15:43 PM

Summer Institute supports international students financially, professionally

International students at University of Houston-Clear Lake found themselves in a particularly difficult position during the COVID-19 pandemic. For most of them, securing a paid internship was an integral part of their studies. But after sweeping closures went into effect, Associate Vice President of Global Learning and Strategy Gigi Do and her colleagues came up with a plan to ensure students' internship experiences went forward.

"This is the second year we have done a virtual Summer Institute, with the idea being spawned during the beginning of the pandemic," Do said. "Through internship funding secured with the help of President Ira K. Blake and the Office of Strategic Partnerships, we made sure international students — who were isolated, financially strapped and stranded because of travel restrictions — were still offered paid virtual internships."

Do said that in 2020, despite the onset of the pandemic, 62 international students had been able to earn $1,500-stipends and enhance their resumes with internship experiences in the two-month-long Summer Institute.

"We put the Summer Institute together, partnering with faculty and outside employers, and gave students professional training skills sets like resume writing and job interviewing. It was so successful, we are repeating it this year," she said.

The 2021 Summer Institute is even more impactful, she said. "We have about 20 interns who are working with our partner universities and nonprofit organizations as well as the UH-Clear Lake's Diplomacy Institute and other offices within the university."

Do said that the stipends were slightly higher this year, and that UHCL's Summer Institute was unique in the area and was the result of the necessity to create an opportunity for students.

"How do you make something that is an unfortunate situation like the pandemic, and turn it into something useful?" she said. "Through the development of the Summer Institute, I learned the need to partner and have strong community outreach to keep students engaged throughout the isolation of the pandemic, and I believe we were able to achieve that for our international student population."

The students' Summer Institute programming, chaired by International Admissions and Student Services Director Johna McClendon, combined the highlights of last year's professional development opportunities and interaction with professional presenters, and incorporated a new element — a capstone course.

"The Global Citizenship Credential Course, created in coordination with the College of Education and taught by (Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership) Jennifer Grace, focuses on building global citizens," McClendon said.

Grace, whose areas of research expertise include equity focused leadership and racism in education, said she hoped the students would walk away with an understanding of positionality.

"That means, we explore how social position based on race, gender, social class, abilities, nationality etc. shapes identity and access for themselves and others," she said. "Through developing self-awareness, other awareness and cultural knowledge, we begin to see each other more accurately and can more readily engage in a meaningful way with those who bring a different lived experience, worldview, and values."

She added that this awareness was the foundation of creating and sustaining inclusivity and addressing inequities globally.

McClendon explained that five days a week, students were engaging with their internships, two days a week they're working on their capstone class. Fridays, they have a professional development experience with a keynote speaker, such as a global UHCL alumnus or a campus partner.

"It all makes makes for a very robust experience for students," she said.

This year, the internships and programming expanded through the oversight of an advisory committee, made up of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, division business administrators, the Office of Global Learning and Strategy, the Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and faculty.

"You have to find solutions quickly in a crisis situation," Do said. "We had to find support for our international students. A lot of financial assistance did not come because of bank shutdowns around the world, so these paid internships were a godsend. We'll make sure it continues. The participants have said this experience has enhanced their studies and their future."

For more information about UHCL's Summer Institute, go online.