Shepherd Interns Engage in Service

Two cadets pause with VMI's dean at the Shepherd Symposium.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey G. Smith Jr. ’79 stands with Shepherd interns Caroline Wojtas ’19 and Seth Shank ’18 during the Shepherd Symposium in Marshall Hall on July 31.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

Two VMI cadets—Caroline Wojtas ’19 and Seth Shank ’18—spent the summer gaining practical experience outside the classroom with organizations focused on alleviating poverty.

They worked as interns through the VMI Shepherd Poverty program, which is a branch of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty. VMI has been a member of the consortium for several years, and the mission of the organization and VMI are similar, said Maj. Dorothy Hayden, assistant director of the Office of Career Services.

The complexity of the internship fits well with VMI’s mission of developing leaders with a strong sense of public service. The interns are tasked with projects that require critical thinking, creativity, and strong organizational skills, she said.

Wojtas, a psychology major from Illinois, spent her eight-week summer internship at “Healthcare for the Homeless”—a family health care clinic for homeless individuals—in Louisville, Kentucky, along with a number of outreach projects.

Wojtas said via email that after spending hours speaking with clients about their lives on a daily basis, she learned not to be judgmental.

“I realized that we judge people so easily when we see them dirty, sitting on the street, trying to ask people for food or money. But, what we don`t realize is that the story of their life is so different from yours or mine and that’s why we cannot understand what we don’t know,” Wojtas said.

She added she still wants to be a psychiatrist after graduation but is thinking about working at a place like Healthcare for the Homeless or other family health centers.

Several Shepherd interns have said that this internship played a pivotal role in their career decision-making process, Hayden said.

Shank’s internship was as a financial literacy intern in New York City with Urban Upbound, a community organization that provides tools and resources for economic mobility and self-sufficiency.

Shank, a Lexington native, said he learned an incredible amount during his internship along with living in a “big city” for the first time.

Most days, Shank worked in the outreach department, walking around various low-income neighborhoods to educate residents on what services Urban Upbound provides.

“It was eye opening for me… $30,000 might not seem like a lot of money but, if you don’t have $30,000, it seems like a million,” he said.

As a business and economic major at VMI, Shank hopes to go into financial consulting immediately after gradation and eventually open his own business working with volunteers and non-profits.

To wrap up the internship, each intern gave a presentation that is a reflection of their work.  The presentations were made at the Shepherd Consortium Closing Conference and Symposium hosted by Washington and Lee University and VMI this past weekend. Nearly 120 Shepherd interns reported on their internship and the future direction of their studies.

The internship is paired with a class at VMI titled Poverty and Human Capability that the interns will take this fall.

-Ashlie Walter


VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders