Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
For my STEP Signature Project, I interned at the Ohio Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs (OCHLA) in the community outreach office—and earned academic credit for the Spanish in Ohio seminar course. I spent the majority of my time editing a large Excel spreadsheet of Hispanic-serving organizations in Ohio called the OLAnet Directory, which required a significant amount of communication between myself and the organizations in the list. I also had the opportunity to attend the virtual 2020 Latino Affairs Summit, where I learned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ohio’s Latino community.
What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
The most transformative aspect of my internship was realizing that I don’t need to travel to connect with Spanish-speaking communities—and that I could pursue a career in which I can apply both of my fields of study. I originally planned to use my STEP fellowship to study abroad in Peru to fulfill my immersion requirement for my Spanish major, but, like many other college students, the pandemic disrupted my plans. As a result, I had to take Spanish 5689S, a service-learning course designed for students who were unable or chose not to study abroad. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to truly immerse myself in Hispanic and Latino culture from Columbus, and frankly was not looking forward to starting the class in the fall. On the first day of class, however, I learned that I could fulfill my service-learning requirement for the course through an internship with OCHLA, and I saw it as a great opportunity to apply my knowledge from both of my majors: public affairs and Spanish. Before I started my internship at OCHLA, I didn’t know what to expect—I had never completed an internship completely online before, and I was unsure if I would enjoy working from home. As the semester passed, I grew to enjoy the work I was doing—even if it meant sitting in front of my computer for multiple hours every week. I learned so much more about Ohio’s Latino community and the organizations that interact with them than I ever expected at the beginning of the semester. While it wasn’t what I expected for my Spanish immersion requirement fulfillment, interning at OCHLA taught me lessons that I never would have learned in Peru.
What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you described in #2, and how did those affect you?
Although my internship was completed entirely from home, it had a significant impact on my past assumption that I needed to go to a foreign country to immerse myself in Spanish-speaking environments. Since my main project was updating the OLAnet directory, I had to look into hundreds of businesses, non-profits, government agencies, educational institutions, religious communities, and other organizations that serve Ohio’s Spanish-speaking community. As went through each organization listed on my Excel chart, I found myself crossing out or deleting rows almost as often as I was verifying the information in other rows. It was discouraging to see how many organizations or programs for Latinos had shut down since the OLAnet was last updated five years ago. In today’s political climate, Hispanic and Latino people need more access than ever to resources pertaining to immigration, housing assistance, education, workforce development, and other programs designed to improve their lives in the U.S.—these resources are most important for recent immigrants, yet at least a hundred of them no longer exist.
Since my internship also counted for class credit, I had to compile a “final portfolio” website in which I reflected on my experiences from my internship and other Spanish immersion activities. Part of this project involved developing a “product” designed to solve an issue in Ohio’s Latino community—and I chose to focus on improved accessibility of resources for Hispanic Ohioans. I developed a more streamlined version of the OLAnet directory divided into different categories such as legal aid, healthcare, social services, and interpretation services with information in both English and Spanish to make it more accessible for those who do not understand English. Both my internship and the course content taught me so much about issues facing Hispanic populations in the U.S. today, which is information that will ultimately be more beneficial in my day-to-day life than studying in Peru for a month.
One event that was particularly transformative for me was the 2020 Latino Affairs Summit that I had the opportunity to attend and provide technical support to other attendees. I attended sessions specifically related to healthcare, though there were also breakout sessions related to business and education. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic was the main topic of discussion as it has disproportionately impacted people of color. Latino Ohioans, particularly those who don’t speak English, have had limited access to resources and information related to the pandemic, and a lot of misinformation has spread within the community. Two of the presentations that stood out to me were “Mental Health and COVID-19” and “Racism as a Public Health Crisis.” The social determinants of health—quality of education, employment, access to healthy food, adequate income, neighborhood safety, and quality of housing, among others—are often absent in majority-Latino communities, which creates a disconnect between these communities and the rest of society. As a result, Latinos are one of the most negatively impacted demographics in the context of the pandemic. Most of my interests before attending these sessions were related to immigration and foreign policy, but after attending the summit I realized that the best way to build relationships with Spanish-speaking communities was to start small and focus on improving the welfare of the people who live in my own city or state—I didn’t need to visit another country to do that.
Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
While it had a major impact for me both personally and academically, my internship with OCHLA this past semester has also helped me advance towards my professional goals and plans for the future. As a senior, my post-graduation plans have been weighing heavily on my mind the last few months, especially given the limited job opportunities available to me due to the pandemic. My goal has always been to pursue a career in which I can use both my knowledge of Spanish and my passion for public service, but I didn’t know If that would be possible until I began interning with OCHLA. Now that I know there are jobs in the United States that would allow me to interact with Spanish-speaking populations in a public or non-profit sector organization, I no longer feel as though missing out on my study abroad program was detrimental to my studies. My internship at OCHLA has opened new professional doors to me—I have been able to form connections with a wide range of organizations that interact with the Latino community and in December, I was offered a new internship with the Commission in its public policy center. In my new position, I focus more on the “decision-making” side of things and will assist the public policy director in advocating for legislation that will improve the lives of Latino Ohioans. I am optimistic that this new position will provide me with valuable experience that employers will appreciate as I begin to apply for full-time jobs.