Internships benefit United Way, local Latino community and MC students

Internships benefit United Way, local Latino community and MC students

Nov. 6, 2013
Contact: Amber Roberts, Communications Assistant

Maryville College juniors Jose Perez ‘15 and Owen Shelnutt ‘15 completed summer internships at the United Way of Blount County that provided valuable work for the non-profit while providing relevant, real-world experience for the students.

Both Perez and Shelnutt completed the internship as a part of their Bonner Scholarship summer service requirements.

Perez, a psychology major with minors in sociology and Spanish, was able to provide the United Way of Blount County with important information that will help with future outreach efforts for the local Latino community.

During his internship, Perez worked on translating the United Way's needs assessment survey into Spanish, delivering it to many local businesses. He also hosted several community conversations to get a deeper understanding of the aspirations and needs of the Latino population of Blount County.

“It's about communication,” said Perez, who is from Mosheim, Tenn. “You have to know what to say and when to say it. Knowing how to address the different diversity groups that are here in Blount County is what's vitally important.”

The work during his internship was a good fit for Perez, who has been active in outreach efforts for the Latino student population at Maryville College. Last year, he was a vital catalyst in the founding of the Villamaria Initiative, which aims to increase the Latino student population at MC. He also founded and is the current president of the Latino Student Alliance (LSA) on the MC campus.

The son of Olga Perez of Mosheim, Tenn., Perez is a 2011 graduate of West Greene High School.

Wendy Wand, Perez and Shelnutt's supervisor during their internships at United Way, noted that Perez's work during his internship there had allowed the organization to reach out to the Latino community in Blount County in a way that they had previously not done.

“United Way seeks to impact the greater good of our local community; however, we fall very short on providing services and recognizing the needs of our Latino population,” Wand said. “The work he did will be utilized in funding decisions and collaborative outreach initiatives over the next several years.”

Perez said he hopes to pursue a career in counseling, particularly working with children. He believes that his experiences at the United Way helped him learn to communicate with people more skillfully.

“My internship at the United Way was very closely linked to social psychology,” Perez said. “Even knowing how to relate to the parents of the children I will be working with in the future is important, so that is one major way that my time at United Way intersected with what I want to do with my life.”

Shelnutt, a psychology major and Spanish minor from Portland, Tenn., worked on several projects during his internship at the United Way.

Along with assisting Perez in translating needs assessment surveys into Spanish, Shelnutt completed valuable research on the Coast2Coast pharmacy discount card, a new resource for the United Way, and presented a proposal to the Community Impact Committee at United Way based on his findings.

“The most difficult part of this project was that because the Coast2Coast program is so new to the United Way, there was not a lot of information out there to work on at first,” said Shelnutt, a 2011 graduate of East Robertson High School and son of Russell and Melanie Shelnutt of Portland, Tenn. “However, over time all of the pieces began to fall together, and it eventually became a cohesive understanding that I was able to share. It was amazing to be able to be the sole person in charge of investigating a resource that could become very influential in providing affordable services to people in the community.”

Shelnutt's research on the Coast2Coast card influenced the United Way of Blount County's decision to support the new card.

“Owen did extensive research, beyond any research done by any other United Way in Tennessee, to find the pros and cons of the new card versus the current card,” Wand, his supervisor, said. “In the end, his research helped us make the decision to support the new card, we will use the work he did to educate other United Ways not only in the area but possibly the state on the benefits the new card has for our community.”

Shelnutt's experiences at the United Way of Blount County also gave him the opportunity to enhance his Spanish-speaking skills, which added practical experience to the skills he has acquired in the classroom as a Spanish minor.

“Meeting so many different people from different backgrounds who speak different languages has allowed me to reexamine what makes me diverse,” Shelnutt said. “This renewed exploration of myself has allowed me to appreciate the diversity in others and to learn not to take things for granted.”

According to Shelnutt, the benefits of this internship extend beyond just learning new skill sets – the internship has also helped him gain a better sense of connection to the community.

“Through my internship at the United Way of Blount County, I have learned about the importance of each and every individual in a community,” Shelnutt said. “Everyone has a different story to tell, everyone has different ideas and each person deserves to have a chance to have their voice heard. The United Way has opened my eyes to an entirely different side of the world, and through my work in the community, I have begun to realize how truly diverse a community can be.”

Although Shelnutt is not certain of his future career pursuits, he feels certain that his experience at the United Way will be invaluable to him, regardless of the career path he might take.

“After working at the United Way of Blount County, I have seen that I am not the only one who wants to better myself by helping others,” Shelnutt said. “I intend to use all of the skills that I have learned through my work at the United Way to help me reach my goals in whatever I may do in the future.”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.