Sherab Dorji '22

Summer of Service: Bucknell Shepherd Interns Dedicate Their Breaks to Civic Engagement

July 29, 2021

by Brooke Thames

Sherab Dorji '22's passion for equity drew her to a summer internship researching anti-poverty policy. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

There are limitless ways Bucknellians can choose to spend their summer breaks. Some travel to new places, earn extra cash at a summer job, or simply take time to rest and recharge ahead of a fresh academic year.

But for one service-oriented group of students, summer 2021 was an opportunity to channel their passions, talents and education into civic engagement as participants in the Shepherd Poverty Internship Program.

Offered in partnership with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, the program places students in internships with nonprofit and government-funded human service organizations across the U.S. Over eight weeks, the students work to support disadvantaged communities in areas ranging from homelessness and food insecurity to legal advocacy and environmental justice.

"I'm learning a lot about the intersectional nature of poverty through the different domains of education, health and nutrition and social enterprise," says management & organizations major Lillian Patterson '23, one of the 12 Bucknell interns making a difference this summer.

Portrait of student Lillian Patterson '23

Lillian Patterson '23's internship with Together for Hope has given her a more complete understanding of what makes community development successful. Photo by Jessica Patterson

As a community public health intern at Together for Hope, Patterson applies an assets-based approach to aid community development in America's South. Patterson has two primary roles: building up Together for Hope's network of partner organizations and conducting data research for two Georgia-based nonprofits. On the data side, she's created a food accessibility survey for a mobile grocery store and compiled qualitative feedback from Georgia residents to help advocates petition legislators to broaden state access to Medicare.

Each hands-on experience has given Patterson a more complete understanding of what makes community development successful.

"It requires centering the voices of those you wish to help, acting as a coach instead of director," she says. "Instead of prescribing a set of steps to help the community improve, foster change from within the community through on-the-ground collaborations."

A More Equitable World

For some of this year's interns, the complexity of social progress is familiar and personal. Sherab Dorji '22 grew up in the south Asian country of Bhutan, where she witnessed inequity intensify amid the country's rapid socioeconomic development.

"It was hard to ignore the dichotomy between the rich and poor, all the more stimulated by factors such as gender, caste and class," she explains. "The distribution of the accrued benefits was heavily skewed, leaving numerous communities impoverished and susceptible to vulnerability."

As an international relations and economics double-major at Bucknell, Dorji has developed the academic tools to contextualize her childhood experiences and discovered a fierce passion for propelling change.

That's what attracted her to the Shepherd internship placement at the National Community Action Foundation (NCAF), one of the country's leading agencies in anti-poverty policy. There, Dorji researches the federal, state and local impacts of the U.S. government's Community Services Block Grant, which provides funds aimed at reducing poverty. She also analyzes the role of community action agencies in creating entrepreneurial opportunities in low-income areas.

Sherab Dorji '22

“I want to help people while working to make the world more sustainable and equitable," says Sherab Dorji '22, an international relations and economics major from Bhutan. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

"That emphasis on combining advocacy and policy research relating directly to poor communities is what made the NCAF internship stand out to me," says Dorji, who aspires to pursue a service-driven career after graduating, whether in policy reform or advocacy and community building. "I want to help people while working to make the world more sustainable and equitable, and I wholeheartedly believe that this experience is an important steppingstone for that path."

Powerful Parallels

To bookend their summer work, each Shepherd intern will attend a three-day closing conference, where they'll present reflections on their civic efforts and the lessons they'll carry forward.

Students like Zoe Wilson '23 can't wait to implement what they've learned in their ongoing research at Bucknell. Under the guidance of sociology professor Elizabeth Durden, Wilson has, since her first year, been examining class and race disparities in regional health care — a project that's sure to be enriched by the boundless insight Wilson's gained through her internship with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.

"Although the volume of resources that Camden, N.J., provides is astounding, it is clear that poverty, housing insecurity and limited access to transportation disproportionately affect Black and Latin community members in need of care," says Wilson, who helped connect expectant mothers with prenatal resources and services. "The parallels between my internship and Bucknell research are too many to count. It's given me unfettered access to how the American health care system works — and a better understanding of those for whom it does not."

As a former participant in Bucknell's social justice-themed Residential College, Wilson has "long been invested in the multifaceted issues facing diverse communities," she says. 'I'm grateful for this summer's opportunity to directly access these populations and make a tangible difference in their lives."

Helping Hand

How will you make a difference?