There has been no summer break for four Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) students who are wrapping up their work this week as paid summer interns through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) National Internship Program.
Axis Avalos, Daisy Cisneros, Nidia Lopez Estrada and Geanne Valdez were among the more than 200 students who began their internships June 1. Now, those summer assignments are coming to a close Aug. 10.
Since 1992 the HACU National Internship Program (HNIP) has recruited college students for paid summer- and semester-long internships at federal agencies and private corporations in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. These 10- to 15-week internship programs give college students direct experience in a diverse array of careers in the federal and corporate sectors.
All four CSULB students have been serving their internships with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in different parts of the country. Avalos and Cisneros are interns in VA medical centers in California while Lopez Estrada is working in a VA office in Washington, D.C., and Valdez at a medical center in New York.
“What really drew me into this internship program was its partnerships with federal agencies, especially the VA,” said Valdez, 22, a senior majoring in health care administration who will complete her degree in December. “Being a health care administration major, I thought this would be the perfect place to intern and get real experience working in the health care field. I wanted to learn about the VA, its services and shadow the health care experts.
She admitted, however, that the move from Long Beach to Canandaigua, N.Y., was a real eye-opener. Previously, she had only been to New York City, but this internship was in rural upstate New York.
“It was definitely a culture shock because I was out in the country in a town with a population of 11,000. I had no car, and the nearest Starbucks was like three miles away, which is far if you are walking,” she pointed out. “It was difficult adjusting and I definitely missed home, family and friends, but I knew this was an opportunity I had to take to help further my educational and career goals.”
Valdez noted that her day starts at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. She described each day as different because she has been assigned different projects. One of those projects is to research better ways to train and supervise peer support specialists, and the other is to research best practices in rural health care delivery.
“I've also been working with the behavioral health team in implementing a mobile unit into rural areas for health care delivery,” she said. “So some days, I utilize online resources for my projects and attend webinars. Other days, I would meet with supervisors, program coordinators and other necessary people to help me with my research. I’ve also held a focus group with peer specialists to get their feedback as well as attend a peer support group to further gain knowledge.”
Cisneros has been working in the VA Hospital of Greater Los Angeles (GLA). Her typical day consists of working in the Systems Redesign Interactive Learning Center. Systems Redesign (SR) is a method that makes process improvements, and the purpose of SR is to ensure that all VA employees know their work processes and can help make a difference at GLA and the veterans it serves.
“The types of job responsibilities I have been performing are facilitating Rapid Process Improvement Workshops and coaching VA employees with individual projects,” said Cisneros, a graduate student majoring in dual language development. “I am also working with the Employee Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program, specifically with the Wellness Committee, where I am working on writing the policy and orientation packet for the new Employee Fitness Center.
She also has been working with a dietitian/Chief of Canteen Food and Retail to improve the healthy food options for employees, coaching the Employee Engagement Rapid Improvement Projects for the Community Living Clinic, and giving workshops on employee effective communication skills.
In Washington, D.C., Lopez Estrada has been interning with the VA's Finance Services. This division administers veterans’ benefits such as compensation, pension, fiduciary service and insurance, and she said the experience has been “extraordinary.”
She was featured in this summer’s HACU Intern Newsletter, for which she noted some of the projects she has been assigned. One project has included preparing trend analysis reports and presenting them to the chief financial officer at Office of Resource Management meetings. Developing these reports includes the creation of charts to show the volume of electronic funds transfers, debit card and check payments to veterans; data she described as is crucial.
She also has been monitoring the flow of information from the Veterans Affairs regional offices to the central office and preparing reports from the information received.
“I’ve also had the chance to get some exposure to other areas that my department administers. For example, I recently learned about program oversight and assisted in a program risk evaluation project,” Lopez Estrada wrote in the newsletter. “I have had the opportunity to attend meetings with my supervisor and coworkers, providing me with a deeper understanding of how the VA works and how the division makes decisions on projects and procedures.”
Valdez noted that during her internship experience, the VA and all of it’s staff have shown her what it takes to become health care leaders.
“You have to work as a team and communicate in order to put these services and programs into place for the veterans,” she said. “The behavioral health administrator has shown me that there are always problems and that we have to constantly seek out those problems and fix them. I definitely look up to these program coordinators, supervisors, administrators, doctors, nurses, etc. because they run the show, (and because of them) I know I want to be in the health care field in the future.”
HNIP has placed more than 9,000 college students in rewarding and challenging internships matching their majors and career goals. Interns have enhanced their professional skills through placements in departments of public affairs, accounting, human resources and information technology, as well as laboratories, hospitals, airports, and national forests and parks, among others. Some intern assignments have included completing and analyzing research, writing speeches, conducting audits, performing land surveys, creating web pages, conducting community health surveys and developing outreach strategies for under-served populations.
Participating agencies and corporations hope to increase diversity in their workforce by providing these internships to high-achieving Hispanic students. This creates a pipeline of future employees who have had positive and meaningful work experience.