Community Impact

High Road interns share skills, gain real world experience
High Road interns share skills, gain real world experience
Monday, November 4, 2013

Through an ILR High Road fellowship, Zachary Benfanti '16 spent his summer working at the Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York.

"I am a people person. That, combined with my vested interest in disability studies, made this fellowship an incredible chance for me to make a difference doing something I genuinely loved," he said.

Since 2009, Benfanti and 66 other students have taken High Road opportunities to work at community-based, non-profit organizations.

Through the Partnership for the Public Good, students connect with one of 140 groups in the Buffalo area doing work that aligns with their interests.

"Every placement associated with the program tackles Rust Belt challenges like urban revitalization, quality job creation, the green economy and small business development," said Megan Connelly, coordinator of the ILR program.

"High Road fellows have and continue to make immense and lasting contributions to the fabric of these organizations," she said.

ILR students bring energy and classroom knowledge into the community for eight weeks every summer.

In the fall, they return to Ives Hall with fresh insight gleaned from real-world employment.

That sequence dovetails with the school's mission, said LouJean Fleron, High Road director.

"The historical mission of Cornell ILR is to serve and change the world as you teach and learn. It's a school where theory and practice connect," she said.

"The High Road program provides unique opportunities for undergraduates to apply their scholarly interests and test career possibilities in the growing nonprofit sector of the economy, immersed in the dynamic urban environment of a great city."

Students, who received a stipend of $3,000 each in 2013, worked Monday through Thursday in non-profit organizations, and met Fridays in ILR's downtown Buffalo office for workshops, guest lectures, roundtable discussions and Buffalo walking tours.

Below, three students share their summer 2013 High Road experiences.

Zachary Benfanti '16
Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York

What did your fellowship entail?

"Primarily, I worked as an intern in the Vocational Rehabilitation Department at the Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York. I was given the opportunity to shadow experienced job developers and social workers as they directly engaged with people with learning disabilities."

"I was able to create a curriculum for a class of students on how to properly craft a resume and develop interviewing skills. I also gave advice to individuals who sought it as they looked for either employment or a position in a volunteer capacity."

What was the most exciting thing about your fellowship?

"If I had to choose one, I would say it was the times I had the opportunity to visit the individuals in either their place of residence or place of employment. Whether or not they knew it, each individual was an incredible role model for fellow co-workers and family members."

What was the most important skill or insight you gained from your work this summer?

"I take a lot of pride in knowing that the contributions I made were a means to a collective end—that end being the betterment of the quality of life for people with learning disabilities. My time on the High Road alongside the Learning Disabilities Association validated my ability to make a difference in the lives of others, changing me in a way that I know will make me a more engaged, aware and dynamic citizen."

Courtney Sokol '15
Clean Air Coalition

What did your fellowship entail?

"In addition to developing a voter guide and aiding in daily activities at the Clean Air Coalition, I supported the coalition's efforts to promote participatory budgeting in the greater Buffalo area. I helped raise awareness as to how the public can choose to spend settlement money to improve their community."

What was the most exciting thing about working with the Clean Air Coalition?

"I played a major role within the organization. Because of its small size, my work directly impacted the community. I am inspired by my supervisors, fueled by passion and endless pots of coffee, who perform miracles."

What do you feel you contributed to the work of the coalition?

"As a student-intern, I brought a strong desire to learn and energy to promote a message that I believe in. It has been rewarding to work within a subject that I have always been passionate about. The environment is the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. The Clean Air Coalition works tirelessly to improve the conditions of workers and residents in Western New York. I am eager to further their work in the area and beyond."

What was the most important skill or insight you gained?

"Through my experience at the Clean Air Coalition, I realized that the most important aspect of grassroots organizing is a passionate community. Buffalo is a relatively small city that seems to be plagued by a number of growing problems. However, it was apparent that the city housed thousands who were their neighborhoods' biggest advocates. I think their spirit made all the difference in the development of the city."

Renée Wall '15
Everywoman Opportunity Center

What did your fellowship entail?

"I worked specifically on developing lesson plans for the GED students. I also taught a workshop that I developed for women who are starting their own businesses. I taught them about using social media such as Twitter and Facebook as a free means of marketing and advertising."

What was the most exciting thing about working with the Everywoman Opportunity Center?

"I enjoyed working with the center because you can see the results of your work locally. These women are gaining valuable skills that will help them find jobs and become business owners, which will improve the local economy, as well as promote their own financial independence."

What do you feel you contributed to the work of the center?

"I am extremely passionate about women's issues and women's rights, which led me to the Everywoman Opportunity Center. I remember first becoming passionate about women's rights when I was in the fourth grade. We learned about the women's suffrage movement, and ever since, I have been an advocate for female empowerment and women's issues. That passion has led me to pursue a minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell."

What was the most important skill or insight you gained from your work this summer?

"I've gained a better understanding of how to help women empower themselves. Many of these women have been victims of domestic abuse, and the center gives them the opportunity to take back control of their lives. I am not sure if I plan to continue in this line of work after graduating from ILR, but it is a definite possibility, and I think that working with the center has given me invaluable knowledge that I can easily bring with me to other employers in the future."