Summer 2020 Internships: Community Connections and Skills Building

LBJ PRP Group Wasem

This summer, students in the RGK Center nonprofit studies portfolio program engaged in a variety of internships serving the Austin community and beyond. Students in graduate programs across campus are required to complete internships, but even those whose degrees don’t require it often find valuable experience interning with nonprofits or other organizations over the summer. Whether developing new skills or building on those they’ve learned through their coursework, students find opportunities to engage with populations and causes they care about through their summer experiences. 

Valarie Gold, a graduate student at the Moody College of Communication, worked virtually with Breakthrough Central Texas, a nonprofit organization education program assisting students who will be the first in their families to earn a college degree. As a teaching fellow intern, Valarie led a writer’s workshop for 7th and 8th grade students and developed the curriculum for different writing, revising, and editing strategies. Throughout the summer, students worked on writing a final piece on a topic of their choosing, which was published online and shared with family, friends, and teachers.  

Valarie learned about the internship through the UT Urban Teachers program and used her background in teaching to work with students who now live in the same school district she grew up in.  

“I appreciated being able to give back to the community and I learned the importance of creating a safe and welcoming environment in a class -- even if it is virtual,” Valarie said. “My experience showed me the importance of establishing community in nonprofit work and I will continue pursuing my coursework with an emphasis on youth education.”  

Valarie Gold, graduate student at the Moody College of Communication


As part of her nonprofit portfolio coursework, Valarie took a "Dynamics of Organizations and Communities" course through the School of Social Work. This course, and specifically the needs assessment training she completed, helped Valarie prepare the skills she needed to build relationships with her students in a virtual setting. While working virtually for Breakthrough Central Texas during a summer of uncertainty, Valarie found herself improving her skills of adaptability, patience, and leadership.  

“Being cognizant of the sociocultural aspects of the community my students lived in helped break the ice and most importantly, allowed myself and other teachers to provide a safe space for students to familiarize themselves with online education,” Valarie said.  

While some portfolio students spent their summers working with nonprofit organizations, others found that experiences in for-profit and governmental organizations provided opportunities for them to apply their skills. Aaron Escajeda is in the dual degree program with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. His summer internship was an extension of his Policy Research Project (PRP) through his LBJ coursework, where he and his classmates worked with the Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs in fall 2019 and spring 2020 (read the PRP report here). This summer, Aaron and several of his classmates continued working with LBJ School Professor Ruth Wasem to conduct similar research and data evaluation in San Antonio.  

"A lot of the same skills I learned from my PRP were directly translatable to working on my internship with San Antonio," said Aaron, who used skills like GIS mapping and data analysis using the computer program R in both his PRP and in his summer internship. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this internship without having done the PRP first.” 

Dual degree student Aaron Escajeda (third from the left, top row) participated in a Policy Research Project led by LBJ School professor Ruth Wasem (far left, bottom row) during the spring 2020 semester. The project was extended into the summer, when the group worked with the City of San Antonio. Photo from LBJ School of Public Affairs


One of the courses Aaron took through the nonprofit portfolio program was Leadership in Human Service Systems through the School of Social Work, taught by Professor Michael Lauderdale. Aaron’s experience with learning his leadership style and developing communication skills in this course helped prepare him for success in his internship.  

“It helped with being able to know your leadership style and being able to work with lots of new people, and I know that working in an internship really tests that," Aaron said. “If you don’t have those communication skills and you don’t know how to manage teams, it can be a struggle."  

As Aaron looks forward to graduation in May 2021, he already recognizes the value that his internship experience has afforded him, especially when it comes to future employment prospects and the possibility of using both of his degrees in his post-graduate career.  

“[Employers like to see that] I could talk with people and do surveys...but at the same time run the statistical analyses and the data part of it,” said Aaron. “That's exactly what I came to grad school for, to learn more about the quantitative side with the social work side and it was really cool to see that happening at my internship.” 

Also a student at the School of Social Work, Ashlee Silver learned about her current internship with Applied Materials through the DiNitto Career Center at the Social Work school. As a Global Community Affairs intern currently living in California, Ashlee is engaged in several projects around Corporate Social Responsibility efforts at Applied Materials. Through her internship, which will last until May 2021, Ashlee has gained valuable insight into how grant cycles work from a funder’s perspective.  


Ashlee Silver, graduate student at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work 


“I had no idea such a role existed where I could gain experience in so many different ways, through employee giving and engagement, events, and grants,” Ashlee said. “Especially as we move forward through this virtual world, the experience I am gaining now will have a lasting impact on my career.”  

While interning at Applied Materials this summer, Ashlee also took the "Perspectives on Philanthropy" summer course with RGK Center professor Ken Gladish. Ashlee’s experience interning in the corporate sector informed her commentary in class as she was able to share her experiences during discussions about the different sectors in American society.  

“The structure, guest speakers, and framework provided for looking at the nonprofit sector, in relationship to other sectors, has worked to reshape my thinking about the role of philanthropy in the United States,” Ashlee said. “It was a phenomenal course, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.” 

Experiences such as these can be invaluable to graduate students, serving as an arena in which they can use skills they have learned through their coursework to work towards solutions to real-world problems or engage with and learn from communities directly. Despite an unusual summer, RGK Center portfolio students continue to demonstrate their capacity to lead, their flexibility in the face of uncertainty, and their passion for serving their communities.  



To read more about the impact of the 2019-2020 Policy Research Project led by professor Ruth Wasem, click here

Sept. 10, 2020