Shepherd Internships Show Challenges of Poverty
LEXINGTON, Va., July 30, 2021— This summer, four cadets are taking part in internships designed to show them a side of life many have not seen before as they participate in a program through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, which places students with nonprofits serving the economically disadvantaged.
Since 2012, VMI has participated in the Shepherd program, which began at neighboring Washington and Lee University. The program offers eight-week internships to students from colleges and universities across the country, with the goal of encouraging young people to make a difference by serving both disadvantaged individuals and their communities.
Erin Kozlowski ’22, a psychology major and a midfielder on the Keydet women’s soccer team, is working with STOP Inc. in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and also in STOP’s facilities in Norfolk and Franklin. STOP, an acronym for Supporting Transformational Opportunities for People, provides a variety of services to low-income individuals in southeastern Virginia.
“I take part in many different activities with STOP like doing wellness checks at a food bank, teaching a summer program of kids about substance abuse and prevention, and taking part in department meetings to brainstorm new activities and talk about the poverty rates in the area,” wrote Kozlowski in an email.
The wellness checks, which include collecting data such as height, weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, are a way of measuring changes in health as a result of food bank use, Kozlowski pointed out, as the STOP food bank emphasizes consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The most interesting thing so far to me is how much poverty affects my hometown that I wasn't aware of before the internship,” she wrote. “It has been interesting to do research about Virginia Beach and to see how being impoverished affects the community here.”
For Kozlowski, the Shepherd internship is a valuable stepping stone to her future career path as a nurse practitioner. “I am doing work in a clinic now with STOP Inc. and learning about healthcare and how to treat patients,” she said. “I am working directly with a physician's assistant and a nurse who get to introduce me to healthcare practices I haven't done before.”
Like Kozlowski, Sarah Anschutz ’22 was attracted to the Shepherd internship program because of her interest in healthcare. Anschutz, a biology major, is trying to decide between pursuing a career in pharmacy or as a physician assistant, and her work with the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia, has exposed her to facets of both careers.
“I love my internship because I have so many different responsibilities and tasks depending on the day of the week,” wrote Anschutz in an email. On Mondays, she works in the pharmacy, and on Tuesdays, she helps with intake of patients at the medical clinic. On Wednesdays, she assists in the dental clinic and on Thursdays, she shadows the nurse practitioner. When time permits, she makes reminder phone calls to patients and assists with outreach to Roanoke’s Spanish-speaking community.
The most surprising part of my work so far has been what I have learned from interacting with the patients,” Anschutz commented. “I have learned that you cannot assume every individual possess the basic healthcare knowledge that many of us take for granted.” As examples, she cited knowing about the importance of maintaining oral hygiene and keeping blood pressure in a healthy range.
As she contemplates her future career choices, Anschutz is grateful for the learning opportunity the internship has provided her. “In this setting I am able to get my feet wet in both professions and gain experience in both fields,” she stated. “I have been able to ask many questions and see firsthand the roles and responsibilities of each career which has been very insightful and helpful.”
Prior to their Shepherd internships, both women had had exposure to individuals in poverty through volunteering at homeless shelters and rescue missions, but both also found that they had more to learn.
One thing I have learned from my time at the clinic is that poverty is not a choice and that one's health is one of the largest factors that prevents them from reaching their goals,” said Anschutz.
“I haven’t volunteered locally in Virginia Beach in several years so it was eye-opening to see how the poverty numbers have increased so much since COVID-19 happened,” Kozlowski commented. “I know now how poverty can affect people in many different ways and how important it is to get involved to help provide people in poverty with help and new opportunities.”
This fall, Anschutz and Kozlowski will continue their learning in a required class for Shepherd interns, “The Economics of Human Capability and Civic Engagement.” In that class, taught by Col. Tinni Sen, professor of economics and business, cadets study human capabilities and how those capabilities can be constrained by factors such as poverty, health, and education.
In addition to Anschutz and Kozlowski, the other cadets completing Shepherd internships this summer are Rachel Mininger ’23, who is with Advantage Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio, and Emily Wells ’23, with the Pearl River Public Defender Office in Poplarville, Mississippi.
VMI faculty and staff members overseeing the Shepherd program on post are Dr. Sabrina Laroussi, director; Col. Tinni Sen, academic coordinator; Maj. Sara Blake, internship coordinator; and Lt. Col. Sara Whipple, council member.
Cadets who are interested in learning more about the SHECP internship should contact Blake or Laroussi.
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