Internships provide college students with valuable experience that can help with a future career while also serving as a kind of bookend to lessons learned in the classroom. The pandemic changed what an internship looks like — masks, less time in an office or lab — but didn’t eliminate them completely.
Tacomaprobono is a good example of internships in the age of COVID-19. The local non-profit provides free legal services to low-income people who have legal issues in Pierce County. “The majority of our program is family law and housing,” said Tacomaprobono volunteer/clinic coordinator and Housing Justice Project paralegal Ashley Duckworth.
Pre-pandemic, the organization’s lobby would be filled with prospective clients from open to close. Now, pretty much everything is done remotely. “The majority of our work, from client intake to clinics, happened in person,” said Tacomaprobono director of development and outreach Laurie Davenport. “We had to shift on the fly and create an online intake form and online clinics which took a considerable amount of time and effort.”
Tacomaprobono is a small agency that relies on volunteers and interns to help with everyday tasks. Davenport has been with the organization for almost 20 years. “We’ve worked over the years to build up our programming,” she said. “Just a few years ago we didn’t have any attorneys on staff, but now we have five.”
Interns in places like Tacomaprobono serve a critical role. “I spent some time in my life working in big law offices in Seattle and I never saw an intern ever interact with a client,” said Davenport. “I mean, they were doing things like refilling toner cartridges or doing some filing, but here they [interns] actually talk to clients and help them get what they need."
"The interns in our office are the backbone.”
— Ashley Duckworth
Brandon Bledsoe and Simrat Samra started their internships at Tacomaprobono in late June. The UW Tacoma students are both seniors double-majoring in psychology and criminal justice. “I enjoy the interaction between psychology and law, so I thought it would be beneficial to pick up a double major and try to work as a psychologist in the criminal justice system,” said Bledsoe. Samra has a similar reason for deciding to pursue two degrees. “I just constantly found myself heading down two different paths,” she said. “I wanted to do either psych or criminal justice, not understanding that I could do both.”
Samra and Bledsoe learned about the opportunity with Tacomaprobono through UW Tacoma’s Legal Pathways. The program serves as a hub for law-related education and programming in the South Sound. The Legal Pathways Summer Public Interest, Policy and Advocacy program (PIPA) provides a $5,500 stipend to “UW Tacoma students who choose to engage in law-related public interest, policy, or advocacy internships during the summer.”
Legal Pathways Director Patricia Sully reached out to Tacomaprobono and worked to build a relationship between the two institutions. In the past students from the campus’s Master of Social Work program did their practicum with Tacomaprobono but those connections were on an individual level. “I think the [Legal Pathways] program is great because the focus is on the community and the different areas of study,” said Davenport. “This is a really big deal for us and for the students because they’ll get that experience and they’ll also get paid for their time.”
“A lot of the experience that I'm getting is working with diverse populations and on top of working in the civil justice system and gaining the experience that I wouldn't be able to get in a normal classroom setting.”
— Brandon Bledsoe
Samra and Bledsoe are drawn to working with people. Some of this interest stems from their own lived experiences. “I grew up in a low-income family and I understand that low-income individuals do not necessarily have access to the same resources as those who are more financially stable,” said Samra.
Bledsoe echoed a similar motivation. “I was able to experience being in both a privileged and disadvantaged situation and that’s made me want to focus on helping those who are disadvantaged,” he said.
The pair have spent the past several weeks helping the organization serve its clients. “We’ve been doing client intakes or connecting folks to resources,” said Bledsoe. “We’ve also been working closely with the paralegals that are in the office to try and assist them with the cases they’re working on.” The work is being done both at Tacomaprobono’s downtown office and at home. Safeguards are in place — masks, sanitizer, minimal face-to-face client interaction — to keep everyone safe.
Samra and Bledsoe both graduate in June 2021. Both plan to pursue Ph.Ds., but their futures aren’t set yet. Duckworth started as an intern with Tacomaprobono more than six years ago. “I was an intern here too, and it helped me a lot,” she said. “Interning here definitely changed my career path because I wasn’t planning on working in legal aid and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
We spoke with Legal Pathways Director Patricia Sully and Tacomaprobono's Ashley Duckworth in a recent episode of the UW Tacoma podcast Paw'd Defiance. We talked about different issues including the services Tacomaprobono provides as well as the looming eviction crisis related to COVID-19.
About Paw’d Defiance
The title of our show is more than just a clever play on words. The name reflects a philosophy, one that is committed to telling interesting stories about the people, research, initiatives, community partnerships and other issues related to UW Tacoma and higher education. It also speaks to our interest in the greater Tacoma community. Point Defiance is inexorably linked to the Grit City. Also, “defiance” is a fun word and, either intentionally or not, speaks to Tacoma's history as the “other” city in the Puget Sound region.
Thank you to Doug Mackey at Moon Yard Recording Studio for his recording support and Senior Lecturer Nicole Blair for our theme music. The first season of this podcast was made possible by funding from the UW Tacoma Strategic Initiative Fund.
You can find Paw'd Defiance on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Spotify. You can also click here to listen: Paw'd Defiance
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org