University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Kristen McReath has her sights set on service, and the two internships she’s had so far are building a base of experience and connections for her future.
“Originally I was thinking I wanted to do something with interior design,” said McReath, a native of Baraboo, Wisconsin, majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership in the School of Human Ecology. “But then I thought about it and asked myself, ‘Where’s my passion?’
“It’s helping people, so I went into Community and Nonprofit Leadership because I want to start a nonprofit in Kenya or East Africa helping children meet their basic needs,” said McReath, who also is earning certificates in African Studies and Global Cultures. “I just thought this would be the major that would suit what I want to do.”
As with many majors in the School, internship credits are required. A new program in the School’s Center for Nonprofits will match prospective interns with nonprofits that can give them experience and benefit from their next-generation talents.
That internship program will get a boost from the April 28 Wisconsin Football Spring Game. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will donate ticket revenues from the intrasquad matchup, and tickets are just $5.
“We are so grateful that the Athletic Department and football team are benefitting our students through the Spring Game,” said Jeanan Yasiri Moe, director of the Center for Nonprofits. “This will give a big boost to our efforts. We’re excited to be a part of it.”
The new internship program seeks not only to match students with nonprofits. In certain instances, it will allow the students to be paid, a rare occurrence now, McReath said. In the fall 2011 semester, she interned with the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation and ran a mentoring program called the LIGHT Youth Empowerment Program for underserved Madison East High School youth, primarily African-American students. “I helped with the afterschool program and implemented a rap session dialogue, which covered topics relevant to youth today, like drugs and alcohol, peer pressure,” she said.
“This semester, I’m with the Madison Children’s Museum,” she said. “I’m doing education special events there, so I’m really all over the board. I’m helping wrangle Irish dancers one day and researching how to better serve children with special needs the next day. It really depends on the day, but I love it.”
Neither of her internships has been a paid position. “It’s really hard to find internships that are paid, especially related with what I want to do in nonprofits,” she said. “I’ve looked various places, but the ones that were paid I wasn’t really interested in. They were mostly in an office building all day, where I like to be out and doing the actual projects.”
Internships are critical for students’ professional development, Yasiri Moe said. “They have also become critical capacity builders within nonprofit organizations. More organizations today need the enthusiastic and fresh intelligence our students bring to their programs and specific projects,” she added. “Paying them for their investment of time allows them to stay focused and committed to the organization and, by extension, the nonprofit sector over their careers.”
McReath said she worked five different jobs last summer to help cover the cost of living in Madison. “Right now, I’m taking 18 credits, including four credits for my internship, and I really don’t have time for a job,” she said. “I babysit here and there, but that’s the only income I have right now, and that’s not going to cut it in the long run. It would definitely help students to get paid internships, because it would assist in balancing their lives a little more.”
McReath will spend the summer working in Kenya with Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry that works with children in poverty. “I’ll be doing some teaching for 3- to 9-year-olds and some social work,” said McReath, the eldest of five children in a blended family. “I’ll also be doing a study abroad program for a month with the School of Field Studies in Public Health and Environment.”
By buying a ticket to the Spring Football Game, UW-Madison supporters can back the Badgers and lend a hand to high-achieving students like McReath and the nonprofits that benefit from their service.