A Practicum That Makes A Difference

July 14th, 2016   |   SIT Graduate Institute

Meet SIT students Stephanie Pena and Lindsey Miller-Voss

When Stephanie Pena and Lindsey Miller-Voss began graduate school at SIT in Washington, DC, five months ago, they didn’t know their MA program would lead them to India.

Both came to SIT with international development experience—Stephanie having recently returned from Peace Corps service in Zambia and Lindsey having recently taught in rural Mexico. Both students possessed a strong desire to learn even more about the inner workings and background of development projects.

SIT’s accelerated one-year MA in Sustainable Development program seemed like just the right place for them to build this skill set while having the opportunity to pursue areas of interest that most appealed to them. For Stephanie, this meant choosing monitoring and evaluation as a specialization track as part of her master’s; for Lindsey, it meant focusing on social innovation. Both students are also pursuing their interests in policy advocacy, as part of their program.

For Lindsey and Stephanie, the most appealing part of studying with SIT in DC was the program’s four-month practicum period. According to Lindsey, “The practicum promised to be the perfect opportunity for practicing the theory we learned in our fall courses while advancing our knowledge through experiential learning.”

During the intensive practicum application period, Lindsey and Stephanie were drawn to the Shreyas Foundation, based in Ahmedabad, India. The foundation is a holistic, Montessori school serving more than 1,000 children annually. It’s situated on a 28-acre natural campus within the city of Ahmedabad. According to Lindsey and Stephanie, it is both a literal and figurative oasis within the city.

While the successes of the school are many, the program that brought Stephanie and Lindsey to the Shreyas Foundation is the school’s Girl Child Education Fund. The fund provides scholarships to girls from the most disadvantaged slum communities in the neighborhoods surrounding the school. For the past five years, the school has been bearing the majority of the cost of this ever growing scholarship fund. The foundation was looking for ways to spread the word about the organization, fund the scholarship program, and build a long-term network of support for the girls’ educations.

That’s where Stephanie and Lindsey came in. Their practicum presented the opportunity for them to partner with school employees and outside consultants to launch a fundraising campaign to fully support the cost of the girls’ tuition.

Lindsey explains, “I was asked to come work on this because of my experience with marketing and branding in the business world; Stephanie was asked because of her experience with education programs. We were both thrilled that the practicum presented a way for us to take our prior experiences and combine them in a new way.”

The first two weeks of the practicum period were hectic and filled with challenges, particularly those associated with working on a multicultural team: these included language barriers, balancing different communication styles, and the need to use gestural cues in new ways. As Lindsey describes, “Stephanie and I had to learn how to balance our personal ‘get it done’ attitude with the more personal, reflective communication style of India.”

Together, Lindsey, Stephanie, and their team were able to successfully plan a campaign, work with a film crew to create a campaign video, and design and launch the campaign’s website. They also attended numerous meetings and conducted extensive event planning. “Of course, the most rewarding part,” says Lindsey, “was getting to know the girls who will benefit from the scholarship program.”

Lindsey is now back in Washington, DC, where she is working to further the fundraising campaign through a variety of methods including hosting DC-based events, meeting with donor organizations, and promoting the campaign on social media. Stephanie remains in India where she is hosting events on the school’s campus, meeting with corporate-level donors, pursuing advertising opportunities, and providing administrative support.

Lindsey and Stephanie’s practicum has presented amazing challenges and opportunities for both students. Right now, they’re looking forward to seeing the long-term impact of the school’s scholarship program. In Lindsey’s words, “An internship like this is a chance to make a very real difference in the life of a girl, which in turn has the ability to impact her family, her community, her country, and the world.”

Want to learn more about what Lindsey and Stephanie are up to? Visit the Girl Child Education Fund Facebook page.

Visit the campaign’s page. 

Learn more about the Shreyas Foundation. The foundation’s educational approach builds on Gandhian philosophy, which emphasizes lifelong learning. The foundation has hosted SIT practicum students—from both SIT’s Vermont and Washington, DC, sustainable development programs—for more than five years, giving students the chance to work on innovative education and global partnership projects.