About a year ago, while social unrest continued to rock our nation, I reflected on how easy it is to feel paralyzed as we face the hard truths about systemic racism in America. After all, I wondered aloud, what can one person or one organization do to reverse the social injustice that has permeated American culture for hundreds of years?
Turns out there is something we can all do.
To address the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, LeadingAge last year decided to take several steps aimed at increasing diversity in the field of aging services by helping members increase diversity within their organizations, especially within their senior leadership teams.
One of those steps involved launching the LeadingAge Summer Enrichment Program. The 10-week program invites undergraduate and graduate students of color to become interns at participating LeadingAge member organizations. The interns complete a substantive project, work with mentors to hone their leadership skills, and take part in a variety of leadership development activities.
Twenty-eight interns completed our 2021 Summer Enrichment Program. A recent evaluation of the program by the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston suggests that it was a resounding success.
The LTSS Center evaluation contains impressive testimonials indicating that the Summer Enrichment Program was a very positive experience for interns. That was good to know, of course, but the answers I received to three specific questions were even more important to me:
What did interns learn? In addition to networking and communication skills, interns said they gained a better understanding of aging services and the issues facing older adults. That’s what I wanted to hear. Clearly, providing an on-the-ground introduction to our field is a great first step in recruiting more diverse talent to our organizations.
How did interns change? LTSS Center researchers found that the Summer Enrichment Program changed interns’ perceptions of working in our field. Most interns reported that, as a result of their summer experience, they were now interested in pursuing a career in our sector. Interns expressed an interest in becoming senior leaders in nursing homes, senior living communities, or corporate offices. This finding is a win for all of us.
What made students of color choose our internship program? Interestingly, students of color did not start out looking for an internship specifically geared toward older adults. They applied to our program because they saw it as an opportunity to diversify their experience, help vulnerable populations, and promote the inclusion of students of color.
Most interesting to me? The students’ choice of an internship in aging services was influenced by “trusted others,” including professors, school speakers, and family members. This tells me that we must reach out to these influencers as we try to recruit new and diverse talent to our field.
The Summer Enrichment Program is off to a great start. But will interns actually pursue careers in our field? Early evidence seems to point in that direction. I know of two 2021 Summer Enrichment Program participants who have already accepted full-time positions with LeadingAge member organizations. I’m confident more interns will follow in their footsteps.
It’s good to know that the LeadingAge Summer Enrichment Program is having an impact. Now, it’s up to all of us to ensure that the program’s impact will grow with each passing year. I hope you’ll consider joining us in this worthwhile endeavor by participating in the 2022 Summer Enrichment Program, which is currently recruiting LeadingAge members to host next year’s class of interns.