Living United: Engaging College Students

February 28, 2018 | Meredith Hershner

United Way & College Engagement

United Way of East Central Iowa has worked with students from many different colleges and universities in the surrounding area and various disciplines for more than a decade.

We are committed to working with college students to create a practicum experience that reflects their passion and career aspirations. A few examples of past student projects include a Diversity and Inclusion Proposal for UWECI; Condition of ACEs Report for our five-county service area; researching, planning, and implementing Parent Engagement Groups; and Condition of Mental and Behavioral Health for our five-county service area.

One of our former Masters of Social Work students, Erika Dennis from St. Ambrose University, says of her experience in 2016–17, “If you have even a passing interest in macro-level social work, consider United Way. If you want to learn more about the community, consider United Way. If you like doing research or writing, consider United Way.”

We asked our current college student interns, Alexa Ravetti from University of Minnesota and Tanja Lynn Tirado from Mount Mercy University, a few questions about their experience with UWECI.

What do you like about United Way so far?

Alexa: Everyone in the office is so helpful and friendly. It provides a great environment to thrive and develop both professionally and personally.

Tanja: I like how welcoming everyone is at United Way. The genuine caring and compassion that the staff has shown made me feel like part of the team from day one.

What is something you have learned about our community because of your placement here?

A: My placement at UWECI has given me a valuable wealth of knowledge when it comes to tackling mental health issues within the Cedar Rapids community, and particularly what services are available to those who need them. Not only have I grown in knowledge, but I have also been able to see how a variety of organizations join together with the common goal of bettering the community.

T: I have learned so much more about the amazing programs we have here in Cedar Rapids. My project for my practicum has focused on youth, so I have really been able to dive in and find out the direction we would like to take to be able to provide a more social and emotional structure to improve their well-being.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with United Way?

A: I hope to learn as much as I can about how organizations work together to fill health gaps in the community.

T: I want to learn more about macro-level social work and expand my perspectives when it comes to helping others. Someday, I hope to have a career at United Way, or somewhere comparable, so I can continue to help with community organizing, coalition building, and being a social change agent for the broader spectrum.

What is your favorite way to give back to your community?

A: My favorite way to give back is to go out and volunteer! Not only do I get to learn more about my community, but I also get to give my support and show my gratitude.

T: I like to volunteer and get involved in community events. I have helped with Trunk-or-Treat and Pinwheels for Prevention last year and had amazing experiences with both. It was an incredible feeling to be able to interact with community members.