By Melinda Burns, Director of Adult Education
When the coronavirus hit in March, Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) cancelled all in-person internships at community-based sites for the rest of the semester. Sadly, Anny Jennifer Flores-Farias (“Jennifer”), a human services major at HVCC, had to end her internship with the Adult Education program at Wildwood.
Fast forward to July: Jennifer reached out to see if Wildwood’s Adult Education would accept an intern for the fall semester. While most other programs would not accept interns, Wildwood and HVCC agreed to pilot a “virtual internship.” The logistics, schedule, and parameters were set so that Jennifer could complete the internship in an online-based environment and get credit for 168 internship hours by December.
“I feel like we see each other all the time!” Even though this time is virtual, Wildwood’s expansive technology infrastructure allows Jennifer to keep in touch regularly and use programs like Google Meet for videoconference meetings, where she observes and works directly with Adult Education students. Google Meet is also used to take part in live, interactive classes or create recorded sessions that can be reviewed later on.
With the virtual internship, Jennifer is still able to learn about administrative functions, such as the Adult Education registration process and online intake interviews. She routinely participates in online training, reviews databases, and uses Google Drive for projects and data collection. Additionally, Jennifer has enjoyed helping the individuals in Adult Education classes with their technology issues – she is learning how to problem solve, be patient, and constantly adjust to a new and changing environment.
“The virtual internship hours are actually easier to complete because I don’t have to drive as much. I have in-person and online classes this semester, and two other jobs, so I already had to manage my time very carefully,” Jennifer points out. However, she also realizes that there is a big difference between this virtual experience and true face-to-face interaction.
Through the virtual internship, Jennifer has already learned about different educational needs of people with disabilities. She knows how to adjust her pace and provide multiple methods of learning in order for students to best understand content. Jennifer will be combining both this educational knowledge with her personal experiences in order to offer a Spanish class through Adult Education that will feature language, food, and culture.
Jennifer initially selected Wildwood as her internship location not only because she is interested in working in the human services field, but because she has a family member with a disability. She has watched this family member struggle throughout the years, and saw the effects on her family. In the interest of learning more about people with disabilities and how to best support them, Jennifer also became a Community Habilitation worker at Wildwood this semester, where she provides direct service and writes service notes. The hours completed in this position also count toward her internship. Michel Kimball, Jennifer’s HVCC Internship Supervisor, points out that what she is participating in “are ‘real world’ practical experiences that you can’t learn in a book.”
“Working in Community Habilitation, I've learned how this service helps people with disabilities – you help them work on their goals and how to achieve them. I've learned about the different services [people] can get and how they improve,” says Jennifer. She plans to continue working with Community Habilitation, stating that it’s an excellent opportunity for college students to build work experience for their resumes.
Internships provide a rich learning environment that help college students gain valuable experience and education. Internships can also help students determine their future goals. For Jennifer, her experience at Wildwood has done just that. When asked why she wants to work in this field, she says that she likes helping others and the rewarding feelings that come with it. “I want to make a change in peoples’ lives, even if it's a small one. I've been told multiple times to rethink my career path, even by teachers, because it's not a high-paying job. My response was always the same: ‘I know, but I'll be doing something that I love.’”
What interns like Jennifer take away in experience, they also give back to the agency. For example, Jennifer brings a wealth of technological knowledge to Adult Education. She helped staff learn a number of convenient Google-based features, and she has shared knowledge about how information is shared through smart phones. (She even took the screenshot photo that’s featured alongside this article!) Her younger, millennial perspective is incredibly valuable when it comes to feedback about Adult Education course development. Being bilingual in English and Spanish, and familiar with barriers and traditions, she also adds a unique cultural awareness to the program and increases the ability to offer courses like her Spanish class.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wildwood continues to explore new opportunities and inventive ways to increase community connection and participation. This ongoing virtual internship is one exciting example of how working creatively with community partners like HVCC can make different opportunities a reality!