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"On-line Internship Clearinghouse,"

by Phil Nyden March/April 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

The Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Chicago and United Way of Chicago have developed a World Wide Web site which provides a searchable database on over 500 internships in the Chicago metropolitan area. Visitors to the site can search by subject area, skills needed and geographic location. This on-line internship clearinghouse is designed to better match the needs of community-based organizations and social service organizations with students and non-student volunteers with parallel interests. Original support for development of the clearinghouse was funded through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to PRRAC. Loyola University Chicago and the Policy Research Action Group (PRAG) used part of this money to develop the Chicago clearinghouse. PRAG is a network of four universities (Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, University of Illinois Chicago and Chicago State University) and over 20 community organizations that has been promoting university community collaborative research action projects since 1989.

The reasoning behind the initial project was to find better ways to connect the massive pool of student intern volunteer labor with community-based, advocacy and social service organizations in need of that assistance. In seeking student volunteers, community organizations typically have to travel through a maze of schools, departments and faculty offices just to begin to track down interested students. For grassroots organizations with limited budgets and limited staff time, locating volunteer labor is a costly proposition. The ability to broadcast a list of internship opportunities to all students within a metropolitan area will greatly reduce the hours of phone calls needed to recruit volunteers. A searchable list also makes it easier to connect community organizations with students with parallel interests.

Recognizing that staff at community organizations too often serve as uncompensated trainers, the opportunity to attract student interns with interests and skills closer to the organization's is attractive to community groups. Similarly, the increased chance that students will continue to work with the organization after they have been trained also makes this matching system helpful to community organizations with limited resources for training new staff or volunteers.

The partnership with United Way and the development of a searchable database on the Web took place only after a couple of false starts. Originally, PRAG completed a survey of Chicago-area community-based organizations seeking student interns.

PRAG researched and developed a PC-based data management program that had information on approximately 200 organizations expressing an interest in student interns. The database was designed for distribution (on disk) to university faculty internship program coordinators. Although the internet was becoming more widely used by 1994, it was felt that a PC-based program would be more usable to a larger audience of faculty and students. We had planned to update the list on a semi-annual basis.

However, by 1995 it was apparent that the World Wide Web was starting to expand dramatically. A majority of faculty and students were connected or had easy access to the internet. Chicago Public Libraries and other groups have been working hard to broaden access to the internet to all sectors of Chicago residents.

At this point, the Loyola University College of Arts and Sciences provided funding - in the form of support for an advanced undergraduate student and computer programming expert - to develop a Web-based internship clearinghouse. The university had already been giving free internet accounts to approximately 100 community-based organizations involved in university-community collaborations. This was a logical next step.

The problem of regularly updating the database was solved when United Way agreed to partner on this project. Every two years, United Way has published a directory of more than 4000 community organizations and social service organizations in the Chicago area. In updating the directory
which is not restricted to United Way member agencies - United Way collected additional information on all groups and agencies that wanted to be included in the on-line internship listing. Currently, we have identified more than 500 internships; we expect ultimately to have more than 1,500 listings.

The list will be available to the public in April and is searchable by: subject area (for example, environment, child welfare, housing); skill (for example, research, counseling, legal advocacy); area of the city; and time when internship work can be carried out (weekdays, evenings and/or weekends). Because many organizations discover pressing needs for interns outside of the normal academic schedule, a top-ten list" will also be maintained to include late-breaking listings. With well over 100,000 college or graduate students in the Chicago metropolitan area, this can be a powerful way to get information into universities.

The list also provides links to the increasing number of community organization home pages. When internship descriptions are listed after a search, "hot" buttons will allow the viewer to link directly to organization home pages and e-mail organizations with any questions. Organizations not listed will be able to submit information to United Way, which will update the listing on a regular basis.

Since United Way is in the business of linking volunteers to a wide range of organizations, their involvement in this project has been the most sensible way of assuring that the database is maintained and grows over time, The Information Technology Resource Center, an independent city-wide organization that provides technical assistance on computer use and computer networking for community groups, has also been involved most recently in developing keyword classifications for the searches.

In addition to providing information on individual placements, the clearinghouse may also be used to provide faculty and students with organizational contacts that can be used in developing team-based or whole class projects rather than the traditional one-on-one internships. The Center for Urban Research and Learning and PRAG have developed a variety of mechanisms through which teams of undergraduates, graduate students, community organization staff and faculty work on change-oriented policy research projects identified by community organizations on topics such as sustaining racially diverse communities, the impact of welfare "reform" on urban communities, lead-poisoning prevention, citizen participation, school-to-work program evaluation and reduction of homelessness.

A final web address has not been set for the clearinghouse. However, you will be able to access it through CURL's address, http://www.luc.ed/depts/curl, which also contains general information about university:
community collaborative research and teaching activity. The Policy Research and Action Group web site may also be of interest: http:///www.luc.edul depts/curl/prag.

Phil Nyden Phil Nyden is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Chicago (820 No. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611, 312/915-7761, pnyden@luc. edit) and co-editor of the just-released book Building Community: Social Science in Action (Pine Forge Press
 
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