Internships are a crucial component of a college student’s experience that provide opportunities to apply classroom learning in the real world. More internships than not go unpaid, making it hard for many students to participate, and putting those that don’t pursue internships at a disadvantage over many of their peers when it comes time to find their first job out of college.

Student support that specifically provides paid internship stipends has been a significant priority. In the case of the Ginsberg Fellows at the University of Michigan’s Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, this aligns in deeper ways with priorities of external organizations as well, whether they are community non-profits or corporate entities.

Companies value not only the academic prowess, but the interdisciplinary thinking and engaged experiences U-M students often bring to the table. Ginsberg Fellows fall into this category, and the Ford Motor Company Fund (Ford Fund) was quick to realize the significant overlap in their priorities and those of the students that participate in this program.

A Ford Community Corps grant, provided by the Ford Fund, creates summer internships called Ford Summer Fellows that allow students to contribute to community identified needs while engaging in personal and professional development opportunities. The program provides students with opportunities to expand their existing knowledge, skills, and leadership experience through sustained work with a community organization in Southeast Michigan that directly addresses community impact areas.

The first year of Ford Fund’s grant funding came in after the internship application season had ended, but that didn’t stop this program from getting off the ground and making an impact on five students and five community organizations. Ginsberg Center staff used the funds to extend early summer internships and provide funding to the interns; the newly minted Ford Fellows are grateful for the experience to enrich their summers.

Danyelle Reynolds, Ginsberg’s Assistant Director for Student Learning and Leadership: “What I’ve heard in conversations with these students is that this service won’t end after the summer. That’s what we want: we want people who leave college and take this ethic of staying engaged in their community with them. Those are the alumni we want to develop.”

The five students working as Ford Fellows this summer represent a variety of fields (Public Health, Community and Global Health, Public Policy, and Social Theory and Practice) and work at a diverse group of community organizations in Southeastern Michigan.

Students in this fellowship program don’t simply go to work. They get support from the Ginsberg Center in leadership development, project management, and understanding community engagement and how it applies to their academic work. The community organization also receives support so they can maximize the impact their intern has and maintain a learning environment for the student.

This is a high impact, high touch program,” shares Dave Waterhouse, Associate Director of the Ginsberg Center. “For us the important thing is that we’re funding programs that work at the intersection of community priorities and student learning. Students are contributing more to vital communities of which they are a part and contributing to the growth and learning of companies and organizations with which they may have a connection in the future. There’s a real benefit to companies in the visibility of supporting those pieces.”

One student reflected on their summer experience in graphic form.

For example, meet Isabella DiBlassio. Isabella was a summer intern at the the James and Grace Lee Boggs School in Detroit where she helped organize a community focused art mural with a local artist on the facade of the school. On her experience, she shares, “As I’ve considered how to best embody the practice of leadership going forward, I’ve realized that my place lies most importantly in learning. I want to take all of this back with me as I go forward with my university career – as I move back to Ann Arbor, to classes and to the microcosm of the University of Michigan, I need the perspectives I’ve gained more than ever. I know that it is vital to have those conversations, open these things up — and I feel that now, after the past few months, this practice will be a much larger part of my life.”

Jason Golec had a similarly meaningful experience: “I came into Covenant Community Care with very little knowledge about how the American healthcare system interacts with patients facing a myriad of barriers related to the social determinants of health. My duties specifically focused on creating educational materials for our patients such as planning diabetes management classes or creating resource booklets about behavioral health services in the Southwest Detroit Area. I learned so many new things about myself and the Southwest Detroit community, and I know the lessons I learned this summer will not be fully shown until I grow and have time to digest and reflect on my journey these past few months, but I feel that I am better equipped to enter and exit communities because of my experience.”

Danyelle continues, “We meet community identified needs while focusing on student learning. We see it really working. Students talk about all they’re getting from their internship placements, and it’s very powerful. A public health major told me that the things he’s learning in the classroom are affirmed for him – and some are challenged as he sees concepts play out in real life. At the same time, organizations are able to do work they’ve been wanting for a while but just didn’t have staff to make it happen, and this experience has been really beneficial for them.”

Farah Harb, Global Education Programs Analyst, Ford Fund shares, “The Ford Community Corps program is intended to connect students with local nonprofits and provide them with an experience that will help them in their career as well as have an impact at the nonprofit and local community. Students are our future, we want to empower them to create positive change in their communities and the people around them.”

The UM Business Engagement Center helped connect the Ford Fund to the Ginsberg Center. Amy Bellas shares, “Our goal is that this program aligned nicely with the goals of the Ford Foundation. We hope to inspire more students to adopt and maintain a focus on their community, and the Ford Summer Fellows internship helps make that possible. That makes for stronger, community-focused and dedicated alumni, which creates a more attractive employee for companies as well.”