University of Colorado senior Rosy Garcia spent last summer working with 30 incarcerated minors being charged as adults at the D.C. Department of Corrections Juvenile Unit.
When she started working with the boys at the beginning of the summer, most of them wouldn’t look her in the eye. But by the end of the summer, Garcia had gained their trust. She assisted the facility’s program manager, whose primary responsibility is organizing programming to help rehabilitate the boys.
When she left to start fall semester in Boulder, an inmate named Brandon wrote her a goodbye note and shared poetry he had written with her.
“I opened the note and he said he had never had anybody believe in him and his writing and his potential, and that I was one of the main people who had taught him to raise his head high and be proud of who he is,” Garcia said. “It was the highlight of my whole experience.”
Garcia’s summer was part of CU in D.C., a program that provides internship opportunities, housing and D.C.-based classes for CU students. Though it started as a summer program in 2010, this year CU in D.C. became available during the fall and spring semesters. Six CU students piloted the first-ever fall semester in D.C., some learning firsthand about the effects of the government shutdown.
Last summer, political science professor Ken Bickers became program director, and said one of his main challenges was making sure students didn’t fall behind in classes while interning in D.C.
He found classroom space less than a mile from the White House and D.C.-based teachers, many with connections to CU. One course, Public Life of Washington, D.C., includes a speaker series of guest lecturers from all different D.C. industries. Another course discusses the Middle East since the Cold War.
So far, students with majors ranging from economics, history, philosophy, astronomy and linguistics have participated in the program. They’ve worked with advocacy groups, U.S. congressmen, nonprofit organizations and museums, and Bickers said he wants to diversify the program even further by encouraging students from all university departments to participate.
The program provides real-life work experience for the students while helping them make connections for after graduation. For some, like Garcia, their internship or connections made in D.C. lead to job offers for after graduation.
“Students come back informed, more poised, more mature and more focused about completing their degree requirements here,” Bickers said.Eventually Bickers said he wants the program to include around 20 students per semester, some of whom will receive scholarships funded by donors to help with the program’s costs.
Chelsea Miller received one of those scholarships over the summer while she interned at Women’s Action for New Directions, a nonprofit organization to empower women politically and reduce violence and militarism.
Miller, a senior studying international affairs and Jewish studies, applied for 19 different internships before she was finally offered a position. The CU in D.C. program requires students to apply and compete for internships on their own, but makes other parts of the experience easier, like housing. Because students are receiving credit and taking classes in D.C., the program also helps put some parents at ease.
“It wouldn’t have been as legitimate if I hadn’t gone through CU in D.C.,” Miller said. “Convincing my mother, for example, that this was a good idea. Spending money to move to one of the most expensive places in the U.S. and work full time for no money, that just doesn’t make sense for the average human being.”
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