By late February, Stanislaus State’s Kinesiology Department had 28 health promotion students placed in internships in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties. All seniors ready to graduate in May, the interns were gaining valuable experience in government offices, schools and nonprofit organizations while they worked on projects addressing childhood obesity, homelessness and other health issues.
But by mid-March, it looked like the COVID-19 outbreak might stop them in their tracks. California Gov. Gavin Newson’s statewide stay-at-home order closed schools and government offices to most workers and the students weren’t sure what would happen to their internships.
Faculty member Heidi Santino, Stan State’s health promotion practicum coordinator overseeing the interns, saw the situation as an educational opportunity, dovetailing perfectly with the students’ focus on health promotion and public health.
“They are working in the midst of a national public health emergency,” she said. “This is a valuable learning experience of what we do as health promotion professionals.”
Aware that many of her students might be feeling discouraged, Santino reached out to them to explain the value of witnessing the nation’s response to a pandemic in real time. Then she got to work helping them adapt to their new stay-at-home reality by modifying or completely reworking their projects.
As a result, Santino’s students are now doing their internships from home and keeping decidedly positive points of view.
One of those students is Hughson resident Natalie Mendoza, an intern for the City of Hughson. Her assignments include researching the benefits of establishing a community dog park and updating the city’s Facebook page with health-related announcements.
When she first started working from home, she struggled to adjust because she missed face-to-face communications.
“I started to feel like maybe what I was doing wasn’t very important,” Mendoza said. “Like, a a dog park probably wasn’t very high on anyone’s priority list anyway.”
Then she stumbled onto a benefit of working from home: She could easily observe people in her neighborhood park. She noticed that many of them were there to walk dogs. She started getting a feel for the number of dogs in the city and noticed how the owners interact and exercise with their dogs.
What she saw reaffirmed the importance of her project and reignited her enthusiasm for it. She also learned something about the value of slowing down.
“Now that everything is going at a slower pace, I have more time on my hands and I’m observing what is going on around me,” she said. “Because of that, I’m seeing firsthand what the need is.”
Intern Candi Cravalho, also working for the City of Hughson, could not continue with her original project, which was promoting an annual fun run that is now cancelled. She shifted to helping city staff assess and evaluate their response to COVID-19. It was a change that required her to pivot, but she believes it’s all part of being a professional.
“Everything can change in a heartbeat, and you must flow with the tide to make things work when the unforeseen happens,” Cravalho said. “I keep an open mind and a positive attitude. I believe that my internship experience is extremely valuable no matter what the project or assignment is, or whether it be in person or at a social distance.”
For intern Taylor Sarkis, working from home has been a big adjustment after working directly with children in a physical education program called CATCH in Ceres Unified School District. Sarkis is now assigned to make videos for YouTube and Facebook demonstrating activities from the CATCH program, which stands for coordinated approach to child health.
“It isn’t too bad in the sense that I am still teaching these CATCH activities, however it is a little awkward talking to a camera instead of talking face-to-face with students,” she said.
Despite that, Sarkis looks on the bright side, noting that her work will have a wider audience once it is posted on YouTube and Facebook.
“Now the parents are actually seeing what I would have been teaching directly to their children,” she said. “They can use the videos to keep their children active and engaged during this stay-at-home period.”
Like his fellow students, intern Christopher Barberis has found that working from home comes with pros and cons, and focusing on the pros is a good way to stay positive.
“Although my internship experience is much different than what I had originally planned, I am remaining optimistic,” said Barberis. “There is a positive side to working from home, including increased schedule flexibility and safety from COVID-19.”
Assigned to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, Barberis is putting together a social media campaign that will be used by HSA staff, police and fire departments to promote water safety. While he misses working in the HSA office, he says he’s more motivated than ever to be self-disciplined, meet deadlines and complete all aspects of the water safety campaign.
And, when he needs a little encouragement, he said he thinks about his classmates and faculty at Stan State and is reminded that he’s proud to be a Warrior.
“Stan State is a family that truly unites during these difficult times and provides each other with ample resources to get through the mud,” he said. “If I were not a Warrior, I cannot say where I would be right now during this pandemic.”