Gretchen O’Leary ’17 still remembers the day she got the call from St. Lawrence University’s Office of Volunteer Services, informing her that she had been selected to be a SLU PIC intern.
“I was studying abroad last semester in Spain,” said Gretchen, originally from Tupper Lake, New York. “We had traveled to Berlin for a trip, and I was in a youth hostel when I got the call. I was so excited that I called my mom right then and asked her if I could do it.”
Gretchen had been selected to participate in an inaugural joint venture between St. Lawrence’s Career Connections and Volunteer Services offices known as SLU PIC, the St. Lawrence University Public Interest Corps. Functioning as a paid 10-week internship, the program partnered selected students with various local service organizations. Five local programs were chosen to host project-specific interns this summer: The Boys and Girls Club of Massena/St. Lawrence County Youth Bureau, GardenShare, St. Lawrence Valley Renewal House, the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY).
Gretchen was selected to intern at the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce in Canton, where she helped set up the Chamber’s new online tourism pages. She also took over the Chamber’s social media accounts and helped train the staff how to maintain various sites.
Elizabeth Hills ’16 interned at GardenShare, a local nonprofit that works to end hunger and strengthen food security in Northern New York through the use of local community-supported agricultural (CSA) programs.
“I ran the Habitat for Humanity club on campus, so I already had some insights into what issues the county faces,” said Elizabeth, a native of Granville, Ohio, who is majoring in environmental studies. “Working with GardenShare allowed me to interact with community members and people at the farmers market. After graduation, I hope to work for a nonprofit that is focused on environmental and food-security issues.”
Ashlee Downing, coordinator of Volunteer Services, and Geoff Falen, director of Career Connections, said SLU PIC was meant to both get students more familiar with the local community while also having a direct impact.
“Many of the selected sites can’t afford additional help, especially when it comes to doing special projects,” Downing said. “The hope is that the interns can take on a specific project and help that the work they do will help these organizations better meet their goals.”
St. Lawrence invited more than 30 local organizations to attend an information session last fall, which yielded a total of 13 applications. The SLU PIC committee of staff and alumni selected five sites to place students this summer.
“One of the things we hope to accomplish is to get St. Lawrence students to stay in the North Country after graduation,” Falen said. “This is an opportunity for students to learn about certain elements of this area that they may not have known about before.”
Chloe McElligott ’16 of Mount Upton, New York, is majoring in global studies and anthropology. She has taken various community-based learning classes at St. Lawrence, including one where she worked with the Boys and Girls Club in Massena and experienced the community working to preserve their language and culture. This summer, she interned at TAUNY, digitizing thousands of pages and images in their archives, including their Heritage Award winners and Register of Very Special Places.
“Having this internship really gave me a better idea about what some of the local traditions are and the traditional locations that are important to people here,” she said. “I’ve gotten to learn much more about St. Lawrence County.”
The five SLU PIC interns, which also included Alexander Martin and Emily Smith, lived near each other in the St. Lawrence Townhouses, and even had dinner with Falen and Downing once a week to review their progress.
On top of the learning experience the interns had was the ability to stay in the North Country during the summer months.
“When you’re away from campus,” Gretchen said, “you realize just how much you’re missing.”