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Getting paid to share knowledge and experiences: OMA internship

| Denise Olson

What do Blugolds do when they find a campus job they really want? They beef up the resume perhaps, talk to Career Services, maybe reach out to connections for an "in" with the supervisor — the typical ways to get that edge.  

Junior marketing major Gary Garvin took a different approach when he decided he wanted to become an intern in the Office of Multicultural Affairs — he just sort of pretended he already had the job ... and it worked.  

As a sophomore, Garvin, of Black River Falls, began frequenting the OMA office and became aware of the great services and resources the center offers, and it quickly became his home on campus. 

"I first came in to help Odawa White, the former student success coordinator, with the Multicultural Student Retreat," Garvin said. "I'd come in and talk to the front desk students, hang out in the work room, and learned about the Inter-Tribal Student Council and other student groups. I was also helping a lot by reaching out to Ho-Chunk people I know who could take part in the powwow and other events." 

Garvin went on to say how the office became more important to him over time, and how he admired student workers who helped him at the front desk, students whose pictures hung on a wall of portraits and biographies under a sign reading "The OMA Family." 

"One day I printed off three different headshots I'd had professionally taken of myself and taped them up on that wall next to all the other students and staff," Garvin recounted. "People still didn't really know who I was, other than to say, 'There's that guy whose photos are on the wall.'" 

Dang and Yang and Gary Garvin at fron desk of OMA office

Dang Yang, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, works intentionally with interns like Gary Garvin, right, to create a student work experience that both fulfills office needs and builds on the strengths and assets students bring to the role.

He laughs about it now, but Garvin was very serious at the time with his desire to "sit behind that desk" and become one of the student staff who had been so helpful to him in discovering the usefulness and wide-ranging support for students of color offered by OMA. Eventually, OMA director Dang Yang was able to offer Garvin a position in a newly approved internship program. 

"Gary's internship was an opportunity to pay him for work he had already been doing as a volunteer," Yang said. "In developing our internship program, we were focused on ways to give students paid hands-on experience doing those things we do as professionals here to support students."

Yang said that the goals in creating the OMA internships emphasized leadership development, career development and racial identity development for students of color within the context of a workplace. 

"Being the Office of Multicultural Affairs, we constantly work with students to see how their lived experiences [as students of color] impact their academic success," Yang said. "Helping students understand that their race and identity is not a deficit but instead is a benefit that helps to inform their success in the workplace has been an important and intentional component of what it is that we do."

A secondary goal of the OMA internship program, now in its second year, is to create what Yang calls a "pipeline of higher education professionals who come from diverse backgrounds." Regular goal setting, assessment and performance review is used to set interns up with the needed skills to go on in careers in higher education, whether they seek a role in marketing, graphic design, event planning or specialized programming. 

So far in his OMA role, Garvin is gaining experience in nearly all of those areas. As marketing major, Garvin began the position with goals to gain proficiency in certain Adobe software, better his professional communication skills and widen his network of professional contacts — all goals that he is continually meeting in his position. 

One outcome that Garvin did not expect, but finds to be the most impactful experience so far has been his interactions with students who make daily use of OMA resources. 

"I enjoy coordinating outreach opportunities, but what I really like most is listening to our Native students, finding out what they want to see here, what they'd like us to bring to campus," he said. "We don't see a lot of Native people on campus, in the community, so bringing that to campus plays a crucial role for students. It's important that we can showcase our culture, bring the rich culture to campus at different times." 

While internships are generally seen as a learning opportunity for the student, the multicultural nature of the staff and student body in the OMA office helps ensure that the learning is always a two-way street. 

"What we get from Gary is the opportunity for him to teach us about his own unique experiences," Yang said. "For myself, not being native, I'm in the process of learning a lot from him. His community connections are a knowledge base about the types of experiences students have on campus as an athlete, as a student leader, as a student employee — all the important perspectives that inform our understanding of the overall student experience and the work that we do to support it." 

Taking his skills out in the community

As a busy student who is actively looking to grow in personal and professional ways through his many activities, Garvin faced an impromptu decision to take his advocacy work to a much more public stage last month. 

Garvin was asked by fellow students to come speak on behalf of native students at a recent Eau Claire City Council meeting. Although he's typically not a fan of public speaking, he accepted the invitation. On the agenda for the Oct. 22 meeting was a resolution condemning a racist defacing of a student's door in a campus residence hall. The resolution condemns the attack and calls upon the community to create an environment where everyone feels safe and included.

The discussion was the last item on the agenda, and Garvin read a prepared statement urging city leaders to take action against acts of racism, stating in part, "Every day we are losing our language, we are losing our land, losing our culture. The history of my people is traumatic, but our story is not one of self-pity and sadness, but one of resilience."

"I think that there is a real lack of education, in general, so I thought I could say a few things on the matter," said Garvin, whose statement was written to address those experiences which can be common to all marginalized groups.  

After his short speech and a round of congratulatory handshakes, Garvin admitted that he was glad to have taken the chance to do his part to impact policy. 

"They all thanked me for speaking and standing up to racism. I felt a little like a rock star for a minute, but took my jitters and nerves home," he said. "It was actually pretty cool."

With plans to graduate in 2021 and the chance to continue his OMA role for a few more semesters, Garvin is looking forward to further growth and leadership in and outside of the Office of Multicultural Affairs — listening to and speaking out on issues facing students of color at UW-Eau Claire. 

Top photo caption: Gary Garvin, an intern in UW-Eau Claire's Office of Multicultural Affairs, is finding unique and engaging ways to use his strong connections to the Ho-Chunk community to bring Native American groups and individuals to campus.