August 28, 2014, BY Paula Cogan Myers

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For five Bucknell University students, this summer has been about understanding poverty, making connections and taking action.

Morgan Greenly '15, Jillian Korn '16, Elaine Lac, '16, Kimberley Nidah '16 and Julianne Pearson '17 were Bucknell's first interns as part of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a program that combines academic study of poverty with focused summer internships.

The eight-week summer program began at Washington & Lee University, where the students and the faculty and staff who serve as internship directors at each member university convened. From there, nearly 100 interns joined various human services nonprofit and government organizations in the areas of economic development, health care, hunger and nutrition, legal advocacy, homelessness, immigration issues, and youth outreach across the United States.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our students to network professionally and gain insights from other college students in the summer program," said Janice Butler, director of civic engagement and service-learning and Bucknell's Shepherd internship director. In August, they reconvened for a three-day conference to share their experiences and discuss what they learned about poverty and how to take action to reduce it.

Elaine Lac '16
Elaine Lac '16 helping people register to vote.

Elaine Lac worked in Berea, Ky., at a non-profit called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. The grassroots organization works to address everything from environmental issues to economic justice and voting rights across the state. She helped with events, including voter registration and fundraising, experienced workshops that empower members to pursue changes they want to see in their community and organized a renewable energy tour of the region.

She said the highlight of her internship was working with leaders in the town of West Liberty, which was destroyed by a tornado two years ago. The residents came together and decided to focus on sustainable rebuilding and have since been given support by the Clinton Global Initiative America. "I learned a lot about an effective non-profit structure," she said. "I think my experience has taught me how to create solutions to political, financial and environmental issues."

Kimberley Nidah said she knew that something interesting would happen each day at The Gateway Center in Atlanta, Ga. The organization provides support and programs to assist homeless individuals to move into transitional and permanent housing. She helped clients access basic resources like showers and telephones as well as employment training, clothing and health care.

Kim Nidah '16
Kim Nidah '16 with co-workers at the Gateway Center in Atlanta, Ga.

"Everyday I walked with the homeless population who are clients of the Gateway Center and those who are not in the program and live on the streets," she said. "The clients who live there are people who were homeless, but have found a job and are there for transitional housing until they can get completely back on their feet. Being at the front desk every day, I was able to have first hand interactions with the people that came in and it was eventful, but all worth it."

Bucknell's minor in social justice includes a poverty studies concentration coordinated by Professor David Kristjanson-Gural, economics, who is the academic director for the Shepherd program on campus. Part of the role of the consortium is to work to sustain interdisciplinary poverty studies in undergraduate higher education. "The poverty studies concentration in the social justice minor offers students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the structural causes of poverty to allow them to be most effective in tackling whatever aspect of these challenges they choose to address," Kristjanson-Gural said.

Jilian Korn, who worked at So Others Might Eat, a medical clinic that serves poor and homeless people in Washington, D.C., said that connecting what she learned in class with her summer experience has been powerful. "Last year in some of my courses that discussed poverty, I was shocked to learn how the structure of society shapes a person's socioeconomic status," she said. "Seeing this firsthand has increased my frustration with inequality and its causes. It motivates me to continue to learn about inequalities in society and has renewed my passion for becoming a physician."

Learning more and taking action beyond the summer is central to the experience for Julianne Pearson, who worked in Danville, Ky., with The Warehouse Summer Program to run four week-long summer camps for children who are in English as a second language programs, migrant programs or are first-generation children of immigrant parents. She also worked with Centro Latino, a non-profit community organization.

"This experience has opened my eyes to the great need that exists in education, health and justice for families for whom English is a second language, particularly for the Hispanic community in rural America. It exposed me to the challenges, responsibilities, and organizational intricacies that are involved when operating a non­profit," she said. "I plan to take everything I've learned and experienced this summer to further motivate me to dive deeper into my classes, value the gift of education more than ever before and approach the material I'm taught with an even stronger curiosity and determination."