Although the sun is still beating down as if it is trying to barbecue every human soul on earth, summer is officially over.
Among the plethora of options Jackson State University students had during the break, some spent their days working as paid interns with the Walton UNCF K-12 Education Fellowship.
Established by Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton in collaboration with the United Negro College Fund, the education fellowship is a “leadership and talent development initiative aimed at building a robust pipeline of high-achieving African Americans engaged in education reform in America.” The program caters to applicants who are juniors at HBCUs and partners them with “innovative K-12 education reform enterprises.”Clement Gibson, now a senior at JSU, was paired with the communications and development team at Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia. The Phi Beta Kappa scholar said he was glad to learn that he would have the necessary funds to cover his car note. But most importantly, Gibson said he was ecstatic at the opportunity to learn.
“Education is not my major, but it is something I am passionate about and an area I want to help change for the better,” he said. “I feel like there are experiences that can help you in life whether it’s right now, tomorrow or later on.”
While working at Mastery, Gibson was responsible for social media, developing innovative student engagement ideas, and creating colorful campaigns.
“You want students to be entertained but walk away with an understanding of the issues,” said the mass communications major.
Among the many activities the Minneapolis native helped to complete, he fondly discusses generating fundraising strategies for a 12th-grader that was in dire need of resources for culinary school.
“It’s not every day that you see a young black man who wants to be a chef,” said Gibson. “He comes from a family of athletes, but he wanted to do something else. There’s not a lot of scholarship opportunity for someone who wants to be a chef in West Philadelphia.”
Gibson said he crafted emails explaining the school’s mission and reached out to local and national chefs like Bobby Flay, of Food Network fame. In total, $25, 000 was raised for the teen securing his culinary future.
“I know the struggle when you really want to do something but the money is holding you back,” said Gibson. “He (the teen student) also received internships. He’s going to be alright.”
Swerving into the political lane, Gibson also had the chance to speak with senators about gun laws and education reform. “It’s a good experience for anyone. To effect change, you have to be open to the fact that it’s a journey. It’s not instantaneous,” he explained. “You have to be persistent. I learned if I want to go forward on this path I have to expect the trials and tribulations.”Chicago native Chave Wicks spent her summer in Washington D.C. working with FOCUS – a charter school advocacy organization. The rising senior explained that she received a notification from the JSU Honors College stating that UNCF was looking for interns, so she applied.
“Education is something that I never thought I would be interested in until I got here and started developing connections and talking to people,” said the criminal justice major whose ultimate goal is to work with juveniles.
Preparing for a DATA Summit took up the bulk of Wick’s internship. “We had different presenters attend; school leaders and representatives from local educational agencies,” she explained. “We had all types of topics on data collection, Excel, and how to do click sense, basically record a student’s data. But it wasn’t just open to analysts, it was for all staff.”
Outside of work, Wicks shared that the most exciting part of her experience was making connections with different people. In fact, she said, someone is currently helping her land a job in her field when she graduates from Jackson State in 2019.
“The biggest thing that I’m looking forward to is graduation, to be honest. I’ve been at JSU going on four years, and I feel like I’m ready for the next step,” she said. “I have worked hard so that I don’t have to worry about what to do after I get my degree.”Jasmine Gibson wants to teach second grade. Her career aspirations serve as one reason she chose to intern with the Department of Education in Nashville.
“UNCF caters to the needs of a lot of African Americans primarily and especially those at HBCUs. I feel that they offer the best opportunities for us,” she expressed.
Jasmine said that she received three internship options, but she luckily ended up with her first choice working as a teachers and leaders fellow.
The majority of her internship focused on educator support and talent, where she helped with the various districts’ differentiated pay plans; staffing issues; performance and retention pay; and following up on the implementation of the previous year’s improvement plans. She also assisted with Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year selection process and the state’s ultimate goal of producing a national teacher of the year.
The most enjoyable moment of her work experience Jasmine said was meeting Candace McQueen, Tennessee education commissioner. All the interns were treated to a lunch and learn where McQueen discussed her position, her strategic plan for the state, and how, in the last 10 years, Tennessee was able to move from an F education rating to an A.
“Listening to her story was very inspiring. It motivated me, and it gave me reassurance that this is what I want to do,” Jasmine said. “I want to work in education. I want to help children. I want to be the change.”