Thirteen students investigated urban and cross-cultural issues, sharpened their organizational skills and posed as positive role models as the first time volunteers of the Rochester Urban Fellows Summer Internship Program.
“I think this first year was extremely successful for the program. We were often running around trying to make sure that everything was planned out perfectly,” Dean of Students at The College Jody Asbury explained. “This came as a grant from the Rochester Area Community Center foundation and we partnered with two community organizations as well. The students focused on issues such as civic engagement, urban life, public safety and economic development and they really appeared to have gained a great deal of experience from the program.”
Students from colleges all over the Rochester area were chosen to participate in the paid internships through a lengthy application and interview process after which they were matched to a specific community agency based on their academic skills.
“The students lived in the Community Learning Center in the fraternity quad as a group and they worked four days a week at their different sites, which were all over the city. Some students worked at the YMCA, others with community development or, for example, one worked in marketing to figure out how to make the other side of the river more appealing to students,” Asbury said. “On Friday they came back to the campus and were assigned readings and seminars by faculty members on several issues such as economic development, history or demographics.”
Junior Seth Baum, who has remained a resident in the Community Learning Center on campus, organized the Baden Street/University of Rochester Engineering Prep Program, a workshop during the week where high school students explored different aspects of careers in engineering through hands-on exercises and frequent field trips.
“Baden Street Settlement runs a lot of different extracurricular programs and weekend programs. I mainly organized the programs, like getting Professor Andrew Berger to give a presentation on medical optics, but I also taught a little bit with an introduction to optics presentation,” Baum said. “We worked a lot with Leadership Rochester, a group of people who work to address urban issues and we got to see how community leaders were working on these issues.”
Several other students worked alongside Baum for the Baden Street/University of Rochester Engineering Prep Program such as junior Manoj Menon, senior Patty Grabenstettir, who taught the math class within the workshop, and senior Monique Terry, who taught the life skills class.
“I think in general, but especially for city kids, it is good for them to see role models who are comparable in age, especially when it comes to downtown when a lot of the role models they have are not necessarily positive ones. Even if they did not learn anything from the prep program, at least they saw that there are kids who are getting a higher education and taking that path,” Menon said.
A prior suburban resident, Menon recalled that he learned much about urban lifestyles from his interaction with the inner-city students.
“I realized there is more to life than just studying. These students have other things on their mind, like when they have to hit the ground whenever there’s a certain car that drives by because there could be a shooting. They’re not necessarily thinking about their engineering homework for the next day,” he explained. “We tried to make it as fun for them as possible like with the shoe activity ? they all designed a different kind of shoe for different purposes and we talked about pressure points and makeup of the shoe, and then in the end they had to show their shoe and we judged them.”
Both Menon and Baum agreed that the internship successfully prepared them for any job requiring major organizational skills, helped them in relating to adolescents and greatly increased their understanding of urban issues.
“[Through the program] you build organization skills like crazy, like when you have to organize something for 30 students it is very doable but when you have to do it for them four hours a day, five days a week it takes a lot of work. We spent a month beforehand just organizing, and still as the weeks came by we had things changing ? professors cancelling or rescheduling so it was an ongoing process,” Menon recalled.
“But now I’m an officer in the Biomedical Engineering Society and that is easy stuff. The president will ask me to reserve a room and I’m like ‘oh yeah, sure.’ That’s easy after having done this for 30 students.”
“The program was definitely successful. It is just a good concept of merging academia with community and I got a lot out of it because now I have an understanding of city issues and what is being done about them in Rochester,” Baum said. “If I end up working for an optics company I can use my experience from the program to organize activities so local students can visit the company and learn about what we do.”
Welzer can be reached at email@example.com.