Summer Links matches students with organizations that provide people with basic needsBy Julia Morse
The 30 Chicago students who participated in the University’s Summer Links Program have not been making photocopies or coffee during their internships.
College fourth-year Hannah McConnaughay spent this past summer interning at the Marjorie Kovler Center for Treatment of Survivors of Torture.
Rebecca Shi, also a College fourth-year, spent the summer of 2006 working at Lakeside Community Development Corporation, actively pursuing the topic of affordable housing in Rogers Park.
Other Summer Links interns have worked at such organizations as the Arab American Action Network, World Relief, the John Stroger (Cook County) Trauma Center, Inner City Teaching Corps, the Elliot Donnelly Youth Centers, and The Children’s Place Association for children who are affected by HIV or AIDS.
McConnaughay said, “This is a truly amazing program. The deep connections I discovered with people in the program and those I met along the way will last forever. A lot of people see working in public service as heroic, which is funny to me because the people I met and worked with were truly the strongest individuals I have ever known.”
Sponsored by John Boyer, Dean of the College, Summer Links is an 11-week paid summer internship program, organized through the University Community Service Center, for returning College students and the occasional few graduate students. Of the 150 annual applicants, 30 students are accepted and placed with local not-for-profit and public organizations.
Boyer said, “The College has been a strong supporter of the program from its very beginning because we believe in the importance of encouraging our students to become involved in the great communities and neighborhoods that make up our city, and to do this in ways that provide meaningful partnerships with not-for-profit organizations and other worthy community groups.”
Since it was established in 1997, Summer Links has placed more than 330 University students in internships at more than 140 organizations around the city.
“Summer Links is a wonderful opportunity that enables our students to translate their academic skills into practical social action and to do so in the contexts that also give them concrete experiences in community leadership,” Boyer added.
David Hays, Assistant Director of the University Community Service Center, agreed. “The strength of Summer Links is that it allows students to measure what they’ve been learning at the University with what they experience in the city. Learning through serviceŅit’s the most important thing that happens here.”
In addition to the written application, students also submit several essays and their résumés. From there, the pool of applicants is narrowed down to 75 individuals who are interviewed by a panel of University staff and Summer Links alumni. Through those interviews, the group is narrowed to 30 students.
“Summer Links is designed for students who are highly committed to social change and community building, who are focused on working hard and thinking about where they fit into society and how they can make a difference,” Hays said, explaining that the process of placing each student with a specific organization is “thoughtful and complicated.”
Once the final group of students is selected, each interviews with supervisors from at least five organizations. The students then list their preference of internship and the supervisors rank their preference in students to ensure the best fit for each internship. The Summer Links staff then place students based on those preferences.
“We try to ensure the student gets what they need out of the program and that the organization is getting what it needs,” Hays said, noting that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Summer Links alumni continue working in some capacity for the organizations. “This is especially remarkable,” he said.
Summer Links is kicked off with a weeklong orientation prior to the 10-week internship experience. Throughout those 10 weeks, students continue to gather together on Wednesday evenings and all day on Fridays to discuss their experiences and to explore other Chicago communities together. The students are provided with subsidized housing in Max Palevsky East dormitory to foster a strong sense of community and a network of like minds.
Trudi Langendorf, Assistant Director of the University Community Service Center, runs the Summer Links program and organizes the Wednesday on-campus group discussions and the Friday outings, which have included trips to the Bronzeville, Little Village, Uptown and Humboldt Park neighborhoods and the Cook County Hospital.
“Exposure to different communities in Chicago and learning about the internship experiences of other students are both key to Summer Links,” Langendorf said. “The program is not about finding answers to the problems at hand, but rather exploring complexities and trying to understand them.”
In the time between the application process and the conclusion of Summer Links, Langendorf sees “an incredible growth” in the students, she said.
“I definitely see changes in our students. They gain a deeper understanding of not-for-profit work and are able to see beyond their academic experiences, connecting them to their experiences in Summer Links.”
Langendorf’s staff includes three Summer Links alumni who serve the program as Program Coordinators. The Program Coordinators work for 11 weeks and help plan the training sessions and lead the Wednesday group discussions about internships with a group of 10 students. These discussions provide support and in-depth understanding about the work at other non-profit organizations. The coordinators also arrange on-site meetings with the Summer Link students and their supervisors, helping the coordinators to give personalized support to each student in their group.
Shi noted, “Summer Links is evidence that Chicago students are active, interested and passionate. Year after year, Summer Links enables us to do amazing things and have a positive effect on the community of this city.”
William Michel, Assistant Vice-President for Student Life, said, “With the success of Summer Links, we are very excited to continue to build community partnerships as we look to enhance student engagement with the city and the role it plays in their education.”