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Student interns set stage for future

Student interns set stage for future
February 04
10:00 2021

By John Railey

They describe their work as transformative. They are interns for Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM). They are fulfilling one of CSEM’s goals, that of inspiring students to join faculty and staff in working beyond the campus walls for beneficial change.

“This really opened my eyes,” Kiera White said of helping Dr. Douglas Bates, a CSEM Research Fellow and assistant professor in WSSU’s Department of Social Work, distribute surveys for his research on how time spent in prison impacts economic mobility for released offenders in the county.

White, a Concord native, graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in social work and is searching for a job in her field. She learned about Dr. Bates’ research as a student in one of his classes. It interested her on an educational level, and because she has relatives and friends who have been incarcerated. “I have seen the full turnarounds,” she said. “I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen the side where it leads to dead ends and I’ve seen the side where you can become your own boss.”

Helping with the research gave her “a deeper dive” into the reasons behind such varied outcomes.

Dr. Bates received 22 responses to his survey, which measures the effects of spending time in prison. Some of the key findings:

*36.4% appreciate structure and authority.

*77% of respondents said they had anxiety and/or depression.

*31.8% “somewhat agree” that “the powerful dominate the weak.”

In distributing the surveys, Bates and White worked with local initiatives such as Project Re-entry, which assists repeat offenders. “I like how we got to connect with the agencies and what they do,” White said.

Ivory Simmons and Jaisha Grayson worked with Drs. Tamara Thomas and Keisha Rogers, Research Fellows and associate professors in WSSU’s Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, on their project exploring the hurdles to economic mobility for Black women with physical and mental health disabilities in Forsyth County. Simmons, a Winston-Salem native who graduated in December with a degree in rehabilitation counseling and is looking for a job in her field, learned about the project through classes she took from Thomas and Rogers. Grayson, who grew up in Greensboro, learned about the program on campus. She is a junior majoring in secondary education.

“I think more education majors should be involved in things like this because we don’t get a lot of field opportunities,” Grayson said. “These are parents of children who I will teach someday. This will give me more knowledge of how to interact with my students later in my career. How can I support them as a future teacher?”

Simmons and Grayson worked with Thomas and Rogers and, later, two other interns in distributing surveys to disabled women.  “Once we got started, I just fell in love with it, especially the aspect of going into the community to talk with the people,” Simmons said. “It was a great learning experience, even through the pandemic.”

The team received 85 responses. Some of the key findings predicted a greater likelihood of unemployment tied to:

*Having a mobility impairment

*Having a systemic disability

*Having a temporary condition

Grayson said, “A lot of the women were initially apprehensive about even speaking to us and I think that tied into not being heard for so long. They told us about their history, all the hardships they had to endure. It just gave them an opportunity to sort of be heard, and maybe they hadn’t been heard in a while. A lot of them were single-parent households, supporting children and grandchildren. They often didn’t feel heard by their employers, and sometimes they were mistreated because of their disabilities. That was really eye-opening, because I wasn’t really aware of that.”

Simmons said, “Certain issues might have come in with the lack of understanding. There’s a lack of knowledge among the women of what’s available in the Forsyth County area. We asked: ‘What resources can I connect you with? How can we provide a little comfort during this time?’ It was a great experience to see the population that I love to serve and see how I can better serve them when I start working.”

The interns would like to see more WSSU students going beyond the campus walls.

“The participants were extremely excited when they found out we were from WSSU,” Simmons said. “We were like, ‘How can we help you?’ We have to help our neighbors. We have to give back.”

John Railey, raileyjb@nullgmail.com, is the writer-in-residence for CSEM, www.wssu.edu/csem.

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