Practical Applications program helped students during a summer of uncertainty

The new Practical Applications program allowed students to pursue skills through self-designed projects.

As with almost everything else in 2020, many students found their summer plans upended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as internships were cancelled, or jobs were no longer available. In response, the College of Arts & Sciences, alongside campus partners in the Career Center, the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, launched the Practical Applications program to meet the needs of students who still wanted to pursue learning goals over the summer for credit. The program was designed to help students develop practical skills through a self-designed entrepreneurial project or a combination of formal micro-internships related to a common theme.

Raf Rodriguez, a sophomore in Arts & Sciences majoring in environmental analysis, wanted to turn a summer of potential inaction into one of action. With support from the Practical Applications program, he developed a set of experiences that enabled him to delve deeper into his passion for sustainability while exploring the realm of business and consulting. 

Raf Rodriguez

Rodriguez’s first experience was with the Climate + Energy Project, a climate nonprofit in Kansas that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During this experience, he worked to improve the organization’s outreach with the Latinx community of Kansas. His goal was to help remove the barriers of accessibility that deter a Spanish-speaking individual from reading literature on the climate crisis. He then worked with Rem and Company, a social initiative that seeks to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. As part of the company’s outreach team, Rodriguez helped find businesses that fit the clientele profile and direct them to the proper consultants. He participated in both of these organizations while working from home, which he said also gave him experience balancing his personal and professional life from his dining room table. “Both of these were amazing opportunities,” Rodriguez emphasized, “they enabled me to see the ways in which marginalized communities are impacted by institutions of power, especially the ways in which they disproportionately feel the impact from the climate crisis.”

Assistant Dean Matthew DeVoll, who helped spearhead the program’s implementation in the College, said that roughly 30 undergraduates, the majority of whom were Arts & Sciences students, participated in the program over the past summer. “What was really amazing to see was the breadth of the experiences the students were interested in pursuing over the course of the summer,” DeVoll reflected.

In addition to providing practical skills training, the program gave several students a platform to help others or create innovative products. Maggie Noe, a sophomore, collaborated with a friend attending Northeastern University to create a non-profit called Businesses United in Diversity, which hosted an inaugural expo for Black-owned businesses of Hudson Valley in Kingston, New York over the summer. Madeline Alburtus, a senior, designed a resource for students looking for alternative strategies for time management, goal setting, achievement, and organization. Mandira Shashank, a junior, offered virtual science lessons and demonstrations through her public library to elementary school children. And Isabel Carson, a senior, partnered with Kiki Ogino, a senior in the McKelvey School of Engineering, to launch Kork, a virtual community for wine enthusiasts.

For all the students, their experiences over the summer didn’t just provide a short-term fix to canceled summer plans. The Practical Applications program also provided a spring-board to think about their goals. In reflecting on the summer, Rodriguez emphasized how the experience changed his future plans: “I hope to be able to combine both experiences in a sustainable consulting career. I am committed to using consulting as a vehicle for environmental awareness and justice.”