Internships Offer Whittier Students an Out of the Box Experience

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mary Pacheco '10 expected an "out of the box" learning experience when she began her teaching internship at Broadoaks Children's School, but what she didn't expect was that a small plastic box called a "squishy" would become so instrumental to her work.

As Pacheco quickly learned, the "squishy," which has a flat surface on one side and bouncy spikes on the opposing, is a constructive tool used when dealing with students with "special qualities." Standing upright on the squishy requires concentration and balance—a focus that can effectively distract a child from a fit caused by frustration.

Pacheco is one of 22 students who participated in the inaugural year of the Professional Opportunities Program (POP) and who were recognized during a special ceremony on October 9 in A.J. Villalobos Hall. Sponsored by the Weingart Foundation and targeted to a select number of first- and second-year students, POP delivers accelerated professional development experiences that apply classroom learning to real-world scenarios, help students discern and devise viable education and career goals, and, ultimately, result in the development of a marketable resume prior to graduation.

Throughout the yearlong program, each POP student receives individualized, focused career planning and preparation, as well as assistance in selecting and applying for a credit-bearing summer internship. A scholarship award attached to the internship is intended to help offset tuition costs for the following academic year. In addition, POP participants are required to attend workshops to build resume writing and interviewing skills led by Linda Ross, director of career services, as well as internship workshops with Sally Cardenas, director of off-campus programs.

For this inaugural year, internship sites were primarily located in Southern California and encompassed diverse organizations such as City of Hope, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Camp Walden, and private law offices.

Studying to become a social worker, Maria Alba '10 interned at City of Hope Hospital, a dedicated cancer research, treatment, and education facility. Alba's assignment included working closely with patients–everything from general assistance to interacting with and translating for Spanish-speakers.

"Having had previous experience with cancer, [my work at City of Hope] was close to my heart. I wanted to give back," she said, noting that the experience was a transformative one.

Describing the empathy she felt for her charges, she recalled, "I told them not to give up on this battle."

Before joining the staff at the Montebello Family Support Center, Esteffie Martinez '11 says she had a "one-track mind" to become a high school English teacher. Now, she's not so sure.

As part of her internship, she served as a group leader, chaperoning children aged eight and above on trips to beaches and parks. She didn't think she would like working with this younger set, but by the end of her internship, she discovered quite the contrary was true.

"[This really] helped me gain a wider perspective of my educational and career goals," she said. "[It's a valuable experience that] should be part of every student's education, before graduation."

Mary Pacheco, who plans to become a family and marriage counselor, expressed a similar feeling that her internship with Broadoaks teachers and children has built a solid foundation for her intended profession.

"[Given the opportunity,] I would definitely do it again."