A year ago, I was considering summer internship programs in Puerto Rico and the United States. I was looking for opportunities to do something interesting and gain professional experience and the Empowerement and Retention of Agents of Change Pogram (PARACa, its acronym in Spanish) of the non-profit organization Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción (Puerto Rican minds in action) interested me because it provided the opportunity to merge an interest in professional development with a desire to build a better Puerto Rico. The program consisted of an internship with a social impact organization in Puerto Rico, educational fields trips, and awareness and empowerment workshops to help the members of the program understand the problems affecting the island and propose viable and multidisciplinary solutions for them.
I had never done an internship before and did not know what to expect. One of the organizations that contacted me was Ciencia Puerto Rico and, given my interest in science, I decided to accept. Before the start of the summer, I had an interview with CienciaPR's Executive Director, Dr. Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, during which we discussed the expectations for the internship, both on her part and mine. The organization wanted to strengthen its volunteer program and my job would be to help redesign it.
I had worked as a volunteer with other nonprofit organizations and I am a member of the board of another, but I had no knowledge of how to design a volunteer program. Despite this, I accepted the challenge and started my internship with CienciaPR.
Giovanna and I worked together throughout the summer: we investigated how other organizations managed their volunteers, created a system of volunteer working committees, edited internal policy documents, and created a new manual for volunteers.
After eight weeks, I finally had three products finalized and ready to present to the organization's management team. The first was a document proposing a new system of volunteer working committees for the organization. The second was a volunteer manual that includes important information for all new volunteers. Finally, I prepared a an internal policy document to organize, evaluate and maintain the volunteer program. I finished my internship giving a presentation to the CienciaPR management team, approximately 15 scientists at different stages of their career.
Besides working full time Monday through Thursday with CienciaPR, PARACa also gave me the opportunity to attend various professional development workshops on public speaking, how to create a CV, techniques for job interviews, and other skills necessary for success in a professional environment. We also attended panel discussions and visits with civic leaders and directors of nonprofit organizations to raise our awareness of various social issues affecting our country. Finally, the PARACa class of 2013, worked on a group project to raise awareness in Puerto Rico about the importance of food security and options for developing our agriculture.
Working with CienciaPR was one of the best professional decisions I've made because I learned how the business side of a non-profit organization works. The CienciaPR management team was very welcoming and I felt appreciated at all times. I hope that my work has helped strengthen the organization so that it can expand and carry out its mission more effectively.
I loved working with CienciaPR and hope to stay affiliated to the organization in one form or another. I like that CienciaPR performs a important work for the socio-economic advancement of Puerto Rico and I love knowing that I was able to contribute in a positive way to this mission. Working with CienciaPR has helped me grow personally and professionally. PARACa and my internship with CienciaPR were extremely enriching experiences that I would recommend to anyone without reservation.
About the Empowerement and Retention of Agents of Change Program (PARACa)
PARACa is a summer program for university students who excel through their academic achievement, leadership and a sense of responsibility to Puerto Rico. The experience consists of 8 weeks during which young people perform an internship to gain experience in a field in which they wish to develop professionally, while also participating in a series of workshops, lectures, and guided tours in order to strengthen their leadership skills and create awareness and sensitize their perspective on the realities of Puerto Rico.