PEMBROKE — Dajer Fernandez, like many students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, is taking advantage of internship opportunities this summer.
Selected as a 2017 Marian Drane Graham Scholar, Fernandez recently wrapped up a six-week internship with UNC General Administration. Fernandez was among only six rising juniors and seniors from the UNC system’s 16 institutions.
The program provides students the opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain a better understanding of key issues facing public higher education.
A senior Political Science major and student body president, Fernandez was paired with Go Global NC’s Latino Initiative, which focuses on improving law enforcement and Latino/Hispanic community relationships across the state.
“My time here allowed me to do research for the organization and look at similar models at a national level of community outreach programs and policy that could be beneficial for Go Global NC to implement or provide as resources for law enforcement agencies in North Carolina,” Fernandez said.
He met with policy leaders at the UNC General Administration offices in Chapel Hill, and traveled to East Carolina University to sit down with representatives of elected officials in Washington, D.C. His discussions focused on the vision of the UNC system and higher education in North Carolina.
“When thinking about UNCP and the work being done at our institution, I am now much more aware also of its impact on the system as a whole and the work that goes behind at UNC General Administration,” he said.
At ECU, Fernandez met with Karen Kus, assistant dean of students, who shared their students’ concerns from food insecurity, homelessness, mental health to academic and career advice for students who haven’t declared a major.
The challenges are similar to the ones students at UNCP face, Fernandez said.
“It really shows the opportunities we have to learn from other institutions within the UNC system and how we can tackle these issues together to support our student population. I believe many initiatives I have seen at UNCP have been extremely proactive in dealing with these challenges.”
At the nation’s capital, he met with staff with U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and U.S. Reps. David Price, George Holding and Alma Adams.
His goal throughout the internship was to soak in as much knowledge about public service, the UNC system, and higher education.
“I always did my best to represent UNCP to the best of my abilities by referencing the university, asking questions about existing partnerships, or learning about programs and ideas that could be implemented back at UNCP,” he said.
“As student body president I want to ensure that I am as prepared as I can be to best serve the university in my role since I believe it is an institution that is providing the region with positive growth. “
A research project was required of the Marian Drane Graham Scholars. Fernandez examined ways to improve UNCP’s freshman seminar course and student retention.
“I think the university is in the right path and we have made big strides in retaining students,” he said. “We are focusing on being more engaging, providing more service-learning opportunities, presenting to students the many resources UNCP has to provide, and setting an academic example with faculty and staff who are guiding our students to have successful professional and academic careers.
“My best recommendation to all students is to stay involved and always keep learning. Find an internship or an opportunity that will allow you to have a more positive outlook of the career or life choices you want to make. Changing lives through education involves learning from the experiences we go through and applying the lessons learned to serve those around us.”
Mark Locklear is a Public Relations specialist at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.