September 18, 2019 at 3:15pm
Danielle Fields ’09/MBA ’12

Most college students are no strangers to the burdens that come with financing their education. For students whose majors require unpaid internships, those burdens are felt even more acutely.

As an information systems major, Justin DeBo ’18 is keenly aware of the impact that internships have on students and their future career success. However, it wasn’t until learning about the experiences of his friends — Benjamin Viette ’18 of Belvidere, Ill.; Morgan Huffman ’18, currently living in Mount Zion, Ill.; and Taryn Pepping ’17 of Johnston, Iowa — that he realized just how varied those internship experiences can be for Millikin students.

As he learned more about what his friends had experienced throughout their educational journeys, DeBo felt led to make a difference in the lives of individuals working in the helping professions. To that end, DeBo, a Normal, Ill., native now working as a software developer for State Farm, worked with Professor Mary Garrison to create the Viette-Huffman-Pepping (VHP) Non-Profit Internship, with the support of DeBo's employer. The endowed fund is designed to benefit students participating in unpaid internships with non-profit organizations.

While at Millikin, DeBo began working with MU Performance Consulting (MUPC), a student-run venture specializing in information systems consulting services. Through this opportunity, DeBo became engaged with Dove, Inc.’s Homeward Bound program, which provides housing, case management, referrals and supportive services to homeless individuals in the Decatur area. It was in this capacity, while working alongside Huffman, that DeBo’s eyes were really opened to the struggles of individuals around him.

“Morgan worked with me on the Dove project,” DeBo said. “She was really one of the people who [helped me with] understanding homeless people. … She made me more understanding and more compassionate toward people from different backgrounds. She had a big impact on me while I was here.”

As an art therapy major, Pepping fully understands the depth and breadth of the non-profit internship experience and the commitment it requires. Desiring a more focused approach, Pepping wanted to find an internship that would afford her supervised time specifically in her field of study. After much research, and with the support of her James Millikin Scholar project supervisors, Pepping was put in contact with Hope Learning Academy in Springfield, Ill., a school dedicated to the development of students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

For nearly two years, Pepping served Hope as its art intern. “I don’t think I would have as much knowledge about the psychological effects of various art materials, planning for therapeutic projects, or the importance of flexibility and adaptation for individual clients if I had not had first-hand experience from Hope,” Pepping said. Now a graduate student in the Seattle area, Pepping finds herself still reflecting upon her internship experience today. “Those experiences are fueling my learning even now and are still strengthening my passion for continuing in my growth as an art therapist in training.”

DeBo credits Pepping’s presentation about her internship as one of the deciding influences in the creation of the VHP fund. In addition to serving Hope for two years as an unpaid intern, Pepping made the drive to Springfield to work with the students multiple times a week, using money from her own pocket to fuel her travel. DeBo respects that kind of commitment and sacrifice, and he believes it should be rewarded. “Maybe [the VHP internship] could help [students] not need another job while they’re at college or pay for their gas to go back and forth,” he said. "Something to just make their lives a little easier.”

Human services students often find themselves taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zones to effect positive change in the world. Viette and Huffman, accompanied by Garrison and other students, traveled to Los Angeles over spring break of their senior year to serve individuals living in extreme, chronic homelessness in LA’s Skid Row area. DeBo was good friends with Viette from his years at Millikin and found this to be consistent with Viette’s compassionate nature, making him an ideal mentor to individuals currently making their way through the internship experience. “These people have all gone through these internships, so they could provide mentorship to others,” DeBo said. “It gives them someone who they know they can reach out to.”

As a professor of social work who serves alongside students committed to the helping professions, Garrison is excited about the impact that the VHP fund will be able to have on others. She believes that it particularly speaks volumes to have human services students receive much-needed support from an individual from another field of study. “I think it really validates the students who do the work. For most people, if you see marketing or information systems, even if you aren’t really in it, you might understand it,” Garrison said. “When we’re talking human services, people don’t really understand the work that goes on … and also the real challenges. It is a hard job. I think it really validates that their work is important. They're not just helpers. They’re skilled professionals, and we’re helping to support their development as professionals in any way we can.”

Currently, the VHP internship fund is at a level that will allow one student to receive $500 for their internship work. The goal is to grow the fund to $20,000, enabling its impact to stretch further and reach even more students. “Ideally, I would love for it to be able to fund any non-profit internship for any major. … I would love for people who have that passion to be able to do that kind of work – and to be able to do it without having to give up something,” DeBo said.

DeBo believes strongly that the VHP internship gives individuals, particularly young alumni, a way to make a tangible difference in the lives of Millikin students. “I’m hoping it will touch people and encourage them to give so that the people in these professions can continue to give back,” he said. “I think it’s important. We need people doing that work.”

Garrison agrees, saying, “They’re going to be taking care of us one day.” She is grateful for the opportunity being provided to current students. “I can’t thank Justin enough,” she said. “It’s cool that he looked at those three peers, thought this through, and wanted to support their legacy and look to the future.”

If you would like to make a gift to support the Viette-Huffman-Pepping Non-Profit Internship, please click here. Thank you for your support!