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Student Success

Six UNC system students learn leadership skills through internship program

What’s the summer like for a Marian Drane Graham Scholarship winner? Very, very busy.

This year’s recipients – selected from the University of North Carolina’s 16 incumbent campuses – spent six weeks working in a state agency, meeting members of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and completing a capstone project for their respective campuses at the end of the program.

The program, which began in 2013, is named for Marian Drane Graham, the wife of former UNC President Frank Porter Graham, who led the University from 1930 to 1949 as the first system president. The program emphasizes leadership and public service, which is why the scholars are assigned to agencies in North Carolina. Students must be rising juniors or seniors, have at least a 3.0 GPA and have a faculty advisor sponsor willing to assist them with the capstone project.

Here are this year’s scholars:

Jane Chiffriller, senior, the University of North Carolina Wilmington

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Jane Chiffriller

Chiffriller, of Richmond, Va., is a philosophy and religion major who interned at the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. She admitted that before she started, she didn’t know much about the department.

“I thought it would be cool to learn about,” she said. “No one in my family has any military affiliation, so the only thing I knew about veterans affairs is what you hear on the news. When I interned, they were in the process of making their budgets, so I learned how important the budgeting process is. Veterans’ cemeteries weren’t being funded, and that directly impacted the families.”

While at the department, Chiffriller handled social media, created a media database and helped with the creation of a veterans resource guide.

“Jane was an absolute joy to work with. She takes direction well, takes the initiative to get the work done,” said Angella Dunston, the department’s director of government relations. “She’s hard working, thorough and extremely professional.”

Chiffriller was able to put her internship to good use when the scholars visited Washington, talking with a Congressional aide about helping veterans gain college credits based on their duties during their time in the military.

“I feel like I gained a better understanding of the federal government in general,” she said. “I saw how our representatives talked with each other about the state, but also represented the country as a whole. It was neat seeing how they handled the big issues that affect the country, and how that would impact the state.”

Chiffriller, who represented UNC Wilmington in the system’s Association of Student Government, applied for the scholarship to learn more about how the UNC system works. She plans on attending law school once she graduates, and is considering becoming a public defender.

Austin Dowdy, senior, the University of North Carolina at Asheville

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Austin DowdyAs a literature major who hopes to teach and become a department chair one day, the North Carolina Community College system was a perfect fit for Dowdy’s internship. The Sanford native already brought with him knowledge of the community college system, having attended an early college high school and taking classes at a community college. Dowdy earned an associate’s degree before attending UNC Asheville.

“I’ve always had an interest in higher education,” he said. “I’ve had a variety of different leadership roles here at UNC Asheville. I was interested in exploring higher education through a wider lens. I knew how things worked at my campus, but I didn’t know how things worked at the state or national level. That really intrigued me.”

As part of his duties, Dowdy assisted in creating the student Leadership Development Program, a summer program that the community college system puts on for students who attend the state’s 58 community colleges.

“He helped me prepare programs for the sessions, set up schedules and coordinated the guest speakers,” said Johnny “JJ” Evans, the associate director of student life success for the system.

Evans said Dowdy brought valuable experience to the internship.

“He espoused to the state board and the system president about how the community college system differs from four-year colleges,” Evans said. “We were able to sit down with him and interview him about his experiences.”

Knowing that Dowdy eventually wants to become the head of an English department, Evans set it up so Dowdy could speak with several department heads throughout the system.

After graduate school, Dowdy said he wants to continue in education.

“I think the scholarship really validated my own interest in pursuing higher education as a career,” he said. “I was also able to learn about some of the challenges facing higher education, recognizing the difficulties for first-generation and early college students – I’m both.”

Dajer Hernandez, senior, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Dajer HernandezA political science major from Fayetteville with a focus on international affairs, Hernandez was well-suited to intern at Go Global NC. Hernandez, the student body president for UNC Pembroke, said the scholarship was an opportunity to learn about how higher education policy affects the UNC system as a whole.

After representing his student body, Hernandez learned about how the University’s administration worked.

“I learned that it’s not so easy to make a change,” he said. “Students want to sometimes see a change happen, but there are so many steps, and people are involved at every level – even the federal level.”

Rachel Page, Go Global NC’s director of data and policy analysis, said Hernandez sat down with her at the beginning of his internship to explore his strengths and interests. One of the areas upon which he focused was policing rural and Latino communities.

“He did a literature review of the best practices in community policing and Latino outreach,” she said. “He compiled 25 peer-reviewed articles about it. We used the information to broach issues of mistrust. He also created a ‘cheat sheet’ for police officers that includes best practices.”

Page said Hernandez pulled information from the U.S. Census to provide them data, broken down by race.

“He was just an amazing student,” she said.

