Internship Helps Graduate Student Pursue her Dream of Creating Positive Change
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— Julie Kirk, a College of Education master’s student, supplemented her master’s degree in higher education (student affairs emphasis) by interning with the Office of Orientation Services at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, this summer. She chose this opportunity because she said she aspires to pursue a career that allows her to create positive change for underrepresented groups.
Kirk said she was interested in interning at Illinois Wesleyan University after she learned about a pre-orientation program designed to educate white students about diversity, privilege and oppression called Engaging Diversity.
“My passion for higher education and student affairs is in increasing access and equity for underrepresented groups, including first-generation and low-income students as well as students of color,” Kirk said. "In order for that to become a reality, I am a firm believer that we must not only empower members of these groups, but also educate those with power and privilege in order to gain their support.”
While the Office of Orientation Services does not work directly with the pre-orientation programs, Kirk was able to independently assist with Engaging Diversity and work on other diversity programming in her role as the orientation coordinator.
Kirk was responsible for assisting with the planning, marketing and executing of an orientation program for all incoming students called Turning Titan. The orientation takes place the week prior to classes beginning.
“[Turning Titan] gives students an opportunity to move in, get acquainted to campus, and begin to build relationships with their peers,” Kirk said.Her primary responsibility for Turning Titan was creating a question-and-answer game called Keep It Real, which was designed to give participants the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their peers and to start some important conversations around diverse topics, including race, spirituality, inequity and identity.
“By starting those conversations from the students' first week on campus, we were hopeful that it would set the tone and encourage students to continue sharing and learning from others' diverse perspectives throughout their time at Illinois Wesleyan and beyond,” Kirk said.
While this orientation/welcome week program is fairly typical for small institutions, Turning Titan especially helped alleviate new students’ stress, according to Kirk. During the daytime, Kirk assisted students as they met with their academic advisors, registered for classes and enjoyed academic expectation panels. In the evening, Kirk helped with educational programming and social events.
“We had programming about consent and sexual-assault awareness, alcohol education and campus safety,” said Kirk, who added that there were also fun events such as live band karaoke, a hypnotist show and a carnival.
Kirk said that working in a functional area of student affairs was an invaluable experience.
“My knowledge of and interaction with orientation was relatively limited, so this experience opened my eyes to another unit within the field that I may be interested in pursuing as a future career,” Kirk said. “Also, the opportunity to network with a number of successful professionals at another institution was very important.”
Kirk is currently finishing her final year of her graduate program. She works as the graduate assistant in the Adult Learner Programs and Services Office and as the graduate intern in the Paul Robeson Cultural Center.
--by Samantha Schwartz (September 2014)