ECU Program Links Internships to Community Service

A grant from the SECU Foundation enabled a collaboration with East Carolina University and placed students off campus to earn valuable job experience as interns in small-town community organizations. The program supports up to 20 summer internships for sophomore and junior students.

ECU Public Service Fellows

By Steve Tuttle, ECU News Services

She arrived as an unpaid intern at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and now East Carolina University junior nursing student Aleigha Criego is having a hard time leaving.

“I will continue working into December but I probably will come back to volunteer here because I have fallen in love with these people,” she said.

Criego is working part-time this semester at Food Bank’s warehouse and distribution center in west Greenville. She’s updating a database of five Pitt County churches, civic groups and other nonprofits that focus on feeding hungry children. She’s also helping to administer the Weekend Power Pack program, where kids are sent home from school on Fridays with backpacks filled with enough food to last the weekend. 

The Food Bank benefits from the 300 hours of office work that Criego is donating, and she benefits, too. Criego will earn a $4,500 scholarship from ECU under an initiative aimed at boosting the manpower available to local organizations that deliver critical community services.

She is among 13 ECU students who are interning this semester at small nonprofits and local government agencies through ECU’s Public Service Fellows program.

Like many nonprofits, these agencies could use an extra pair of hands to get their work done. A college intern would help, but often there’s no budget for that. The Public Service Fellows program attempts to solve both those problems.

Read more from ECU about the Public Service Fellows Program



Public Service Fellowship Helps ECU Senior to Pursue Dream Career

By Phillip Ramati, UNC-GA Staff Writer

Isaac Hopkins had an idea at an early age that he would work in a field that helped people overcome disabilities. After all, it’s an issue that hits home with him.
“I have a sister with special needs,” said Hopkins, 31, a senior studying rehabilitation services at East Carolina University. “Watching her grow up, a lot of her physical therapy was done in the school system. Now, having a family of my own, I wanted to do something to help.”

After working as a youth minister until he “aged out,” Hopkins considered a career change to physical therapy or occupational therapy, and applied to the program at ECU.

For Hopkins and other similarly impassioned ECU students, the timing has worked out well. The university this year was awarded a $100,000 grant for a pilot program given out by the State Employees Credit Union.

“It’s a public service fellowship program,” said Sharon Paynter, interim director, public service and community relations for the Division of Research, Economic Development, and Engagement at ECU. “Students do their internships in certain geographic areas that generally don’t have attract high interest, like rural places.“

ECU Professor Martha Chapin, the director of the rehabilitation services program at the university, thought Hopkins would be a perfect candidate for the program. Because of his field of study and the fact that he grew up in a small town, Chapin recommended Hopkins for a position in the pilot program, and he went to work at Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City.

Increasing internships for UNC system students was the top recommendation of the 2015 UNC Employer Focus groups. As part of the University’s Strategic Directions plan, UNC is developing internships throughout the system to respond to employer demands for graduates with more applied experiences by forming partnerships to support growth in experiential learning opportunities prior to graduation.

As part of his 300-hour internship, Hopkins got hands-on experience daily in both physical and occupational therapy.

“I was able to observe different therapies, such as water therapy,” he said. “I was there to help folks get out of bed and get back to their room. I worked with a lot of stroke patients.”

The relationship between Hopkins and the hospital was so strong that he was offered a job with the facility after his internship ended, which he accepted. He will continue to work with the hospital until he enrolls in graduate school to continue his studies.

“I’m working as a technician, so I can observe a variety of cases,” he said. “If I get into East Carolina for grad school, it will be tough to meet the demands of the job and be a student. But my ultimate goal is to return to my hometown and provide services to pediatric patients. There’s a high amount of need for most kinds of therapy in the school system.”

John Farrell, lead occupational therapist at the hospital, oversaw Hopkins’ internship at the hospital.

“He was a great intern,” Farrell said. “I’d definitely work with him again. He’s unbelievably quick in picking up things. He’s a great guy who brings light to a room. He’s just an outstanding person who wants to follow a career in occupational therapy. ECU does a good job with its program, and he was amazing and did a great job.”

Chapin echoed the sentiment.

“Isaac does a wonderful job and is very dedicated,” she said. “He is interested in giving back. He’s a model student in his presentation, his manner and his quality of work.”


Homepage image and top article photos by Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services