Stories of Summer: MDP students’s 2015 summer practicum interviews

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During the summer between the first and second year of the MDP program, students complete a 10-12 week practicum. The field practicum is the formative development practice experience for MDP students. It provides students with the opportunity to apply inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural problem solving skills outside the classroom in international contexts with local communities, experienced practitioners and teams, representing diverse organizations and institutions, to address important development challenges.

Whitney Turientine; climate change mitigation outreach; Senegal, Tanzania

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Whitney Turientine completed her summer practicum over a 12-week period in both Senegal and Tanzania in 2015. During her first two weeks in Senegal, Whitney spent time learning how the Senegalese Meteorological Agency (ANACIM) and the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) in Senegal were integrating indigenous climate knowledge and scientific climate information together to aid smallholder farmers to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions in the country.

Following the two weeks in Senegal, Whitney then spent 10 weeks in the Arusha province of Tanzania. There she worked as a research associate with CCAFS interviewing agriculture and livestock extension workers who were trained on the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach earlier that year. The PICSA approach is a method that trains extension workers to assist farmers and livestock holders in developing livelihood diversification strategies based on: their own knowledge of their household resources, local weather patterns, participatory budget planning, and climate information services.

From the interviews with local extension workers in the country, Whitney learned many valuable insights on how to improve the coming extension trainings this upcoming year. After her practicum was complete, Whitney was able to draft a detailed report for CCAFS on ways to improve extension worker trainings in the country. Through the practicum experience in both countries, Whitney gained a greater interest in designing and implementing trainings for development professionals.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: One of the most challenging parts was filtering out the information I was gathering during my interviews. It was hard trying to adjust my questions and figure out what people were actually saying. Though at times I felt impatient to simply write down the interview responses, it was much more valuable to observe and understand the reality of what people were telling me in the interviews.

Q: What was the most powerful moment?

A: For me, there were many moments throughout the practicum that were powerful. One in particular was when people in the community I worked in began to see the value of my work and when I began to receive positive feedback from them. It felt good to hear their feedback on ways to improve the trainings that were conducted prior to my arrival. Another powerful experience for me was making friendships with people in my surrounding community. These friendships were extremely important for me because, at times, I felt like a lone ranger because I didn’t have a direct office or co-workers to collaborate with on a daily basis.

Q: How will you apply this experience to your future career?

A: I’m hoping to show through this experience that I can work in an organization with multiple stakeholders. My program was funded through many different organizations and it made me realize the importance of being able to work effectively with each stakeholder to understand and manage their expectations. I’ve also learned that although working as a consultant has its perks, I am more interested in working as a development professional with a singular organization full-time. My interests in gender and development, food security, and Sub-Saharan Africa remain the same.

Q: How was your overall living experience?

A: My overall living experience was great! It’s important to know that this wasn’t my first time living in the country. During my practicum, I lived with a woman named Lilian who is really close friends to a lady in Arusha that I consider to be like an Aunt. I lived in a typical, Tanzanian family compound and had my own room. I felt very safe and that people were looking out for me all the time. The water supply was intermittent towards the final weeks of my stay. My hostmom and I both were beyond fed up after seven days of no running water in the house! We later found out that the nearby road construction had impacted the water supply. Other than that, my stay with my host can be characterized in two words: just fine. Plus, I got to brush up on my Swahili!

 

Gabriela Polo; analysis of legal framework and extension with oyster farmer group; Costa Rica

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Gabriela Polo completed her 9 week practicum in both San Jose and Isla Chira, Costa Rica. Gabriela was part of a joint program with the law school at UF that lasted a month. The program focused on the analysis of the legal and regulatory framework for aquaculture and specifically oyster farming in Costa Rica. Then after the four week course, Gabriela went and completed her practicum for another five weeks with a group of primarily women oyster farmers. Her site was Isla Chira, an island located on one of Costa Rica’s largest gulfs, Icoya. Once Gabriela arrived on site, she completed participant observation and interviews and found out about some of the specific challenges the community was facing. Gabriela used all the information she gathered and created a situational analysis and put together recommendations to give to the oyster farmers and some organizations that were collaborating with them.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: I had no idea what I was getting into. I grew up in big cities and it was challenging living in a rural setting. It was very hot, rural, low income, and therefore not a lot of infrastructure. It was also the most rewarding because the community and the people who lived there were amazing. I built some great relationships with the people who were there. Nine of the 12 oyster farmers were women and I think it really helped that I could speak Spanish because I am Ecuadorian but I was also foreign so we could bond over similarities and differences. Time constraints were also challenging because I felt like I couldn’t give them my all due to the limited time.

