If their internships are anything like the one Washington
and Lee University senior Tilden Bowditch had a summer ago,
the 73 students who began their Shepherd Alliance
internships this week are in for life-altering experiences.
"My internship changed my world view in the best of
ways," said Bowditch, a journalism and mass
communications major from Williamsburg, Va. "It's
something that I'll carry with me wherever I go in the
future, and I'm very grateful that I had the
Bowditch spent the summer before her junior year working in
Chester, Pa., as a Shepherd Intern, working with a
non-profit organization that helps students succeed in high
school and make it on to college. She shared her
experiences with the current interns during their two-day
orientation program on the W&L campus last weekend.
"For me, the experience was completely eye-opening. I
got a glimpse of a part of life that I didn't know
before and had a personal experience of what it's like
to grow up in a low-income community," Bowditch said.
Although she witnessed the limited opportunities students
had because of their circumstances, she said she was
encouraged to see "the hope in the community and to
see how the people there were striving to better their
This is the first year that the internship program has
operated as part of the newly formed Shepherd Higher
Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), which is
introducing coordinated poverty studies into undergraduate
education at the 14 member schools.
Previously, W&L had administered the internship program in
collaboration with a small group of institutions. This
summer, for the first time, all 14 members of SHECP will
have interns. The member institutions, in addition to
Washington and Lee, are Baylor University, Berea College,
the College of Wooster, Elon University, Furman University,
John Carroll University, Lynchburg College, Middlebury
College, Niagara University, Spelman College, the
University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of
Notre Dame and Virginia Military Institute.
Based on 15 years of success by W&L's groundbreaking
poverty program, the Shepherd Consortium seeks to initiate
and advance sustained curricular and co-curricular
education focused on poverty and human capability in order
to prepare students for a lifetime of professional, civic
and political efforts to diminish poverty and to enhance
Addressing the interns during orientation sessions, Harlan
Beckley, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion and
director of the Shepherd Program at W&L, emphasized the
educational benefits of their experiences.
"You're going to be serving individuals and
agencies and communities in efforts to get people who are
being held back by poverty to a point where they can
function and then flourish in our society," he said.
"But your primary motivation, I hope, is not simply to
serve and to be involved in the community. Instead, you
will be participant observers and will learn for yourselves
what poverty is and how to deal with it."
The summer internship places students in both urban and
rural settings, from Boston, Mass., to Klagetoh, Ariz. Some
of the agencies with which they will be engaged include the
St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, the Harlem
Children's Zone in New York City, the Fan Free Clinic
in Richmond, the N Street Village in Washington, D.C., and
the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Fayetteville,
Joseph Wegener, a senior at Notre Dame, will work at PAVE
Academy, a charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I've taken a few poverty classes at Notre Dame
and gotten that side of the story," Wegener said.
"Now I want to be involved on a grassroots level. I
don't know exactly what this summer is going to be
like, but I know that I want an experience that is going to
change me as an individual and as a citizen."
Lauren Gunderman, a junior at John Carroll University,
plans to be a physician and will be working in rural
southwest Virginia at C-Health, a clinic serving 18,000
area residents that was founded by Washington and Lee
alumnus Dr. Hughes Melton.
"As a physician, I want to make a difference on
poverty instead of being someone who is blind to the
issues," Gunderman said. "This opportunity will
allow me to figure out how a free health clinic functions.
Caroline Gill, a Washington and Lee junior minoring in
poverty and human capability studies, believes her
internship with the Cooper's Ferry Partnership in
Camden, N.J., will take her beyond textbooks or lectures.
"I'm anxious to be learning from people who've
dedicated their professional lives to addressing issues of
poverty," Gill said.
The Shepherd Consortium anticipates expanding from its
current membership to 20 partner institutions by 2014. Each
institution has signed a memorandum of understanding that
commits it to coordinated courses focused on poverty and
human capability and to funding summer internships for its
students. In addition to the internship program, the
consortium offers an annual symposium on teaching poverty
in undergraduate and professional education as well as a
website for networking, disseminating information and
knowledge, and facilitating applications and meetings.
At the conclusion of their internship, the students will
reassemble at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little
Rock, Ark., where they will be hosted by the Clinton School
of Public Service and the University of Arkansas at Little
Rock for a two-day session, in which they will report on