UD students spend summer focusing on needs of the First State

UD students spend summer focusing on needs of the First StateUniversity of Delaware students are spread throughout the state this summer as Extension Scholars, Service Learning Scholars and Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows, working on projects that help communities and give the students experiential learning opportunities in their future career fields.

Dan Rich, director of the Community Engagement Initiative, said this is the first time the programs shared an orientation.

Organized by Cooperative Extension, members had the opportunity to share the similar roles they play in applying research to needs in the community.

“Through these summer programs, UD students serve as engaged scholars. They contribute to improving the quality of life in communities throughout Delaware while they gain knowledge through experiential learning,” said Rich.

The 10-week programs wrap up in August when the students will present their work at the University’s Undergraduate Research and Service Symposium.

Extension Scholars

The Extension Scholars program, now in its 13th year, is run through UD’s Cooperative Extension Program and offers students a unique, hands-on 10-week summer experiential learning environment under the guidance of extension agents or specialists.

During this summer internship, students follow Cooperative Extension’s service learning model, implemented through one of extension’s four program areas: 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, lawn and garden, and agriculture and natural resources.

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, said the program provides an opportunity for students to interview and have real job experience while being mentored by someone on the job.

“Mentors often become references for employment. Numerous Extension Scholars have commented that this experience has been beneficial to obtaining employment as it provides them meaningful work experiences that assists them in sharing experiences in employment interviews,” said Rodgers. “There are numerous scholars who have come back and shared that their experience was key to their employment.”

The eight Extension Scholars are working on a wide array of projects ranging from integrated pest management and  4-H to climate change and environmental quality work.

Service Learning Scholars

The 19 Service Learning Scholars have spent their 10-week summer program working with community partners on projects and also doing academic reading and reflection with a faculty mentor.

Susan Serra, associate director of service learning for UD’s Community Engagement Initiative, said that the projects vary from students working in landscape architecture through community revitalization projects in Laurel and Leipsic, to students working at the Bear-Glasgow YMCA with adults with intellectual disabilities, to others working at Winterthur’s Terrific Tuesdays program, where they bring experiences found at the museum to the Salvation Army summer camp in Wilmington.

“The goal is to provide community partners with a resource they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Serra. “With the YMCA, for example, the students are working with a UD faculty member who studies the physical health of people with intellectual disabilities — the students are partnering with the YMCA to meet the needs of that community. We are also looking to, if possible, work on sustainable projects so that it might be something that different students would come back to in the future.”

Serra said that the experience helps students understand what it takes to make things happen out in communities.

“They begin to understand not just the challenges communities face but also their assets. Being partners means recognizing that the community brings as much to the table as you do,” said Serra.

Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows

Run through the School of Public Policy and Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Summer Undergraduate Public Policy Fellows is composed of 16 students working with three centers: the Institute for Public Administration, the Center for Community Research and Service, and the Disaster Research Center.

The program includes three field visits so that while the students work on a project in one of the three centers, they get exposed to work in all three of the centers and across different sectors.

“They’re getting to see what their peers are working on, which can spark some ideas of what they might want to explore in the future,” said Lisa Moreland, program manager and IPA policy scientist. “It brings them together, gives them a sense of camaraderie, and may spark opportunities for collaboration. It’s beneficial to the students, but also mutually beneficial to the center staff and organizations with which they are working.”

Joseph Trainor, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and program director for disaster science and management, said the project undertaken by his students combines sociological, engineering and economics approaches to explore the question of what makes a hurricane evacuation a success or a failure.

“This question is explored from two perspectives: that of the transportation agencies charged with managing an evacuation, and that of the individual households who participate in the evacuation,” said Trainor.

Using focus groups, a survey and simulations, the project will attempt to quantify these criteria into measurable variables, which can be used to form models to evaluate how much of a success or failure an evacuation is, according to these two perspectives.

“These models could be used to evaluate the impact of different evacuation strategies, in order to enable authorities to conduct evacuations that are more successful, both for the agencies that manage them and the households that participate in them,” said Trainor.

Other topics students are exploring include economics development in Delaware, best practices to engage minority communities in cycling and urban bikeshare networks, and small business trends and conditions in Delaware.

Signe Bell, director of nonprofit and community programs in the Center for Community Research and Service, said that getting students an opportunity to work in their field of study with faculty members and professionals allows them to explore and see what kinds of projects are actually happening in the field of public policy and organizational leadership.

“They learn about these projects and then they learn about themselves in the process,” said Bell. “I tell students all the time that it is just as valuable to learn what you don’t like to do as it is to find out what you love. Because you don’t want to learn that you don’t like something once you have your first full-time job doing it. This is a good, low stakes opportunity for learning.”

Moreland added that these experiences also give the students a leg up when it comes time to take the next step after graduation.

“It puts them ahead of the game for students coming from other universities when they’re trying to compete for jobs,” said Moreland. “These experiences on their resumes reflect on their work ethic and speak volumes. The bottom line that Signe, Joe and I have for our students is getting them that experience and having them put their best foot forward when they go out into their careers — whether it’s further graduate study or employment.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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