Q: What was the most powerful moment?

A: It was a hot day and I had just finished helping the group of oyster farmers clean their catch. We were sitting under the mango trees cooling off and a monkey came onto the tree and started picking off the mangos and I had a moment of shock and beauty of the whole situation. That is when it hit me of what a beautiful place it was despite the heat and harder living conditions. It was a truly valuable moment for me of when I was able to reflect on what an amazing experience I was having. This moment changed my perspective on my experience.

Another moment that made me quickly appreciate the people around me is when I was stung by a scorpion. When I was stung, the entire community wanted to know that I was ok and that made me feel part of the community. The community during my practicum was amazing and made the experience.

Q: How will you apply this experience to your future career?

A: Having this on-the-ground experience of living with a community and being able to apply the field skills I learned such as participant observations and interviews I think will be very useful for a career. A dream job of mine would be to work at an organization similar to the World Resource Institute focused in urban areas. I’m very open though, for example, my field practicum was supposed to be a very different topic but I’m so happy it turned out the way it did. I’ve learned that flexibility is very valuable and this program and my practicum have showed me that.

Q: How was your overall living experience?

A: The first four weeks we were In San Jose in a large house that was designed for students. Then after that on Isla Chira, I was with a host family with two parents and four children. They gave me a room in the house which was half cement and half wood. Transportation to the island was also very challenging. From the closest city it was an hour and a half bus ride, followed by a long walk down to the boating outpost, then I had to take a boat for another hour and a half, and last take a bus for another 45 minutes. For water resources there was a rainwater catchment tank and there was a small tube for running water for a shower. I had very little internet and unfortunately I was sick a lot from allergy issues.

 

Jessica Horwood; small business capacity building; South Africa

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Jessica Horwood’s practicum was a total of 10 weeks based in Cape Town, South Africa and was part of a study abroad program from UF which is run out of the Warrington Business School called Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa (EESA). In the program Jessica was trained to be a consultant and then completed consultation work with small business owners using a mix of theory and practice which took place over the first six weeks. The first week before the program began, Jessica was able to select the clients that would be consulted and identified the stakeholders. In the last three weeks, Jessica worked on implementing a tracking system so that when the consulting work was done with the clients, Jessica and her coworkers could see if the clients were progressing and see any challenges the clients wanted to voice. The tracking system was intended mainly for use by EESA which wanted to know if their services were useful or impactful.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: The most challenging aspect for me was that I was working in a field that I knew very little about. I had never taken a business course and all of sudden I was a business consultant, so ethically I felt a bit strange working with real business owners. It was hard because business wasn’t a passion of mine so I felt a little resistant about getting my head around it. Each group of consultants had 2 clients each. My team had a woman who started an Ecucare center which is a daycare and preschool combined.  Three male clients were graphic designers who designed clothing locally and did a lot of branding for corporate identities. I think the reason I chose to focus on entrepreneurship is that I I’m passionate about economic empowerment. I like the idea of building people up locally so that they can support themselves and not being dependent on foreign projects or foreign aid. The technical part of it is hard for me due to my lack of background.

Q: What was the most powerful moment?

A: I think I enjoyed the final three weeks after the program ended when everyone else went home and I was just left there on my own to follow up with clients that we had been working with. I felt I was connecting with clients on a different level. Less of a consultant or professional and more as a human being interested in how they are doing. The things that came out of the interviews I had with the clients were kind of remarkable and spoke to how they are as entrepreneurs and inspiring individuals. Many of them came out of poverty and did something remarkable with their lives. I was really inspired by it and I was encouraged by their receptiveness of the EESA program. I think when you are participating in the program you don’t really take a step back and reflect on the impact that you are making and to have the opportunity to ask them about their experiences with EESA was very encouraging and beneficial for them.

Q: How do you see yourself applying this to your future career?

A: I would ideally work for an organization that focuses on empowering people to solve their own problems locally. There are a lot of organizations that deal with leadership development competency building that I would be interested in working for. I don’t know if I coud be a busniess consultant but I know I’m still inspired by that field of capacity building and leadership development.

Q: How was your overall living experience and the relationships you made?

