Mount St. Joseph University

Making an Impact: Summer Employment Program Celebrates a Decade of Achievement and Outreach

Mount News: alumni magazine

Making an Impact: Summer Employment Program Celebrates a Decade of Achievement and Outreach

“Contemplate how you are being asked to give your heart to God amidst your everyday activities. Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life.” –St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Sister Sally Duffy, SC, president of the SC Ministry Foundation, quoted St. Elizabeth on Aug. 4 at a luncheon to honor the 10-year anniversary of the Summer Employment Program (SEP). The University initiative—designed to help Mount students pay for their education while giving them professional experiences at Cincinnati nonprofits—epitomizes the spirit of St. Elizabeth, who continues to serve as a beacon of inspiration and hope even two centuries after founding the Sisters of Charity in 1809.

The inception of SEP began with a simple conversation between Sr. Sally and Anne Marie Wagner ’84, Mount CFO. The pair had been discussing an SC Ministry Foundation program designed to help local high school students learn more about working in the health care field. Sr. Sally wondered if a similar program could be created for Mount students, something that would connect them with nonprofit organizations beyond health care, funded through the Foundation. It could offer mentorship and provide real-world professional development opportunities, all while serving communities in need.

Wagner thought it was a very, very good idea.

The pair assembled a small group from Wagner’s business and finance division, as well as the SC Ministry Foundation, to discuss the initiative. In its inaugural year, SEP welcomed 13 students and connected them with Cincinnati area nonprofits. In 2015, there were 93 participants in the program—and there’s no sign of slowing. As the program has grown, so, too, have the number of Mount departments involved.

“There is an enthusiasm that students bring to this program,” says Peggy Smith, coordinator of the Summer Employment Program. “It’s not just a job—it’s a learning experience.”

The original goal of SEP was to enhance student retention at the Mount, says Wagner. “This program helps them financially to continue their education at the Mount,” she says. “Plus, students are getting an opportunity to work with an organization where the mission is the most important element. One of the purposes of the SC Ministry Foundation is to support nonprofits as they fulfill their mission to serve. So, we’re all linked together in this mission-driven effort.”

SEP has become so popular that the program has expanded beyond its original audience. In 2005, the intention was to only offer the program to returning sophomores, juniors and seniors. This year, participants include graduate students and incoming freshmen who were recent graduates of DePaul Cristo Rey High School.

Senior Joshua Obermuller, who is majoring in health and wellness, has worked at St. Vincent de Paul for three summers through SEP to help families in need. He handled front desk duties dealing with clients as well as coordinated events. Of the program, he says: “The biggest takeaway for me is developing my professional skills.”

Fellow senior Josh Harness, a sports management major, has been working at Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition as a business development intern. Through SEP, he handled donations, managed clients, cultivated partnerships with community groups, and ran a kids camp.

“Every day there was something new,” he says. “SEP helps you understand how to be successful. You learn a lot about other people and the city of Cincinnati. I know this place better than ever.” 

Andrew Brunsman ’10 worked multiple years through SEP with Our Daily Bread, a soup and hospitality kitchen in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. He began as the assistant to the volunteer coordinator and later became a computer lab moderator, helping clients set up their emails, apply for unemployment benefits and reconnect with lost loved ones.

“After my first summer working under SEP, Our Daily Bread invited me to join their Board of Directors,” adds Brunsman, who was invited to speak alongside Sr. Sally at the Aug. 4 anniversary luncheon.

One of the greatest benefits of SEP, he notes, is the opportunity it offers students to experience nonprofit work on the ground level and develop leadership skills. “And it not only allows but encourages Mount students to be ambassadors for the University as well as the Sisters of Charity, off campus and in the community,” he says.

After graduating from the Mount, Brunsman was hired by Our Daily Bread because of his improved service skills and inter-agency knowledge. Today, he serves as executive director of Be Concerned Inc., one of the largest and longest running food pantries in northern Kentucky.

Brunsman’s choice of vocation is another successful outcome of SEP.

“We have heard students tell us that before this experience, they were only considering careers where they would climb a corporate ladder,” says Amelia J. Riedel, director of communications and program officer for the SC Ministry Foundation. “After working with a nonprofit for a summer, many of them have opened their eyes to the possibility of using their skills and talents to strengthen a nonprofit and then, in turn, make the world a better place.”

The nonprofits are reaping the benefits of SEP as well.

Jim Holmstrom, youth development coordinator at Santa Maria Community Services, looks forward to new Mount students every summer. His organization works with 6th to 8th graders experiencing academic problems and they set up assistance programs, work with families, and help identify barriers impending a child’s progress.

“SEP is great for our programs,” he says. “We've had some phenomenal Mount students. The kids are waiting for them. They know when they're coming.”

With today’s students more in tune with technology, social media, and other advancements, often it is them who offer fresh solutions to SEP’s nonprofit partners.

Senior Hannah Kilburn, who is majoring in middle child education math and science, spent two summers at Cincinnati Works, a job search organization. “I helped people search online, apply, and take information. Some members were amazed how fast I could download, edit, and then upload resumes.”

Like Brunsman, Kilburn is also finding a call to public service. “I know I can use my teaching degree in many ways, even nonprofits,” she adds.

Sr. Sally is thankful to everybody involved in making SEP a tremendous success, beginning with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the Board of Directors of SC Ministry Foundation, who greenlit the program a decade ago.

“We’ve also had wonderful collaboration with the Mount and our nonprofit organizations,” she says. “Thanks to the impact and strength of these students, our partners look forward to this program every summer. We thank the staff at the nonprofit organizations as well for mentoring and serving as role models. As long as we are continuing to meet the needs of students, nonprofit organizations and the people they serve, it’s a win-win-win situation.”