How an Externship Blossomed into Global Connections
Back in fall 2019, when the world still felt normal, Antonella Diaz ’23 was reviewing her options for a spring break externship — a 3- to 5-day job shadow with a Grinnell alum. As a first-year student from Quito, Ecuador, Diaz had learned about the externship program from her Center for Careers, Life, and Service adviser and was excited to try it.
About 80 alumni volunteered to host an extern in spring 2020. As Diaz perused the list of alumni hosts, she could see their class year, major(s), extra-curricular activities when they were students, their current location, and information about their jobs and what the extern(s) would get to do. Diaz could choose up to three hosts.
One alum stood out — Sandra Stein ’88, chief of programs and learning at Global Nomads Group (GNG), an educational nonprofit in New York City. Stein has a master’s in political science, which is Diaz’s major, and a doctorate in education, which Diaz is also interested in; she plans to earn her teaching license in social studies. “I wanted to learn about her journey and see how she arrived at where she is,” Diaz says.
Living and working with Stein for several days was going to be a great way for Diaz to explore her career interests. But the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the 2020 externships, so Diaz was out of luck.
Or was she?
Diaz returned home to Ecuador to finish her spring 2020 semester and had no particular plans for the summer. Until she got a message via Facebook from Lauren Miller ’21 asking if Diaz would like to do a remote summer internship for GNG.
“I never check Facebook,” Diaz says. “Never ever. So it was by chance that I saw her message.” Without even knowing what she’d be doing, Diaz said yes.
Career Exploration Leads to Alumni Connections and Student Connections
A year earlier, in spring 2019, Miller had done an in-person externship with Stein and worked on a global hunger curriculum for youth.
“We have [our externs] do real work,” Stein says. “I teach them curricular design and show them a process for it. I think that’s where the most powerful learning happens,” Stein says, “when you give them actual work.”
Over the course of her 5-day externship, Miller used a backwards mapping process she learned from Stein. She started with big ideas and essential questions related to global hunger, such as food waste, food insecurity, and climate justice. Then her work became more granular as she drafted learning objectives and the scope and sequence of student assignments.
Miller accepted a remote summer 2019 internship with GNG and helped develop the global hunger program further. She also worked with other interns and by the end of the summer was leading some meetings.
In 2020, when the pandemic was shutting down opportunities everywhere, Stein contacted Miller to offer her a paid, remote summer job.
“I was pretty intrigued,” Miller says, so she said yes and became GNG’s intern coordinator. Her first task? Recruiting interns.
When Stein mentioned Diaz as a possible recruit, Miller reached out. Miller and Diaz hadn’t known each other at Grinnell, and until May 2021, had never met in person.
Remote Internship Encourages Embracing and Appreciating Differences
As intern coordinator during summer 2020, Miller assigned interns to small teams to work on curriculum. “Sandra let us shape a lot of this,” Miller says. “She gives a lot of support, but also gives us the range to craft our work.”
Interning from home in Ecuador during summer 2020, Diaz went through similar training on curriculum design with Stein. Diaz was placed on a team with Stein and two other interns, another college student and a middle school student, to develop a new curriculum.
“It’s designed for youth, so we want to put their voices first,” Diaz says. Young people ages 13 to 19 are the target audience.
Their topic was overcoming bias — not a light or simple subject. Yet Diaz says she felt comfortable “coming to a place where I could say my biases out loud.” She felt embraced by Stein, Miller, and GNG. “It was easy for people to grow,” she says.
Ongoing Collaboration Enhances Global Understanding
The connections between Diaz, Miller, and Stein continued into the 2020–21 school year with a new project “that kind of birthed itself,” Stein says.
Her model for curriculum design projects that centered youth voices was an attractive remote volunteer option for high school students. Youth from Texas, Jordan, Turkey, and South Africa participated, choosing to work on mental health, women’s rights, human rights, and representation in sports.
“We had a diversity of skills and a common interest for each team,” Stein says.
Teams were also multinational and led by a college student volunteer. Diaz led one on sports.
Diaz drew on her education courses at Grinnell on how to engage students and build a classroom community in a virtual setting. She also consulted with her professors.
Miller worked hard to make sure all the volunteers “were getting as much out of these programs and this internship as we were getting from them. It was super inspiring to work with such committed, passionate students.”
Stein adds, “We now have 4 new curricula that are getting better reactions and responses from youth than the curriculum designed by adults.”
Lasting Connections to Grinnellians
“It’s weird to think that Lauren and I never crossed paths,” Diaz says. “She’s become a super influential person in my life in terms of understanding opportunities Grinnell has to offer.” Stein has also “become a huge influence.” She’s helped Diaz discover whether earning a teaching license or pursuing graduate school is the right next step. She’s also provided lots of “life advice,” Diaz says.
Stein has offered spring break externships to Grinnell students for the last few years. She appreciates their “genuine curiosity.” Grinnellians have “a comfort with asking questions and exposing what you don’t know. It’s a different disposition,” she says.
And regarding Miller and Diaz in particular, they’re “amazing young women.”