Students at Washington Community Scholars' Center in spring 2022 include, from left, back: Noah Robinson, Jake Kiger, Ethan Ball, Jeremiah Yoder, Blake Schaar, Cassidy Bush, Allison Shelly, Navy Widyani, Stephanie Sesvold, Andrea Deeds, Paige Hurley, Sara Poiry, Karen Valdez, Justine Lesniewski, and Celesta Hartman. (Photo by Jamie Reich)

WCSC hosts 15 this spring for DC internships

From assisting DC’s own public defender service to podcast production for a prominent video production company, 15 students are gaining professional experience this semester at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center (WCSC). The center, located in the nation’s capital since 1976, is a program of Eastern Mennonite University.

These 15 students, including five from Bluffton University and one from Viterbo University, are living and working in Washington DC in a range of professional internships in fields from youth work to immigration services.

The semester-long experience is also a “community-building endeavor,” with students living together in the Nelson Good House in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington DC. They explore Washington’s cultural and historic attractions, and learn about urban issues such as gentrification.

This semester’s placements include several organizations that are long-time hosts of EMU students, highlighting WCSC’s deep ties within the region. Many alumni can trace their careers back to a pivotal experience at WCSC. 

Read more about WCSC success! Grads Tessa Waidelich and Terry Jones find full-time work after their internships.

Read on to learn more about the students, their placements and the organizations they are involved with. 

Ethan Ball, an engineering major from Poland, Ohio, is with Shapiro & Duncan working on an introductory project to design an HVAC system for the engineering office space.

Cassidy Bush, a social work major from Bluffton, Ohio, is interning at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). She is working on coordinating a tutoring program there and will mentor teens coming into the center. LAYC provides services to youth such as safe housing, food, mental health, and virtual learning opportunities.

Andrea Deeds, a sociology major from Ruckersville, Virginia, is with the Sitar Arts Center, an organization that offers after-school, Saturday, and summer arts education programs. She helps the instructors provide students with creative learning opportunities such as rehearsing for and performing in theater shows, dances, and art showcases.

Celesta Hartman, a psychology major at Bluffton University from Lima, Ohio, is interning with the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives. She goes through meeting minutes, faculty and staff information, classes, and more from when the school was in operation with the goal of staging an exhibit. The Charles Sumner School, established in 1872, was one of the earliest schools for African Americans in Washington DC.

Paige Hurley, a political science and history major from Franklin, Tennessee, is interning at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is working on proofreading and application reading, and goes over weekly projects such as preparing for the 2023 Folklife Festival. [Read an article about a past intern with the Smithsonian.]

Jake Kiger, a psychology and criminal justice major at Bluffton University from Columbus, Ohio, is at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, assisting public defenders in their duties. This ranges from paperwork and attending meetings to going out into the community to interview possible witnesses of a crime.

Justine Lesniewski, a psychology and criminal justice major at Bluffton University from Mantua, Ohio, is working with the Hyattsville Police Department and the Greenbelt Police Department. With the Hyattsville PD, she is helping to develop a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The program will help train officers in how to properly respond to mental health behavior situations. With the Greenbelt PD, she is learning about lines of communication from within the department to the community.

Sara Poiry, a graphic design major at Bluffton University from Graytown, Ohio, is with Washington Digital Media. Alongside several other small projects, she is first working to get a streaming podcast up and running.

Noah Robinson III, a psychology and criminal justice major at Bluffton University from Urbana, Ohio , is with Voices for a Second Chance (VSC). VSC supports incarcerated and newly-released individuals in their transition back to the community and reunification with their families.

Blake Schaar, a political science and economics major from Orange, Virginia, is with the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development. He is helping create a dynamic online dashboard of access to capital resources for DC businesses, assisting applicants with their application preparation, and creating a roadmap for financial management best practices for micro businesses.

Stephanie Sesvold, an ethics, culture, and society major at Viterbo University from West Salem, Wisconsin, is working with DC Jobs with Justice to advocate for proper wages and better working conditions for tipped workers in the Washington DC area. She  assists in conducting research, organizing events, and targeting specific businesses in the area.

Allison Shelly, a political science major from Collinsville, Mississippi, is with Congregation Action Network (CAN), an organizing network of congregations that provide support to those who fear being detained or deported. She helps CAN in their efforts to restructure as an organization, lobby for immigration policy to be included in the Build Back Better Act, and to plan a national forum in DC for all Faith in Action federations.

Karen Valdez, a political science, global development and peacebuilding major from Harrisonburg, Virginia, is with CASA. She works on tracking House and Senate bills that pertain to immigration, healthcare, police reform, and tenant rights for undocumented Marylanders. CASA provides critical services to immigrant and working-class families, and advocates for their rights.

Navy Widyani, a political science major from Jakarta, Indonesia, is interning with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington Office. She assists MCC in asking congress to address environmental justice, build global resilience to climate change, and provide constituents with educational resources on environmental justice and climate change.

Jeremiah Yoder, a math major from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is working with L’Arche Greater Washington DC, an organization that provides housing, support, and care for adults with intellectual disabilities. He works directly with one of the core members, helping him accomplish goals, have engaging experiences, and assisting his navigation of day-to-day life.

Jamie Reich, WCSC’s associate director of communications and retention, and Kate Szambecki, content writer, collaborated on this article.