February 1, 2020 at 1:29 pm

Interns Talk about Community-Based Work with Mayors, Farmers, Historians

Ohio University interns from three community-based programs — the Mayors Partnership for Progress, the Southeast Ohio History Center, and Rural Action — talked about their experiences and accomplishments at the Community-Based Internship Showcase.

The Jan. 27 showcase was part of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Career and Networking Week.

The internship showcase brought together “students, faculty, staff, and community members to hear about the positive and transformative impact of community-based internships we are facilitating across Southeast Ohio and Ohio University campuses,” said Center for Campus and Community Engagement Director Mary Nally. The community-based internship program creates outstanding partnerships between dedicated students and nonprofit/public-sector organizations.

By engaging in community-driven work, students gain high impact experiential learning that results in authentic outcomes for communities.

“Community-based internships expose students to career pathways and transformational experiences that add to what they are learning in the classroom and offer real-world opportunities for research, public speaking, writing, problem solving and more,” said Lisa Cohen, Senior Director of External Relations in the College of Arts & Sciences..

David Giddens, portrait

David Giddens, Political Science student at OHIO

Two Ohio University Political Science pre-law students—David Giddens and Conner Kochansky (now an alumnus)—interned with the Mayors Partnership for Progress. Taking part in the presentation were Amesville Mayor Gary Goosman, who is president of the Mayors Partnership for Progress, and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, vice president of the partnership.

“This internship came to be due to a partnership between my center and working with Lisa Cohen…. Together we applied for a mini grant through the experiential learning fund,” Nally said, noting that additional partners joined the effort, including the Athens County Planner’s Office, the OHIO Center for Law, Justice & Culture, the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. “So this is truly a very broad and joint effort.”

The Mayors Partnership for Progress is a consortium of mayors and city manager from 15 counties, representing more than 60 communities, in southern and southeastern Ohio.

Goosman noted that Amesville is one of many small government organizations in the region with very few staff, pointing out that the internship can help build capacity for municipalities.

“A lot of our mayors represent very small communities. I don’t have any full-time staff at all in Amesville. so the capacity to do things, the capacity to get grants, the capacity to work on policy issues, the capacity to deal with water and wastewater when you don’t have the funds to hire full-time is really, really challenging,” Goosman said. “So this internship and other things have been a venue or a way for us to bring folks in and help us.”

Mayor Steve Patterson, portrait

Mayor Steve Patterson talks about community-based internships.

Patterson said when Nally and Cohen came to him with the opportunity, he said, “I’m sitting there going, experiential learning, hello! I have things I’d love for you to do with the City of Athens; however, there’s a greater good, and that is the Mayors Partnership.” He said partnership priorities EPA consent decrees, source water protection plans, the erosion of home rule, broadband development, and audit research and reporting.

Patterson said the one of the summer 2019 projects taken on by the OHIO students was an audit project that included developing a 20-minute presentation and handouts on the five most common mistakes made by municipal fiscal officers and suggestions on how to avoid those errors. The other project involved broadband development, including strategies for promoting access and identifying where data can help make a case with the FCC for improved broadband.

“This internship has unveiled to me a whole new respect for the mayors of southeast Ohio and also mayors of smaller municipalities,” Giddens noted. “This internship showed me how easily you can get involved in your local government. Athens becomes home to over 20,000 students every year for around nine months. During these nine months Athens gives us everything we could possibly ask for, and typically we give nothing in return. This internship has showed me how easy we can give back by getting involved and helping out the community outside of OHIO’s campus.”

“This internship gave me some new skills when it comes to researching [and] a lot of stuff I never thought I would be doing, but I learned a lot about these processes. Also, it really opened my eyes to a lot of community organizations and community leadership opportunities that are out there. Before this I thought that a political science degree was pretty narrow…but just seeing all the local nonprofits around here, I can see how I can do something [by] working in a community and try to make it better, like many of these people are,”  Kochansky said.

“While there are many traditional internships, field placements, and service opportunities available to students that already provide benefit to community partners, Community Based Internships are unique in that they are jointly designed to meet community identified priorities, involve intentional reflection, and the outcomes have a regional impact,” Nally said. “The experience was transformative for David and Conner, and the reciprocity was apparent in the words of Mayor Goosman and Mayor Patterson during the event. The Mayors Partnership for Progress touches many of our campus communities, and now these students have provided quality resources being used to train incoming mayors, helping strengthen communities, which benefits us all. It’s a great example of successful community engagement.”

Jordan Zdinak, pictured at the lecturn

Jordan Zdinak

Jordan Zdinak, an M.A. student in History, talked about her work with the Southeast Ohio History Center to unearth a story from 1881 about Christopher Davis, a biracial man and resident of Athens, was lynched near what is now the Richland Avenue Bridge. Davis, who had a wife, a daughter, and an infant son, had been accused of the rape and attempted murder of Lucinda Luckey, a white woman. Brad Davis, Collections Manager at the Southeast Ohio History Center, spoke at the showcase about the value of local history and how cases like this are catalysts for important conversations today.

Tom Redfern, Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry at Rural Action, and Dr. Theresa Moran, Assistant Professor and Sustainable Living Hub Coordinator at OHIO, joined their interns in showcasing work over the past year to increase the amount of local food procured by OHIO Culinary Services. After a year of working with both food producers and Culinary Services, these internships culminated with an $15,000 increase in dollars spent on local food by Ohio University.

Margaret Gatonye conducted several farm visits together with the Rural Action team to understand and learn from the Amish growers, group shown here standing beside buggy.

Margaret Gatonye, second from left, conducted several farm visits together with the Rural Action team to understand and learn from the Amish growers.

Margaret Gatonye, an African Studies master’s student from Kenya, was a Food Studies graduate intern with Rural Action, a non-profit organization that aims at working together with local communities to revitalize Appalachian Ohio. She worked to develop a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) food safety document for the Chesterhill Produce Auction, run by Rural Action. Gatonye has also attended growers meeting and conducted several farm visits together with the Rural Action team to understand and learn from the Amish growers, as well as work toward meeting minimum requirement for GAP certification.

Joy Kostansek, talking at lecturn

Joy Kostansek

Joy Kostansek, completing an M.A. in Sociology, shared her experience of being a Sugar Bush Foundation Food Studies Graduate Assistant. She talked about how interning with Community Food Initiatives and serving on the OHIO Cats’ Cupboard Food Pantry Board have helped to inform her decision to work in a career of food and agriculture policy.


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