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How one RIC student found employment through internship

Naomi Foster, a job counselor who recently completed RIC’s Nonprofit Certification program, works with her colleague Christian Vargas '07, an internship coordinator, at Dorcas Place in Providence.

Naomi Foster, a job counselor who recently completed RIC’s Nonprofit Certification program, works with her colleague Christian Vargas '07, an internship coordinator, at Dorcas Place in Providence.
As the 2009 spring semester came to an end, Rhode Island College student Naomi Foster earned something that every intern hopes for – a job offer. Foster was offered a position at Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center, where she had interned all semester, working on evaluating programs and practices.

Simultaneously, Foster completed RIC’s Nonprofit Certification, which trains and prepares its participants for managerial positions at nonprofit organizations.

The certification program, initiated in 2005 by RIC professors Francis Leazes (political science), Mark Motte (geography, political science) and former RIC professor Sandra Enos (sociology), is comprised of 16 credits that familiarize students with a plurality of nonprofit facets.

As part of the program, students are required to partake in a semester-long internship at the conclusion of their studies. This is how Foster arrived at her current position at Dorcas Place.

Dorcas Place, founded in 1981 as a private, nonprofit adult literacy and learning center, seeks to advocate for the low-income population and recognize the problems that arise from illiteracy, including long-term welfare dependency, impoverished childhoods, teenage pregnancy, child neglect, crime and chronic unemployment.

When Foster first acquired the internship, she was in a unique position. Having already earned an MBA, she was familiar with organizational management work. Because of this, Foster received project assignments that went beyond the kinds of busywork that often comes with internships.

Foster, who had originally been enrolled in the nonprofit certification program at Northeastern University, transferred to the RIC program as soon as it began. Living in Rhode Island, a program that focused on local nonprofits appealed to Foster, as did the fact that she could participate without being a fully matriculated student.

The inherent setup of the RIC certification program also appealed to Foster. Rather than having specialized courses, focusing solely on one aspect of nonprofit organization at a time, the RIC program allowed for overlap between classes, and several professors collaborated to teach each class. Members of the neighboring nonprofit communities were welcomed into the classroom to offer input, experience and advice.

“There were a lot of people in the class who were familiar with nonprofits,” Foster explained. “Three of the five teachers in the program were working in nonprofit. We were able to visit nonprofit organizations and members of local nonprofits came to class to meet with us.”

With plenty of experience and training for the job, Foster was assigned a major project; she was asked to do an evaluation of the Dorcas Place Welcome Back Center. The year-old Welcome Back Center embraces foreign-trained medical and health professionals. The people who partake in the program are doctors and nurses who need to be licensed in the U.S. and, while some are fluent in English, many of them are not.

“The licensing process is very complicated for everybody,” explained Foster. “A language barrier only makes it even more so.”

Despite being occupied with interviews, surveys and reports, Foster took several more steps to further enrich her experience at Dorcas Place.

“I talked to the executive director,” Foster said. “I asked her if I could attend higher level meetings – program development meetings, staff meetings, executive staff meetings, because I wanted to observe. That was the whole point, to see how Dorcas Place functioned.”

This kind of opportunity isn’t the type that is handed down to an intern; it’s the kind that an intern needs to seek out alone and without prompting. While, as Foster admitted, you may not be given access to these perspectives, you have to ask.

“You never know. They may say, ‘Sure! Come on in!’ and then you can see the business from all sides,” said Foster, “and in an organization like Dorcas Place, that’s really important.”

Foster’s resourceful initiative not only resulted in a more beneficial internship experience, but it is likely that it is the very trait that led her internship supervisor to ask Foster to replace a departing part-time employee.

“What I liked about the program [at RIC],” Foster said, “was that it introduced all the different areas of nonprofit work: finance, fundraising, board development, the legal issues, and the accounting piece.”

Foster’s success speaks highly of RIC’s nonprofit organization program and optimistically of the concept of internships as a whole. In these challenging economic times, a tinge of optimism is certainly a welcome change of pace.