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High-octane interns

Rockefeller Center Civic Skills Training teaches students to maximize public service internships

Anyone who's ever served an internship probably remembers a good deal of scutwork - making copies, filing, answering phones - and a fair amount of downtime with vague instructions to "make yourself useful." For the Dartmouth students who attend the Rockefeller Center's Civic Skills Training program, making themselves useful is exactly what they're trained to do.

Rosalie Hughes
Rosalie Hughes '07 participated in the Rockefeller Center Civic Skills Training Program before her internship in Ambato, Ecuador. Her training group draw this chart to illustrate and discover the connections between their internship organizations. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

The program is offered three times a year and brings a group of 10 to 15 students to Washington, D.C. for five days prior to the fall, spring and summer terms. The program's openings are reserved for students who have internships scheduled for the next term or, in a few exceptional cases, students who plan to conduct a significant independent project during an on-campus term.

During the five days in D.C., under the leadership of Rockefeller Center Associate Director Matthew Dunne, the group undergoes intense training in networking, marketing, organization, public speaking, presentation and project management. Karen Liot Hill, who helps coordinate the program, explained that one of its core principles is teaching the interconnectedness of the public service world. In one training exercise, for example, students research and diagram the connections between the organizations for which they will intern.

The centerpiece of the training, however, is a project that each student must design and execute over his or her ten-week internship. The project must be something that can be completed during the internship and be of lasting value to the organizations the students are serving. Hill periodically checks in with them to monitor their progress and at the end of the term, the group returns to campus for a final dinner where they present the results of their projects to one another.

Rosalie Hughes '07 took part in the program in the spring term before her sophomore summer. She spent two months in Ambato, Ecuador where she worked for an organization dedicated to educating and serving at-risk children. In keeping with her civic skills training, she initiated an after-school knitting program at the school run by the organization with the help of knitter Hector Quisapincha, the school's kitchen helper. Of great importance to Hughes and the civic skills trainers she worked with is the sustainability of her project. Hughes has maintained contact with school officials in Ambato and has arranged for the knitting project to receive continued support.

Andrew  Samwick
Andrew Samwick (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

In addition to the prerequisite that applicants have a project or internship lined up for the term, Hill explained that with rigorous, ten-hour days of training, the organizers look for energetic, independently motivated people who work well in a group. The training makes serious demands on the participants with significant out-of-class readings and homework assignments. "We tell the students, 'You're going to get out of this what you put into it,'" said Hill, adding that in the three sessions held so far, the students have met and exceeded the high expectations set for them.

Civic Skills Training received its first year of funding from the Surdna Foundation, a grant that has since been renewed as well as supplemented by the Rockefeller Center. Conceived in 2003, it got off the ground in 2004 with the support of the newly-appointed director of the Rockefeller Center, Andrew Samwick, Dartmouth Professor of Economics. Samwick suggested that the program, initially envisioned on the Dartmouth campus, be moved to Washington D.C. where so many of the nation's public service internships are located. The relocation allowed the program to easily incorporate meetings with Congressional and non-profit leaders.

Civic Skills Training is a part of the College's Public Impact Initiative, a wide-ranging effort in which the Rockefeller Center plays a significant part to "enhance the civic health of Dartmouth undergraduates and help prepare them for careers that will contribute to the public sector," said Samwick. "Young people become civically engaged when they see that they can make a tangible difference in the world through their own efforts. The Rockefeller Center's Civic Skills Training sessions are designed to give Dartmouth undergraduates the tools they need to make their internships more rewarding - both to themselves and their organizations - and to provide a context for the experience," he said.

So far, the program has been a success. Students who have participated have served internships all over the world and across a wide swath of public service providers. Participants have worked at the U.S. Attorney's office, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Center for Human Rights and Environment, among others. What they share is a new understanding of the interconnectedness of the world around them and a determination not to let an internship - or anything else they attempt - become just another resumé builder.

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08