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Millsaps Students Intern with Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty

August 13, 2013


Two Millsaps College students have spent the summer working for non-profits in Florida and Massachusetts that provide educational programs for youngsters.

Sara Del Castillo, Class of 2014, and Kate Rust, Class of 2015, are the first two Millsaps students to complete internships as part of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty. The Consortium is housed under the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability at Washington and Lee University, which is directed by Millsaps alumnus Howard Pickett, Class of 1998.

The consortium, which Millsaps joined in the fall of 2012, works to involve multiple academic disciplines and 19 institutions in educating graduate and undergraduate students on poverty, both in the classroom and during internships. The eight-week internships provide opportunities for interns to travel to impoverished areas and work with residents on issues such as education, healthcare, legal services, hunger and housing.

Sara del Castillo works with middle school students in Tampa

Del Castillo, who is involved on campus with Amnesty International, the College Democrats and the Mississippi Young Women's Summit, worked as a mentor and tutor to pre-school, elementary and middle school students enrolled in the Migrant Education Program of the Hillsborough County Public Schools System in Tampa, Fla.

 "These children often experience difficulty in school because they must frequently travel from one city or state to another in search of work on farms for economic survival," said Del Castillo, who is from Ocean Springs. "On the elementary and pre-school levels, I have worked on reading, math and English skills with the children. I have also worked on issues of body image, self esteem, social integration, confidence building and leadership development with the middle school girls."

Rust worked as a reading coordinator for Tenacity, a non-profit organization in Boston that provides after-school, in-school and summer programs for urban youth. She made daily lesson plans for reading and literacy activities for youngsters 6-12.

Kate Rust works with youths in the Boston area

"The kids would rotate through tennis, fitness and reading stations that included two hours of tennis with 30 minutes of fitness and 30 minutes of reading," said Rust, who is from Hattiesburg,  "I also helped lead three hours of tennis instruction in the afternoons."

Rust also worked in Tenacity's office and learned how a non-profit operates.

"I saw first-hand how much hard work goes into putting on an extensive summer program," she said. "There are many steps involved, including getting funding, securing paid staff and volunteers, and inventorying the necessary equipment.  The memory that stuck out the most, however, was the big smiles and excitement from the kids every morning as they ran to the program.  They were always enthusiastic and ready to start the day."

Dr. Louwanda Evans, assistant professor of sociology at Millsaps, said the internships are beneficial for Millsaps students as they provide students with the opportunity to bridge the gap between theory and practice by contributing firsthand to a few of the many underserved communities across the nation. "The purpose of these internships is to foster an awareness of poverty and the consequences of poverty, and to inspire our students to think critically about ways to reduce poverty," she said.

Dr. Julian Murchison, associate professor of sociology at Millsaps and a member of the consortium's board of directors, said students gain the opportunity to focus on particular aspects of poverty they find important and to gain practical experience that prepares them for meaningfully engaged lives after they leave Millsaps.

"With internships in locations such as Massachusetts and Florida, we are able to expand the scope of community engagement well beyond the greater Jackson area," he said. "The internships help to build on the wonderful things that our students do throughout the school year and throughout their college careers.  They also give them a chance to reflect on how the situations they encounter in places such as Jackson, Boston and Tampa are similar and different - the basis for the critical reflection on the real world that is a hallmark of the Millsaps education."

Del Castillo and Rust applied for the internships after completing the poverty studies class that Evans taught last spring. They completed an online application that was submitted to Washington & Lee, the institution that oversees the consortium. Washington & Lee placed Del Castillo and Rust in internships based on their strengths and interests.

Del Castillo, anthropology and religious studies major, said her summer internship taught her the importance of building relationships within diverse communities and the importance of participant observation in her field of study.

"I feel that my major has taught me to be wary of stereotypes, ethnocentrism, structure and absolute claims about what is normal," she said. "I have been challenged to become aware of my own privileges and how structures in society have influenced who I am and the opinions I have about the world."

An anthropology/sociology major, Rust said being immersed in a city new to her and in a culture new to her opened her eyes to aspects of American society of which she had had little experience.

Rust, who is a member of Kappa Delta, a work/study researcher for the Sociology Department and a volunteer at Operation Upward, said she has not yet determined a career path.

"The experience helped me realize that even if I do not pursue a career with a non-profit or charity organization, I can still find a way to volunteer my time and service to my community," Rust said. "We had volunteers at Tenacity who have been coming back year after year because of their desire to serve."
Rust said she felt fortunate to be one of the first students from Millsaps to participate in the program. "It was an amazing opportunity and I made life-long friends," she said, mentioning the opening and closing conferences with 85 students in the program and their professors.

Rust was even part of a group that spent the weekend at the home of Tom and Nancy Shepherd, benefactors of the program.

With the completion of their poverty studies class and their internships, Del Castillo and Rust are now eligible for a Faith & Work minor.

Tonya Nations, director of the Career Center at Millsaps and internship director for Millsaps' students in the Shepherd Consortium, said interns for the summer of 2014 will be recruited starting this fall. Sophomores and juniors who complete Evans' class in poverty studies are eligible to apply.

Nations can provide information for any interested student about the consortium, which has plans for growth. "The consortium is looking to expand into two new cities next year, as well as expand its experiential offerings to accommodate varied interests in the study of poverty," Nations said.