Hernandez noted that North Carolina is one of the states that have seen the heaviest influx of Latinos in recent years.

“Sometimes, rural areas are the most neglected where we put in our time, our effort and our money,” he said. “I was looking at helping law enforcement in counties with the highest Latino population, and this population can adjust to the programs and services the county and state have to provide.”

After graduation, Hernandez said he is considering law school or a job in the public sector.

“Higher education is something I want to be involved in,” he said.

Candice Kelley, junior, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Candice KelleyWhen Kelley, a communications major from Raleigh, was investigating internships, she saw that the Marian Drane Graham Scholarship required writing ability, research skills and creativity – all right up her alley.

Working with the Institute for Emerging Issues on the North Carolina State University campus, Kelley helped research major issues that affect the state, such as early childhood education.

“Once they identify a problem, they put together a forum with key players and people who have influence to come up with solutions to make North Carolina a better place for the future,” she said.

Kelley helped the organization with its marketing campaign, including making some animated videos that discuss the importance of early childhood education, as well as working on a podcast with UNC-TV.

“Working there helped me gain a perspective on how big these issues really are,” she said.

Nan Sanseverino, the institute’s communications director, said Kelley hit the ground running once she started.

“She joined the team like she’d been there forever,” Sanseverino said. “She drafted press releases, she did outreach with our stakeholders and media – she pitched in wherever she was needed. I’d love to have her here full-time.”

Kelley said she is considering several options after she graduates, but hopes to land something that allows her to write and work in communications. She also has entrepreneurial aspirations and interest in helping to solve problems for North Carolina and the rest of the country.

Hannah Lemacks, junior, Western Carolina University

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Hannah LemacksAs someone who has a hearing impairment, Lemacks, a Hendersonville native, seeks to help others as a communications sciences and disorders major at Western Carolina. Lemacks’ internship involved a different kind of communication, working with the North Carolina Department of Information.

Lemacks said she wanted to see how change can happen at a statewide level.

“I wanted to know how it really works with education, how change happens and how I can impact change, and this program would help me do that,” she said.

Lemacks worked in the human resources department, which she said was a great way to learn about what she wanted to research and gain more experience. One particular area of interest for her was how to assist with special accommodations for students who need them.

Joseph Foster, the program coordinator for the Office of the Deputy State Superintendent, said part of Lemacks’ duties was to make sure college campuses are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Part of the problem facing college campuses, Lemacks’ research showed, is there was little to no communication between high schools and colleges for 12th graders who have a disability. Thus, the college isn’t prepared to make special accommodations when that student arrives on campus.

“We wanted to start a system for counselors to let a university know that they are enrolling a disabled student,” he said. “We’re looking at this, but it’s very complex. She came up with this project on her own, and it was a well-placed topic on her part. She’s a brilliant individual who is very deserving to be in this program.”

Lemacks said she learned that change can be a process, because lawmakers can’t make snap decisions. A law that’s effective in one part of the state might be ineffective in other parts because of different population sizes, demographics and other criteria.

Lemacks was able to further her experience during the Washington trip when the scholars met with legislative aides.

“I got to ask questions about my research topic,” she said. “It was really cool, because these are people who are making a change in North Carolina as we speak.”

After she graduates, Lemacks plans to go to medical school and wants to work with people who have disabilities.

Khedema Robert, senior, Appalachian State University

2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar Khedema RobertRobert, an economics and finance double major from Charlotte, said she’s always had an interest in government, and landed an internship with a city planning department during her freshman year. So, applying for the Marian Drane Graham Scholarship and interning with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Equality seemed like a logical next step.

Though she said she didn’t have a lot of knowledge of environmental topics before, Robert said she learned a great deal during her internship.

“I didn’t know anything about water or environmental quality when I started,” she said. “I’m more into how they get legislation passed and how they allocate their funds.”

Working with the department, Robert saw how the organization worked with businesses on environmental issues and get applications approved to work on specific properties.

“They were trying to get these corporations to understand the land that they’re working on, and not allow them to take advantage of it,” she said.

Melanie Williams, an environmental senior specialist with the department, said Robert chiefly assisted with compiling data and turning it into graphics. Those graphics help the department analyze water quality and develop river basin plans.

“She was a natural,” Williams said. “She was very positive. We threw stuff at her out of left field, and she was a champ in tackling it.”

Robert said she enjoyed the Washington trip because she’s always been interested in public service. In fact, she said, the trip helped inspire her to seek an internship in D.C. next year.

“Meeting the aides, it made it feel more real, because it felt like work that I can do,” she said. “It was relatable – I felt like I was getting the inside scoop.”

Right now, Robert said she’s open to pursuing a path either in politics or business. She’d like to work as a consultant with small businesses, but she said she can also see herself working with a politician to get pills passed.