On Aug. 28, the nine 2015 President’s Public Service Fellows reflected on their summer experience after participating in the fellowship for its seventeenth year at the University of New Haven in front of a group of their peers, supervisors, professors, university staff and past fellows.
The fellows worked full time for 15 weeks at numerous nonprofit organizations throughout New Haven and West Haven. In addition to their full time work they participated in Midnight Run, volunteered at soup kitchens, and took part in various activities in the area including the Arts and Ideas festival, a trip to the Yale Peabody Museum and a crypt tour.
Dean Rebecca Johnson and Professor Marty O’Connor acted as the advisors for the fellowship and opened the floor introducing the program as a “small program that has a tremendous impact on the community” and stated that this program not only transforms the students but “transforms the relationship between UNH and the community.”
Graduate Assistant Taylor Demarco worked with the fellows throughout the summer and spoke of her experience witnessing their “individual, personal, professional, and team growth.”
She also acted as a moderator, asking the fellows questions about their experience for the remainder of the discussion.
It was organized as a panel discussion, giving each fellow the opportunity to build off each other and answer the questions asked designed to highlight their experiences.
Joshua Rodriguez was placed at the mayor’s office for the summer and shared his experience with adjusting to a different work environment and how he grew as he adjusted: “Coming into the mayor’s office, you need to show more initiative and put yourself out there and once I did I grew so much as a person.”
He also shared how something as “simple” as conversation whilst taking part in midnight run could make an impact in a person.
Annalisa Beradinelli was also placed at the mayor’s office and reflected on being able to see how the government works and now, she compares it with how UNH’s student government runs. She told the room that “The two really do compare and it gave me some hope that I might want to do it in the future.”
She also shared that a lot of the program focuses on the impact it has on the community and overlooks the impact it has on the fellows themselves and what they take away from it. “What we take away will impact us for years and everyone else we encounter will be impacted.”
Tatiana Dominguez, an engineering major, was placed outside of her comfort zone at the Connecticut Children’s Museum where she was working in a classroom with children.
“I gained confidence; there was a lot of responsibility. I was reserved at first because the others made it look so easy but by the end I could sing nursery rhymes with the kids too.”
She also shared that she feels their experience over the summer will help because the fellows “made a huge impact by discovering the cultural needs and are bringing it home” to others on campus who can get involved in the community as well.
Coralys De Jesus worked at New Haven Reads for the summer, which “made [her] realized how important it is to get rid of all your biases. Give the kids your full attention, and realize everyone learns at their own pace.”
The fellows focused on six competencies throughout their summer experience. They focused on critical thinking, teamwork, resilience, leadership, communication, and cultural awareness. Their experience learning these competencies was evident in their responses to questions.
Glory-Jean Smith, who worked at the West Haven Community House, learned to communicate on two levels because “you can’t speak to a five year old the same way you would speak to their parents.”
Kayla Wallace and Yanhire Sierra-Lavalle were both placed at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Service for their summers. Sierra-Lavalle shared that her experience “showed how important it is to be a leader in the real world” while Wallace reflected on teamwork, stating that “we all learned and became competent in teamwork- we have grown as a unit and as a team.”
Wallace said that by working together with Midnight Run and the soup kitchens brought everyone closer together, where they formed a team. “That was one of my favorite parts, not just working as a team at IRIS but also as fellows,” she said.
When asked why this program and experience are important, Racquel Arnold, who spent her summer at City Seed, said that she felt that “a lot of times it’s hard for students to communicate what they can do and this gives the opportunity to showcase what we are capable of.”
Ashley Dawson spent her experience at the Connecticut Probate Court where she described her daily work as “trying to make lives better for children whose parents couldn’t take care of them at the time.”
She believes that all the fellows learned resilience this summer and were all able to learn from and lean on each other, sharing that “when I was having a bad day I could come back and talk to everyone and that really helped us grow with each other as well.”
After the fellows shared their experience, a video was shown showcasing photos and videos of their experiences over the summer. The Bartels family was thanked for making their experience possible.
President Kaplan addressed the room: “Every year, I am speechless. This group is quite, quite remarkable and has made me incredibly proud. They are an incredible representation of the institution and proof that this program really does change lives.”
The floor was then opened up to the audience for any questions or comments and Mayor O’Brien stood and spoke, thanking the Bartels family and President Kaplan for providing the President’s Public Service Fellowship. He stated that the program is “a huge help to the city of West Haven.”