Emory Report
August 24, 2009
Volume 62, Number 1


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August 24, 2009
Expanded internships support community work

By Carol Clark

Max Evans spent part of his summer pulling weeds, planting seeds and harvesting squash, peppers, tomatoes and blueberries. “It was definitely intensive, manual labor,” says Evans, a junior environmental studies major, of his internship at Gaia Gardens, an East Atlanta farming co-op.

Evans received a stipend, since the work was part of the Center for Ethics’ Ethics and Servant Leadership (EASL) Summer Internship Program. And he had the fringe benefits of getting to take home some of the fruits of his labor. “I’d never been a cook, but you get creative when you have fresh produce to work with,” he says. “My summer staple was to sauté zucchini, onion, garlic, green tomatoes and peppers, and eat them with black beans and rice.”

In addition to this hands-on labor, Evans compiled data for the amount of harvest of each crop, and helped the co-op develop a system to keep concrete records of its production. “Now you can compare yields from one year to the next and see which ones perform better, and which ones should stay in the crop rotation,” says Evans.

EASL interns work a minimum of 240 hours for a $4,000 stipend. While core funding for 10 internships comes from an endowment from the family of D. Abbott Turner, EASL taps other funding whenever possible.

This summer’s group of 22 interns was the largest ever, thanks to funding for the preparing engaged scholars strategic theme managed by the Office of University-Community Partnerships. OUCP leveraged the Coca-Cola Foundation gift for SPAN (Sustainable Partnerships for Atlanta Neighborhoods) to support five community-based internships for environmental studies majors, as well as nine other internships in support of engaged scholarship and learning. In addition to Gaia Gardens, the environmental studies students interned with West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Trees Atlanta and Park Pride.

“We have a lot of students wanting to do good in the community, but all of them can’t afford to do unpaid internships,” says Tracy Yandle, associate professor of environmental studies. “This is a wonderful opportunity, giving students a chance to work in community-based projects and test out careers, without putting themselves in financial jeopardy. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.”

Internships are becoming increasingly necessary for students’ career goals, while the recession makes students who cannot afford to take an unpaid internship more disadvantaged than ever, says Edward Queen, director of EASL.

The EASL program had more than 160 applications this year, but funding for only 22 students. “It’s frustrating,” says Queen, who hopes to expand the program to 40 students next summer.

EASL interns meet weekly at the Center for Ethics to debrief about their job experiences and discuss the challenges of running a nonprofit. “One of the key topics is how to make decisions in real-time with limited resources,” Queen says.

“I learned that in farming, a lot of things are out of your hands,” Evans says. “You can work really hard and not know why a plant fails to grow or not produce well. Sometimes there is going to be loss no matter how much effort you put into something.”