Tisch College expands summer fellowship with program working in child development in New Orleans
Despite some criticism, students enjoy Big Easy culture, service work
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 07:09
Six Tufts students worked in New Orleans this past summer as student fellows in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service Active Citizenship Summer (ACS) Fellowship program, which expanded its offerings to the Big Easy from its existing models in New York, Washington, D.C. and Somerville.
The fellowship in New Orleans evolved out of an annual Spring Break service trip to the area as part of a class offered by the Eliot-Pearson Child Development Department, according to ACS Program Coordinator Rachel Szyman, who co-led the trip with the help of Lisa Schlakman, a former graduate student in the department.
A few years ago, the trip was unable to continue under the framework of a class, and the department came to the Tisch College for financial support.
“Last spring, Lisa realized all the different skills and resources [that the] Tisch College has and got really excited about connecting with our summer fellowship program because we already have that model established,” Szyman said.
Schlakman provided the initial funding for several of the fellowships and used her contacts in the area to find internship placements, most of which were in the area of child development. With additional support from Eliot-Pearson and some of the partner organizations, the program ultimately was able to place six Tufts students at non-profit organizations, Szyman said.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do this program was to see what daily life was like at a non-profit and to see if that was something I wanted to do,” junior Grainne Griffiths, who worked for the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families’ Policy Institute, said.
“It was a great fit for what I wanted with my summer,” sophomore Renee Lamoreau said. “I wanted to do something related to what I was interested in and focus on education policy and development.”
Though many students shared similarly positive accounts of their internships, others say that the program needs to work out a few kinks as it readies itself for a second summer. Students mentioned what they deemed a lack of preparation beforehand and a lack of available support while in New Orleans as areas in which the program can improve.
“It was difficult because no one knew who to talk to,” Griffiths said. “There was a lack of communication, something that can be fixed in the future.”
Weekly fellow meetings with a local leader, a staff member or an alumna in the area were an important piece in building a bond among fellows, Szyman said. But according to Griffiths, these fell apart rather early on in the summer and the fellows were then expected to begin organizing these meetings on their own.
“There needed to be a better resource system available for the fellows down there,” sophomore Taylor Strelevitz said. “There wasn’t a clear-cut system for who you could communicate with, [and] we found ourselves in a lot of situations not having people to reach out to.”
Other constructive feedback from the fellows included more clear expectations of the students and a much better orientation.
“We could have been much better prepared for the challenges we faced,” Strelevitz said.
Szyman and the staff at Tisch College have welcomed student feedback and criticism with the intention of adjusting the program accordingly in order to improve the experience for fellows next year.
“The students identified that we need to have more contact with them,” Szyman said. “My plan for next year is [to] have a [weekly] Skype session with them, along with the meetings they might have with local leaders to make sure I stay well connected.”
In addition, Szyman is looking to build upon the network of Tufts alumni in New Orleans.
“Next year, we want to follow more of [the] model they have in New York and
Washington, which [provides] every fellow that comes down there [with an alumnus] that is their host and [point of] contact,” Schlakman, who served as the sole contact in New Orleans this year, said.
Despite the reported organizational challenges, participants believe the program is worth continuing for its unique offerings to students. Fellows described experiencing the city’s culture as the best part of the experience.
“I think just living in New Orleans was awesome,” Griffiths said. “There’s so much to do, great food, lots of music and festivals, so I really enjoyed that.”
Additionally, work by fellows at their respective organizations successfully fulfilled the Tisch goal to fund student efforts to improve local communities.
“I said to the Tufts fellows, ‘you will make a real difference.’ That’s not always the case with summer internships,” Schlakman said. “The organizations were thrilled with the work [the fellows] did. I knew they were going to be valuable members.”