2020 PFIG Recipient Katie Gayhart

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer, I am interning remotely with Rise Together, an education nonprofit that connects University of Virginia (UVA) students with first-generation and low-income K-12 youth in the Charlottesville area. The UVA students serve as mentors by providing academic support, social-emotional learning, and workforce/college readiness support. As a cognitive science major who focuses on cognitive psychology and development and a future Special Education Post Graduate Master’s Candidate, I believe this internship will equip me the skills necessary to collaborate with others to create educational programing that incorporates social-emotional lessons designed to cultivate leadership, communication, and confidence for a variety of students from different backgrounds. This summer, my internship is focusing on helping coordinate the Hoos Rise Together Program, which provides weekly mentorship, college and financial aid guidance, and social-emotional support to first-generation and low-income high school seniors. Additionally, I will help identify and apply for grants and other funding opportunities. Finally, I will help to design mentorship and social-emotional programming, which will influence and strengthen my future programs and lessons for my students when I become a teacher. 

In the first two weeks of my internship, I have already been exposed to a multitude of experiences and opportunities. I remotely attended and took notes for a Rise Together Board meeting that reviewed updates, school partnerships, and avenues/ideas for future planning. I worked on Rise Together website edits, thus improving my technological skills, which have grown increasingly essential during this period of social distancing. I have helped to pair and create programming for UVA mentors to share with their high school mentees in Hoos Rise Together. Finally, I have gained experience working on and applying to a grant to help fund Rise Together ventures for the upcoming year. 

On the whole, I am very excited about all the experiences and opportunities these first two weeks have provided me with. I went into my internship unsure of how an educational nonprofit functions, but I have come to realize that nonprofit work is highly collaborative and exciting, as there are always a variety of things in multiple areas that need to be done. I am incredibly excited for what the rest of my internship holds for me. Thank you UVA Parents Fund for making this possible!

Journal Entry #2

While I have only been interning with Rise Together for about a month and a half, I have stepped into a variety of exciting roles. Interning with Rise Together, no day is the same. Some days, I am working as part of Rise Together’s new initiative, Hoos Rise Together, to mentor first-generation high school seniors going through the college application process. Other days, I am coordinating UVA volunteers or working on curriculum building. I have also been able to cowrite grants and gain experience in website design by updating Rise Together’s website. All these different projects and tasks have allowed me to dip my toes into the nonprofit sector and learn a variety of skills. 

Since I hope to become a special education teacher, I believe the skills I am gaining by mentoring students and helping to build a curriculum will be directly applicable to my future profession. In Hoos Rise Together, I am learning how to teach students important soft skills like leadership and communication as well as ‘hard’ academic skills like literary expression that are critical for writing college essays. Also, collaborating with other UVA students and volunteers has given me practical skills and strategies I will use when working with other teachers in the future. For instance, with other volunteers I have been drafting agendas tailored to particular high school students and their needs and comfort level with the process. With one group we are focusing on financial aid help instead of college search because the student already knows which schools she wants to apply to. Working on grants has been a particularly useful skill. I am learning to communicate program objectives, missions, and implementation practices while given limited word counts. This has helped me to write more concisely and directly, which will improve my writing in college and beyond. Additionally, grant writing experience will help me when I enter the professional world, as some special education programs and curricula require grant funding if schools are unable to provide funds in their budgets. 

Overall, this internship has been an exciting experience. I have been able to interact with students and provide them with a community comprised of fellow peers and mentors during this period of social isolation. For the next few weeks, I hope to focus on helping the first-generation college applicants get at the heart of their story and convey it in a way that helps admissions counselors better understand them. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with students and help them through this often stressful and confusing experience

Journal Entry #3

I am entering the final two weeks of my internship with Rise Together and I am astounded by all the professional skills that I have been able to gain. Going into the internship, I was disappointed because I had intended to work with Rise Together in person until COVID rendered the experience online. However, Rise Together adapted and I have been able to gain a lot of virtual and webinar skills that I may not have gained otherwise. This summer, my primary projects have centered around the new Hoos Rise Together program, which Rise Together built to respond to COVID. 

Looking back, working on the Hoos Rise Together program is the highlight of my internship. I had the privilege of meeting and mentoring 9 first-generation high school seniors who are in the process of applying to college. I helped Rise Together build a curriculum for essay writing/feedback, financial aid help, and social emotional learning. For instance, I led discussions with mentees about stress management and anxiety coping techniques. Also, I aided in recruiting guest speakers from UVA’s career center to help the students learn how to create resumes, prepare for interviews and more. The Hoos Rise Together program also helped me  learn several technical and advertising skills. I have helped edit videos that summarize content for the students and create social media posts to aid in Rise Together’s outreach. Additionally, I have continued to work on grants and website edits for this program. 

In the last few weeks, the focus of Rise Together has started to shift to Fall semester volunteer recruitment planning and figuring out Fall programming for Rise Together given the Charlottesville and Albemarle County school division plans in response to COVID. I have had the privilege of participating on the ground level in brainstorming sessions and approaches to tackling the challenge of mentoring students virtually. While my internship may end, I am excited to continue volunteering and working with Rise Together this upcoming year. I plan to apply the skills I have learned through the Parent’s Fund Internship Grant to my future career as a special educator.