A: It was good, I had a cushy deal. I was in Cape town which was a lovely city. There are mountains and beaches. I didn’t feel like I had a hardship. I hadto keep reminding myself I was in Africa. I was living at the university for the first seven weeks with a typical dorm. The final three weeks I was living at a shelter for abused women and children. There was a separate apartment connected to the shelter. It had nothing to do with the practicum it was just a place for me to stay. but I loved it. It added another component because I would eat with these victimized women every night and hear crazy stories for example how they had been trafficked to Cape Town from Botswana.

The first seven weeks were difficult because I was working with other consultants who were American undergraduates. I built some good relations with them but I wasn’t really interested in making close friendships with other Americans. I was working out of an entrepreneurship hub where entrepreneurs could come in and get free desk space. and so I got to work out of that office during the final three weeks which was fun. I never felt lonely. Even culturally it was a very familiar culture to me due to growing up in parts of Africa.

 

Benjamin Christ; community-based social marketing promoting forest conservation; Brazil

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Benjamin Christ completed an extended field practicum in Nazaré Paulista, a rural community near São Paulo, Brazil. Throughout his seven-month stay, he collaborated with colleagues from IPÊ—Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas to apply aspects of Community-based Social Marketing, leading to a better understanding of rural producers’ participation in Atlantic Forest restoration programs around the Cantareira Reservoir System. Ben utilized surveys and focus groups to identify barriers and benefits to such participation, and worked with IPÊ’s environmental educators and extensionists to adapt an existing program to rural producers’ needs. His collaboration with IPÊ also involved providing translation of materials for publication, assisting with the implementation of various projects, and serving as a Teaching Assistant for Columbia University’s Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates course. Ben’s practicum was partially funded through UF’s Tropical Conservation and Development Practitioner Grant program.

Q: What was the most challenging part?

A: The most challenging part of my field practicum was staying focused when surrounded by so many exciting opportunities to participate in IPÊ’s projects. However, I eventually realized that participating in related activities only enhanced my core practicum experience, and managed to strike a balance that made my stay at IPÊ truly unforgettable.

Q: What was the most powerful moment?

A: One of the best moments during my field practicum was when I was able to apply skills that I learned throughout the implementation of my survey to assist with the creation of a new initiative at IPÊ aiming to improve economic opportunities for women in the Nazaré Paulista community. It was the moment that I truly felt like part of the IPÊ team.

Q: How do you see yourself applying this to your future career?

A: My work with IPÊ and the rural producers of Nazaré Paulista only reinforced my desire to work within the “sweet spot” linking society to the environment. I came to understand the importance of empathy when working with potential participants of restoration programs, for example, and that taking the time to listen to their needs and concerns can positively influence their desire to make necessary changes on their lands.

Q: How was your overall living experience and the relationships you made?

A: Living on the IPÊ campus fell somewhere in the happy medium between staying at an all-inclusive rainforest resort and camping in the middle of nowhere. The organization’s kitchen staff kept all of us well fed, and my evenings often consisted of socializing with the students of IPÊ’s Masters and MBA programs. The recently constructed dormitories were very comfortable, but I soon learned to never open my room’s door with the lights on at night, or every insect of the Atlantic Forest would invade my living space. The long and winding dirt road that led to IPÊ’s main gates always reminded me of how separated I was from urban living, despite being a mere hour from the booming capital of São Paulo. Of course there were minor inconveniences, such as a rampant stomach virus and a horrific thunderstorm that shut down IPÊ for three days. However, I really cannot complain…living and working at IPÊ was an incredible experience.

 

Matt Anderson and Irving Chan; assessment of sustainability in company culture; Colombia

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Matt Anderson and Irving Chan completed their summer practicum over 11 weeks in Bogotá, Colombia. The practicum was based working with the international SABMiller Brewing Company. The two worked with the company’s Colombian brewery called Bavaria. For the practicum, Matt and Irving worked on improving the company’s sustainability program that was a few years old and assessed how well it had been integrated into the company’s culture.  A target goal was to look at middle management and general employees and see if sustainability and its importance was being perceived by company personnel.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the practicum?

A:  The most challenging part was group dynamics because we were working in a group of four people from other universities. It was very challenging coordinating before the practicum. There was some communication but not a lot. The most difficult part was dealing with people’s personalities and characteristics along with different ideas and different levels of commitment. It was hard to manage team dynamics especially when we didn’t know our teammates and had never met them before. We had a good relationship with project counterparts though and the many stakeholders.

Q: What was the most powerful moment?

