Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

‘Supreme candidates’

IW student interns get a leg up with local employers
Feb 06, 2018
Photo by: Grace King IW student Darby Massner is completing her internship hours at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Mt. Pleasant.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Although internships are not a crystal ball for how a career might take shape, for Iowa Wesleyan University upperclassmen, the opportunities available to them in Henry County are the beginning of their exploration of an industry outside of the classroom.

For five to 10 hours a week, Iowa Wesleyan (IW) student Joselyn Zerrusen follows Henry County Health Center (HCHC) clinical dietitian Elise Klopfenstein around the hospital. Zerrusen is required to complete 240 hours at her internship to receive credit for the class to graduate. Luckily, the hours are flexible, split into two semesters to accommodate her busy classwork and basketball schedule.

All IW students are required to complete an internship before graduation that aligns with their degree. The students work with faculty advisers to develop strategies for what internships they are going to apply for and what they need to do to complete the required hours for graduation. Internships range in experience from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to Wal-Mart Logistics to KILJ. The only students who don’t go through the internship program are nursing students who have separate clinical hours and teaching students who spend a semester as student teachers.

Completing an internship before graduation isn’t common practice at all universities. IW Director of Career Development and Internships Katherine Evans said that this requirement helps IW students be more competitive after graduation.

“Students who get internships, get jobs faster,” Evans said.

A month into the second semester, Klopfenstein is working on teaching Zerrusen how to communicate more efficiently with patients and meeting them where they want to learn in their journey toward a healthier lifestyle.

“We see our patients at their weakest moments,” Klopfenstein said. “They’re sick. They need some confidence before heading out the door [of the hospital].”

Even though she started college wanting to be a sports nutritionist, Zerrusen is determined to learn as much as she can under Klopfenstein. “Being here, I get a leg up,” she said.

Her most eye-opening experience with this internship is working with patients at Park Place Elder Living. Knowing that food to those patients can often be the best part of their day makes the job more important to her.

Klopfenstein is teaching Zerrusen how to talk to the patients with respect yet keep care consistent. She also shows her how to take their favorite food like steak and find ways to modify that for patients who might not have any teeth.

For Klopfenstein, explaining her daily routine to Zerrusen refreshes her memory too. Klopfenstein always wants to make sure that when Zerrusen comes in, there is an experience waiting for her to ensure the internship isn’t just busy work.

“I want [Zerrusen] to feel confident in what she knows based on her knowledge and not on the latest [nutrition] fads,” Klopfenstein said.

Zerrusen and Klopfenstein often work with rubber food models to show patients portion sizes and what foods they should be eating. They do this at the round tables in the outpatient rooms, another aspect of being a dietitian Klopfenstein gets to pass down to Zerrusen.

“Circle tables are a big deal,” Klopfenstein said. “Everyone is trying to learn. No one is at the head. It was something I was taught to do — to try to sit beside the patient instead of across from them so you’re coming alongside them in their learning process.”

“It’s not an interview, it’s a consultation,” Zerrusen added.

Because Zerrusen is an intern, patients do not have to consent to having her in the room as they learn, but Klopfenstein said most patients are kind enough to let her sit in.

“No one has turned her down yet,” Klopfenstein said. “That’s a real key to our community. Having [Zerrusen] in the room learning alongside the patients is sometimes the ice breaker they need.”

As a college student, Zerrusen said it’s hard to get involved in the Mt. Pleasant community. Now as an intern getting connected with the town, she said it really reminds her of her home in Effingham, Ill. She also believes the internship opportunities available in Mt. Pleasant give many students the opportunity to start their careers locally after they graduate.

“They have a job, connections. It’s a great place to make contacts,” Zerrusen said.

IW student Darby Massner feels the same way interning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Mt. Pleasant. Although Massner went into this internship a little clueless as to what she wanted her career to look like after she graduates in May, she gushed about how much she loved working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’ve done quite a few internships and this is my favorite one,” Massner said, adding that she is looking into a second, paid internship opportunity there once she graduates that could potentially lead to a full-time job.

From Mediapolis, Massner wants to continue living and working in a small town, and she’s seen other IW alumni graduate and be hired by their internship after they graduate. “If you can get your foot in the door after college, I think it draws students from Iowa Wesleyan to stay in the community,” she said.

Massner’s internship adviser, Adriana Valencia, Rural Housing Technician at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has found that she really enjoys teaching interns. Formerly a trainer for food safety at West Liberty Foods, Valencia is happy to have the opportunity to expand her teaching skills.

“Interns are a good asset and it’s a good experience,” Valencia said.

Another office that frequently hires IW interns is the Henry County Sheriff’s office. Intern candidates have to have a clean driving record and no criminal history through their local police department or Iowa Courts Online. Sheriff Rich McNamee also requires two reference letters.

“We want supreme candidates,” McNamee said.

Whether they’re studying criminal justice or another area of law enforcement, interns are exposed to four aspects of the Sheriff’s office and spend three weeks in each department starting with the dispatch center fielding calls.

Spending a few weeks in each department ensures interns see criminal justice work isn’t all about patrolling, writing tickets and making arrests, McNamee said. Dispatchers have a high-stress job and it shows interns that they are doing eight or 10 things at a time.

After dispatch, interns are sent to the County Clerk’s office doing clerical work such as helping with gun permits, foreclosures and other aspects of the civil process. This isn’t the glitz and glamour of the job, but interns see that the clerk is just as important to the force as deputies.

Next, they are sent to the jail where they learn the ins and outs of how to treat inmates. McNamee stressed this part of the job, saying that the jailers are taking care of people 24/7.

Finally, they get to ride along with the deputies. McNamee assures there is low liability for interns because of the procedures in place that avoid putting them in potentially dangerous situations. For example, if an intern is in a ride along with a deputy and the deputy is called to a bank robbery, they stop and drop the intern at the most convenient location and interns are required to find a ride home.

“We want to preserve their safety,” he said.

Working with interns reminds McNamee that it is part of his responsibility to help train the next generation of deputies. As a veteran officer, he sometimes assumes others know the day in and day out procedures as well as he does.

“But for my new deputies, I need to teach them how to be good deputies, how to treat even the worst criminals with respect and dignity,” McNamee said.

When McNamee chose to go into law enforcement, he said his grandfather tried to persuade him to choose a different career, one that isn’t as dangerous. He also told him to treat people the way he wanted to be treated.

“Which is biblical,” McNamee said. “I’ve tried to keep that in my backbone. Not always, but I’ve had a lot of people I arrested later thank me because I treated them well. You don’t have to be nasty to these people because they did something nasty.”

These are the lessons he hopes to pass down to his deputies who can pass it down to the interns. Although the job is dangerous and sometimes they come across death, McNamee said there are moments such as getting a call at 3 a.m. and helping deliver a baby on the mother’s living room floor, or returning a family heirloom, or putting someone in jail because they molested kids that make the job worthwhile.

“That’s the stuff that makes you proud to be in law enforcement,” McNamee said.

McNamee also wanted to thank Iowa Wesleyan for their impact on the community. “Their criminal justice program is pretty darn good,” McNamee said. “The little bit of impact our office can give Iowa Wesleyan students pales in comparison to the economic impact Iowa Wesleyan has on the community.”

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