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Anthropology Students Participate in Alaskan Internship

PLATTSBURGH, NY __ Seven anthropology students from the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh departed for Alaska on Tuesday, May 24 as part of the Hope Community Summer Internship Program through the Anthropology Department.  Hope Community Inc. is a private, not-for-profit agency that offers support to more than 700 native Alaskans who experience developmental disabilities.

For the next ten weeks, the students will facilitate the inclusion of persons with developmental disabilities in the Alaskan communities of Kodiak, Billington, Barrow, Juneau, Seward and Nuiqsut.

Dr. Mark Cohen, distinguished professor of anthropology, and Dr. James Armstrong, professor and chair of anthropology, are coordinating the program in collaboration with Roy Scheller, a 1976 graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh and director of Hope Community Inc.

According to Cohen, the students in the internship program train those with developmental disabilities in the communities to help themselves.

"The program helps community members to navigate cultures and find connections to people," he explained. "Our interns work to help the community members feel confident and independent and to go back into their natural communities and become active members of society."

Armstrong said that the program is a win-win experience for both the students and the community members they serve.

"The internship teaches our students a lot about themselves," said Armstrong. "In many cases, it is a life-altering, career-making opportunity. It is this kind of transforming experience that most students hope to get out of college, and our students are fortunate to discover it." 

The students participating in this summer's program are Robert Abel, Kimberly Cumming, Ilona Flores, Christopher Hurwitz, Elana Katz-Mink, Aisling Moffat and Savanna O'Connor.

Abel, a sophomore anthropology major from Brewster, N.Y., said he was looking forward to participating in the internship program this summer.

"I am really excited about the internship because it will expose me to many new and beautiful things while I take on greater responsibility," said Abel. "I will get the chance to apply the anthropological training that I have received at SUNY Plattsburgh into real situations. I am looking forward to gaining first-hand experience into the cultures of Alaska that I have been reading about."

Kyla Relaford, a 2002 SUNY Plattsburgh graduate and an Educational Opportunity Program counselor, participated in the internship program five years ago.

"The Alaska experience changes young people," said Relaford.  "It changed me. I experienced giving unconditional care. I learned how to be an ally, how to see possibilities and to find a way when there appears to be no way. I draw on these perspectives and abilities everyday in my work as a counselor." 

Dr. Melanie Besculides, senior public health researcher at Mathematica Policy Research Company, was also a former intern of the program.

"Going to Alaska was incredible," said Besculides, a 1995 SUNY Plattsburgh graduate. "I learned that people with disabilities have talents that they are willing to share if they are given the chance. I also learned to be more understanding and to think more objectively. This is very important in my present job because I have to listen to the people who are most affected by national health programs when I do evaluations of those programs for the government."

The Hope Community Resources Summer Internship Program through the SUNY Plattsburgh Anthropology Department was started in the early 1990s. An average of seven students participate in the program every summer. More than 100 students have served as interns in the program so far.

For more information about the Hope Community Summer Internship Program through the Anthropology Department, contact Cohen at 518-564-4007 or Armstrong at 518-564-4004.

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