A: Irving: We were working with middle management, general employees, and directors of the plants; however, the majority of our time was spent at the headquarters office. We had the opportunity to visit five plant operations including three breweries, one labeling branch, and headquarters. We interviewed a plant manager who explained how the real resistance of sustainability is in middle management not with employees. He explained how the incorporation of sustainability needs to be focused at the management level in order to reach the employees which was very eye-opening.

Another moment was when a director was honest about middle managers. Most middle managers would say the company cares and we care, but this director had the backbone to say “As of now we are not at the level the media wants us to be at. We just do this because we have to.” For me it was a lot of reality checks. What gave me hope was that they knew the realities and it was a matter of addressing the problem.

Matt: Going to the Barranquilla plant after we had been at the main plant in Bogotá was powerful for me. Everyone said that it would be totally different and interesting to see the difference in culture and the plant highlighted the understanding of what people perceived as as important. Even though different people had warned us that it was in a poorer area and perhaps less high standards at the plant, it had a better understanding of sustainability.

Irving: As Matt was saying, of the 10 different breweries in the country, Barranquilla was the lowest performer. When talking to manager before we left, he said it’s going to be hard and tough at this plant. Yes we could see absolute differences such as it was in the center of a slum with 20-30 foot stone walls surrounding the entire operation. It was shocking that the employees understood social and environmental responsibility better than the best plants.

Q: How do you see this applying to future careers?

A: Matt: It made me very interested to work in the Corporate Social Responsibility realm. It made me more aware and less judgmental of corporations. Not that I think that corporations are perfect but I think as far as sustainability, there is room to improve their operations and our benefitting from it.

Irving: I also want to get into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  SABMiller is the largest brewing operation in the world and when you look at the company’s sustainability report, you will have that insider’s perspective. There are hundreds of pages of CSR reports and it turns out really only two people are working on CSR at the entire company. Then you realize the work is being done but the way it is being done is hard because there is not enough communication. Having that insider perspective made me aware there is a whole lot to do to improve CSR.

Q: How was your overall living experience?

A: The hardest part was living with our group in our apartment. We had a three bedroom apartment and we intended to rotate through the bedrooms so everyone had a chance for a time to have their own room, however, that did not work out as planned. Bogotá was huge and we enjoyed the aspects that the city had to offer. Otherwise we luckily did not suffer from illness or injury.

 

Kristen Marks; leadership development training for at-risk young women; India

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Kristen Marks completed her summer practicum in Goa, India, where she did leadership development training with young women between the ages of 15-26 who were at risk of sex trafficking. Kristen partnered with an anti-trafficking organization, Rahab’s Rope, and worked at their stitching center, a place where young women could go to learn viable life options outside of the sex trade. Kristen’s main responsibilities included creating curriculum, leading weekly workshops, and evaluating the leadership training. The workshops included topics of leadership skills, working with others, having goals, healthy body image, and self-esteem.

Q: What was the most challenging part about the practicum?

A: I loved it, but it was incredibly challenging. Many of the girls are not very receptive of outsiders, and it took roughly five weeks to establish trust and form relationships before I worked with the girls in the training sessions.

Q: What was the most powerful moment during your practicum?

A: The most powerful moment for me happened during the last training session with the girls when we talked about their goals and dreams for the future. Hearing every girl’s dream was so inspirational. One girl wanted to be a teacher while another wanted to save up enough money to fly on a plane. Hearing these dreams and being able to internalize them brought tears to my eyes. I desperately want them to reach their goals. They are all so wonderful, smart and beautiful. Throughout the practicum, the girls called me “poggle” which means “crazy” in Hindi. It meant the world for them to accept this “poggle” American, and I’m incredibly thankful for the relationships that were built with the girls.

Q: How will you apply this experience to your future career?

A: I believe that lasting change in a country occurs through reaching its young people. Youth leadership development is where my heart is and what I want to continue to work in. People always says that the youth are the future leaders, but you can’t tell the youth they are significant without giving them the chance to be significant.

Q: How was your overall living experience:

A: For 11 weeks I lived in Goa, a major tourist destination in India full of beautiful beaches. The first half of the summer, it was ridiculously hot. By the end of the summer, I was sleeping with three fans constantly blowing on me and I was still sweating! The second half of the summer was monsoon season so it rained constantly and nothing really ever dried. My passport even molded! Though the culture shock was not a big deal for me, there are aspects of India that puzzle me, and I still have a hard time grasping some social concepts like the caste system.

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