Working with community partner Elkhart Community Schools (ECS), local students analyzed the barriers between students in Elkhart county and internships. The issue of internship accessibility is substantial in our area and makes it difficult for students to be able to take advantage of local opportunities.
Leslie Ortega (Goshen College ‘24), Ashley Dixon (Elkhart High School ‘24), and Kara Lax (Elkhart High School ‘24) teamed up to take on the Internship Accessibility project in Elkhart, guided by project mentor and Principal of the School of Natural Resources at Elkhart High School (EHS), David Bird.
One of the major barriers between students and internships is access to transportation. Internship Program Manager-Elkhart, Madison Ward explained, “Many of our applicants don’t have a car or a license and that makes getting to the internship difficult or impossible, leading to some students being unable to take on the internship. Also, the fact that the public transportation in our area can take such a long time doesn't make it a viable option for most students in Elkhart.”
The team sent out three surveys; an “internship accessibility transportation survey” specifically to intern groups (including CCI, enFocus, and Lift Network interns), a general “access to internships survey” to Elkhart High School juniors and seniors, and a “trolley/transportation survey” to trolley riders in Elkhart. For the trolley survey, the students partnered with MACOG (Michiana Area Council of Governments) to collect feedback from riders for the Trolley system.
Based on the first two survey results, a number of intern and student respondents said that they would not consider using public transportation/the trolley because of route accessibility to their home/work, amount of travel time, frequency of the pickups/drop offs, as well as convenience and efficiency. This issue impacts a majority of interns, especially since 72.5% of the surveyed high school students said they would prefer an in-person internship over hybrid or virtual. Another important takeaway from the high school survey is that 52.5% of those surveyed said that another job is preventing them from taking on an internship, and students rated ‘responsibilities at home’ a 4 out of 5, signifying another prevention to taking up internship opportunities.
Intern Ashley Dixon said, “Being able to see first hand how, if one part of a community is disconnected, it can end up leading to community members feeling forgotten and unheard. It was really nice to be able to try and give some of these community members a voice and talk to them one on one to make sure they knew they were being heard. That in itself, along with some of the new people I met, made this internship fun and a wonderful experience.”
The outcomes of the project included a report from the three surveys. The team also delivered a written transportation proposal to MACOG based on the survey data they collected. The team met with the South Bend Bike Garage and discussed ECS providing bicycles at the high school that students could potentially use for internship transportation needs. Finally, the team started a connection between 160 Driving Academy and ECS to begin a Commercial Driver’s License Program within the school. The 160 Driving Academy has been reaching out to help find the grant funding they will need to make this connection within the school.
For more information on other summer projects with the Center for Civic Innovation Summer Internship Program, visit https://civicinnovation.nd.edu/news/.