As a single mother, Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez relied on the social service organizations around Galesburg. While raising a small child, Cervantez was a student at Knox. She now teaches the same Social Service Internship class she was once enrolled in as a student.
Cervantez recognizes that her style of teaching varies from other professors, given her experiences. She wants students to understand that their work in the class will have real impacts for the communities they get involved in.
“It’s about making content real, because at the end of the day you are stepping into places with real people, so it’s not a study, it’s somebody’s experience,” Cervantez said.
In this Anthropology 280 class, students get placed in different internships and then spend the entirety of Winter and Spring Terms volunteering 80 hours on site. Students can be placed anywhere from the Galesburg Public Library to Safe Harbor. Cervantez has each student put their top two to three choices of placements down and then puts students in touch with their respective organizations.
“Sometimes it requires them to stretch their comfort zone a little bit because I can’t give everybody their first choice, so I try to do my best to match, and then I also warn them that in life we oftentimes don’t know what we need until we have it,” Cervantez said.
Senior Halle Gerash, who took this course last year, was placed in the Child Advocacy Program where they did forensic interviews on children who had witnessed abuse or been abused themselves.
“I would be able to sit in on all the meetings and watch the interviews from another room with the rest of the team,” Gerash said. “They would also have times when they would go to court so they would be updated with the status of each individual case, so occasionally I would go sit in on court hearings,”
After taking the course, Gerash worked for another social service internship. She spent her summer helping people to register to vote over the summer. She believes the class helped her adjust to doing public interest work and was glad to have taken it.
Senior Danielle Ellis, who also took the course last year, was placed with YMCA Solutions and was involved in the Enrichment Program. Through this internship, she and another student went to several different public schools to mentor and counsel students. Ellis also conducted home visits and sat with students who were put in school suspensions.
“I feel like I got to be a part of some of the students’ lives in my short time there, I was happy with the program I was put in, [but] I wish I could’ve done more with the position,” Ellis said.
Though Ellis appreciated the internship, she felt like she didn’t get to do much on her own. She felt the experience was more of a shadowship, as they weren’t allowed to do much on their own after getting placed with supervisors.
“I feel like that was partly me not speaking up and then miscommunication between Tianna and [the directors] as for their rules being my supervisor … I gained insight, but I didn’t get to practice as much as I had hoped to. Programs like that, I feel like the longer you’re there the more you get to develop relationships with the students.”
Senior Sarah Choi’s internship at Gordon Behrents Senior Center allowed her to see the moral purpose of taking a class based on social services.
Her bike ride to and from the center consisted of quiet reflection on what it meant to her to be assisting the elderly. Choi learned that often times the seniors just needed someone to listen to and keep them from being lonely. At Gordon Behrents, the elderly spend the morning to afternoon so they get to interact with others. Choi was a person for the attendants to talk to.
“It’s not so much [that] I’m gaining knowledge, it’s not so much [that] I’m growing, for my personal gain, but more so what do they need, what do the Gordon Behrents Seniors need, and they literally needed people to listen to them, they needed and wanted another person’s presence,” Choi said.
Choi felt that this experience with the elderly differed immensely from when she assisted the elderly in high school. She found it a more comforting and welcoming environment and was able to let her guard down to these strangers without compromising her internship role. She found it interesting to go from working with seniors in Korea to working with seniors in Galesburg.
“That’s like the whole concept of the internship, the social service internship, we are literally plugging into space where non-Knox people are involved and it does take some adjustments for students like us to adjust to the community,” Choi said.
Through the lecture part of the course, Cervantez spoke to the group and allowed the students to discuss their experiences throughout the week. It gives them a chance to dialogue about how to become a better social worker for their community.
“In that setting, you are literally bringing in your volunteer experience, not just the high moments, not just the celebratory moments,” Choi said.