Internship program offers disaster relief

Melissa Brown

While many students spend their summers building their resumes as interns, the tragedies and destruction following the April 27 tornado provided UA students with unique opportunities for internships not normally available.

More than 70 students are participating in the Disaster Relief Internship Program throughout the summer at various relief agencies like Temporary Emergency Services, Project Team-Up, Project Blessings and the City of Tuscaloosa Planning and Development Offices.

The local organizations utilizing the interns do not normally hire interns, so this summer’s opportunities are exceptional, Program Coordinator William McCracken said.

“Most of the agencies we are working with do not typically have interns. For the most part, the internships exist because of the storm,” McCracken said. “Interns’ duties range from managing volunteers in warehouses to handling communications and marketing needs.”

Henry Joe, a senior majoring in international studies, already had summer plans when the tornadoes hit.

“I had already been accepted to a different summer internship, but it wasn’t to start until June 20,” Joe said. “[After the tornado] I walked to the intersection of 15th Street and McFarland as soon as I could, and saw things I pray I will never see again. Over the course of the next few days, my sense of shock quickly gave way to a profound desire to help this town and give back to it’s people.”

Joe offered his time to the Disaster Relief Internship Program and was placed as a warehouse floor supervisor at Temporary Emergency Services. His people and decision-making skills were put to the test, Joe said, as he learned a newfound sense of patience.

According to Faculty Director Norman Baldwin, DRIP interns are not just running errands and getting coffee, but being placed in management positions like Joe.

“We’re putting students in very responsible jobs – they’re not just sorting clothes and unloading trucks,” he said. “They’re directing warehouses, giving out aid to people that have lost everything.”

For students returning to Tuscaloosa at the end of the summer or for the fall, there will still be opportunities available.

“We have students that are in internships for Summer 1 that are finishing up, and we need students to replace them. I think the community needs it,” Baldwin said.

While most DRIP interns are working on a volunteer basis, there is opportunity for academic credit. According to Baldwin, students will work around 150 hours and then finish their experience with an academic exercise like a term paper that will relate their internship to their academic pursuits.

Whether simply volunteering or furthering one’s education, Baldwin said she believes any students interested should take part.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to serve and help rebuild Tuscaloosa and receive academic credit while doing it,” Baldwin said. “It’s learning by doing something that is fundamentally good and really needed.”

For Joe, the program provided much more than just academic credit and work experience.

“The people who came to the warehouse to receive supplies had every reason to be dejected and filled with a sense of hopelessness, yet they remained steadfastly upbeat about their plight,” Joe said. “Hearing their stories gave me a new perspective on the important things in life and reaffirmed my belief that the people of this state are some of the toughest in the world.”



Interested in DRIP? Contact [email protected] to express your interest. Please include a resume with your email.