work by shadowing a YouthWorks! counselor.
For her, a highlight of the program was seeing how her work impacted the larger community. Now, she is on her way to earning a GED.
New Mexico has one of the highest rates of what are known as “Opportunity Youth” in the nation, with more than 35,500 people from 16 to 24 who are not in school or employed. This rate doubles on the Navajo Nation. Such youth face complex challenges, intertwined with social, economic and personal aspects that require compassionate, community-level intervention from the nonprofit, government and private sectors.
The Santa Fe Community Foundation’s Opportunity Santa Fe program seeks to become the backbone of that intervention, working to lift young people out of the cycle of poverty through education, workforce training and mentorship. Our goal is to expand the horizons of what is possible for these youth, helping them develop their unique talents and interests.
Two of our interns used their bilingual skills to translate online and print material into Spanish for Stem Scaffold and Opportunity Santa Fe. Others gained technical skills and shared they learned how to repair electronics at their YouthWorks! internship, including phones, computers and tablets. “It was the first time I got to do a repair on my own,” one of the interns said.
Another intern at the Community Educators Network said a rewarding aspect of her internship was “being able to help promote STEM to many young kids because I personally think that this is a very important career.”
Lifting up STEM education is vital in Santa Fe, where the student math proficiency rate stands at 18 percent.
We want to change that. The interns enrolled in a college credit course aimed to enhance their technical and analytical skills. Such enrollment is important on several levels, not the least of which is nurturing the very idea that they can go to college — that their futures are full of opportunity.
But we not only teach our interns; they also teach us. They proved to us that learning can be contagious through their desire to pass knowledge to the next generation. One of our interns, Aseneth, who worked with her mentor to create library kits for children to learn about native pollinators, including bees and butterflies, reflected on her experience.
“The highlight was imagining kids having fun, which made it worthwhile,” she said.
Sarah Amador-Guzman is program director of education and Opportunity Santa Fe at Santa Fe Community Foundation.