Each summer, Millsaps sends a handful to students across the country to intern for the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), an inter-institutional collaboration among 25 colleges and universities across the country. Among those schools, Millsaps serves as the Consortium's academic home, supporting SHECP's mission to help college students study poverty as a complex social problem, by providing educational opportunities in a wide range of disciplines and career trajectories.
Jenna Mitchell, '21, was one of four Millsaps students to intern with SHECP this past summer. As a pre-medicine student, Mitchell requested a placement in the medical field, and was assigned a position at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in Washington D.C., which is an interfaith, community-based organization seeking to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. They meet the immediate daily needs of the people they serve with a multitude of services including food, clothing, and healthcare. Mitchell worked at SOME's medical clinic, which accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay. "I was basically a nurse's assistant," she explained. "I would work with a different physician every day. My role was to triage the patients, and then discharge them once they had seen the doctor."
Mitchell went on to talk about how each person she worked with had an incredibly different story. "At the end of the day they're all there seeking help. It's important to take the goggles off and see them as individual people and not a population of people." One woman in particular came into the clinic on multiple occasions, and struggled to keep her drug abuse under control. When she finally told the physicians that she wanted serious assistance, they were able to connect her with a two-week recovery program for mental health patients, many of whom are also users. "This woman talked about how she made one bad decision and her life followed that, but I got to walk her over to the program location and encourage her that it also takes one good decision to make things go the right way," Mitchell said.
Dr. Stephanie Rolph, SHECP's Academic Director and Director of Experiential Learning and Strategic Initiatives at Millsaps, sees the SHECP internship as one of the best examples of classroom to community learning. After completing a semester with Dr. Louwanda Evans in The Many Dimensions of Poverty course, she explains, Millsaps students enter their summer internship with a strong academic preparation for this work. "The SHECP program really embraces the critical balance between academic scholarship and practice as the ideal formula for poverty intervention. Jenna is an outstanding example of how effective that combination can be for our students—especially as they contemplate ways to integrate their career interests with community responsibilities."
While in D.C., Mitchell lived on Howard University's campus with her cohort of eight other students, all of whom were interning for SHECP in a variety of placements. Each student received a stipend based on the city's lower average income, which pushed them to learn to grocery shop together, get creative with their free time, and reflect on existing with fewer resources. "It's not a poverty simulation, that's not the goal, it's just to help you understand living on a lower income," said Mitchell. "It sounds crazy to say I'm a different person after two months, but I gained so much confidence in myself and respect for other people. I think I learned the importance of being open-minded."