Innovative internship program pairs Elon students with local nonprofits, businesses

Elon Interns Advance Alamance is providing students professional experience this summer with community organizations and business while offering support to the local community.

A unique partnership is providing 14 Elon students with valuable internship opportunities and professional experience in Alamance County this summer.

The pilot program, Elon Interns Advance Alamance, is helping meet the personnel needs of local organizations and business while providing Elon students with the opportunity to develop career skills and explore potential career paths. Through the eight-week program that runs through the end of July, students have been working at 13 companies and organizations in the community, with the students also participating in weekly professional development sessions as a group.

Robin Kazmarek, Director of Internships, Elon College, The College of Arts and Sciences

The program comes at a time when many organizations are having difficulty filling vacant positions and internship opportunities for students are shifting. Robin Kazmarek, director of internships for Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, says the program is also providing participating students a unique opportunity to learn more about the local community.

“The idea is to try to meet the needs of our community partners while also giving our students a chance to start seeing Alamance County as a place to live and pursue a career after graduation,” Kazmarek says.

Integral to the program are the deep connections with the community of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, which helped identify organizations in a position to provide the summer internships. For-profit businesses were also invited to participate in the Elon Interns Advance, with students working in a variety of roles with organizations including Chandler Concrete, TS Designs, the City of Burlington, Burlington Animal Services, Alamance Arts and Milestone Wealth Partners, to name a few.

Bob Frigo, director of Elon’s Kernodle Center for Civic Life, said that the program strengthens the relationships Elon has with its partners in the nonprofit and business communities while helping students build new connections off campus. “Elon Interns Advance Alamance builds on the spirit of collaboration and service that fuels our relationships with community partners,” Frigo said.

Among this summer’s interns is Sierra Alizzeo ’22, who is studying psychology and human service studies with plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work after she graduates from Elon. This summer, she has been working with the City of Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Office as a park and play coordinator.

Sierra Alizzeo ’22 is driving the department’s mobile recreation “Park and Play” van into Burlington neighborhoods to play with children who may not have access to the local parks. Here she plays with children in Joe C. Davidson Park in Burlington.

In her role, she visits six local sites each week with the office’s Park and Play mobile recreation van that supplements programming at the city’s parks and takes recreational activities to those neighborhoods that don’t have easy access to recreation opportunities. She learned about the internship opportunity through the Elon Jobs Network and saw it as an opportunity to connect with the community while exploring interests related to her studies and career goals.

“I have always been passionate about helping others and working with underprivileged groups,” Alizzeo said. “This intern position has allowed me to expand my education and awareness, utilize my human services skills and create positive change in the community.”

Melissa Hoose, recreation supervisor of community and outdoor programs for the city’s Recreation and Parks Office, said Alizzeo has helped meet a need this summer by offering assistance when resources are scarce. “What’s great about this internship program is our budget has been very tight since the pandemic began,” Hoose said. “Having Elon support these internships to help us serve the community has been so helpful. We’ve been able to serve more in the community and provide more activities in these neighborhoods.”

Being able to see the direct impact the Recreation and Parks Office is having upon local children has been particularly rewarding, Alizzeo said. It’s also offered her the opportunity to learn more about Burlington and Alamance County. She believes it is important for community engagement to be an integral part of the Elon experience, and she hopes that sharing about her experience will increase awareness.

This position has allowed me to expand my knowledge and awareness of the Burlington area in ways that may not have been possible for me before.

— Sierra Alizzeo ’22

“This position has allowed me to expand my knowledge and awareness of the Burlington area in ways that may not have been possible for me before,” Alizzeo said. “As an Elon student, it can be very easy and comfortable to stay within our beautiful campus’s ‘bubble,’ but there is such a need for community engagement in our area.”

Coupled with the time these Elon students are spending with their organization or business have been weekly professional development sessions. The cohort of interns has gathered each Tuesday for a variety of programs led by Elon staff members and focused on helping them develop their career skills. Kazmarek said topics have includes resume writing, finding a career path and how emotional intelligence supports career development.

“We built these intentionally so that they are in line with what the student may be doing or experiencing at that point in their internship,” Kazmarek said.

Kazmarek says the new relationships between these students and their internship hosts could lead to future opportunities. “It’s a great benefit for these students to have established relationships that may lead to additional opportunities in the future,” she adds. “This definitely helps develop the pipeline.”

That’s the case with Alizzeo, who will be working part time this fall with the Recreation and Parks Office as part of the Park and Play program as well as other programming areas.

“My internship has been tremendously valuable in confirming my passion for human services work and the diverse roles I hope to have in my future careers,” said Alizzeo, who plans to become a licensed clinical social worker.