After UD’s Irving campus shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Personal Career Development (OPCD) recognized that many current students had either lost summer internships or had not been able to secure internships. They proposed to President Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83, and Provost Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., that UD launch a program to help these students by funding internships at nonprofit organizations whose missions and values aligned with UD's.
OPCD collaborated with Catholic Charities Dallas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas (SVdP), which serves the same nine-county area as the Diocese of Dallas, to develop internship positions for the program. Students could apply to one of these positions or apply to receive the stipend to work at another nonprofit organization, as long as the organization’s mission aligned with UD's. The program is limited to students graduating in December 2020 or May 2021, with the idea that this summer may be one of their last opportunities to gain valuable experience before graduation.
“Internships are so important for students because they provide on-the-job experience and, as important, professional mentoring,” said Director of Career Services Shannon Blatt, MA ’14. “Studies have shown that internships are a key factor in success after graduation. OPCD is thrilled that we were able to facilitate a program that helps UD students gain this valuable experience while benefiting their communities.”
Psychology major Mary-Catherine Scarlett, BA ’21, is one of 15 students receiving the stipend. She had applied to approximately 15 psychology internships across the country, and interviewed for one, but they were all canceled either before or after hiring decisions were made. She then lined up two other jobs that also fell through and was scrambling for employment.
When she heard about the opportunities through OPCD, she decided to apply for one of the SVdP internships.
“I was blessed to be extended an offer,” said Scarlett. “My SVdP mentor through the process has been an invaluable resource because she truly cares about and thinks critically about the root causes and factors of poverty. She has been helpful in collaborating and giving feedback while letting me take the lead on the project.”
Scarlett’s stipend and those of the other students, which allow them each to work 15 hours per week for 10 weeks over the summer, are provided by the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund created by President Hibbs this past spring and funded by UD donors. Scarlett is able to work remotely from her hometown of Maumee, Ohio. As an intern, her task has been to create a resource list in the form of a spreadsheet that will help SVdP volunteers.
“Toward the beginning of the summer, I focused on covering free or cheap basic necessities and services in North Texas for people in need of help — for example, food pantries, emergency shelters and temporary financial assistance with bills,” she explained.
She then branched into more specific services such as affordable addiction rehabilitation centers and reduced-cost public transportation, with the ultimate goal of this list providing a guide for SVdP volunteers to help the families they serve and connect them with the best, most affordable services.
“For example, if there was a family evicted from their apartment due to COVID-19, there are several sources of funding, emergency shelters and free legal services that they can be directed to from the resource list,” said Scarlett.
With her psychology major, Scarlett hopes to go on to graduate school; she is currently applying to programs in Texas and Ohio, as well as a few others throughout the country. Because she wants to work clinically as a therapist, she hopes to pursue either a Psy.D. or master’s degree in social work.
“Eventually I would like to practice nature therapy, which is where my environmental science concentration ties in,” she said. “Interestingly, as I was researching rehabilitation centers for the resource list, I noticed that many of them incorporated outdoor recreation and immersion in their programs, so I may end up choosing chemical dependency as a possible specialization.”
With her internship along with a job at a Montessori preschool summer camp and Saturday shifts at a sandwich shop, Scarlett has been able to work more or less full time this summer in spite of the significant obstacles presented by the pandemic. Further, her internship, though it was not what she had originally envisioned for her summer work, has given her valuable experience and insights.
“I’ve learned that many resources are hidden in plain sight,” she explained. “After sifting through pages of Google, searching outdated web pages, and making phone calls, I’ve learned that the maze of social service organizations can be complex but navigable. I hope that my work will help families in need to receive assistance as quickly as possible. Rather than being bounced from agency to agency and shelter to shelter, I hope people can find a service that will treat them with dignity and advocate for them from the beginning.
“Even though I’m not a native of the area, this process has introduced me to both the flaws and strengths of Dallas,” she added. “I have also gained a deeper understanding of what social justice means both theoretically and practically, which will serve me well in graduate school and in my career.”