Organizations in West Virginia like the Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley (CFOV) are working to address youth retention in West Virginia by exposing current college students to opportunities that exist in the region.
At the start of the summer, Wheeling Resident Casey Wilson started a part time position with a visionary aerospace company, but he says he owes his success to a specific Ohio Valley experience.
“I’m in propulsion analysis at SpaceX, which is like a really awesome company doing crazy things. It’s one of Elon Musk’s companies. I don’t think I would be here if I never did that CFOV program,” Wilson said.
The CFOV offers a program called Community Leadership Internship Program (CLIP). CLIP gives college students a chance to explore possibilities in their field in the Ohio Valley by setting them up with internships in their fields as close to home as possible.
Placements happen exclusively in the upper Ohio Valley, which includes the entire northern panhandle of West Virginia, and two counties in southeast Ohio.
Combating the Struggle to Stay
The program is a full-time summer internship that has to be at least 80 percent real, in-field experience rather than clerical or menial tasks.
This gives people like nursing major Ateria Walker a good look at their chosen fields in their backyard, so they know if its a good fit. The experience has reinforced her decision in both her field and where she wants to live after college.
"I definitely 100 percent believe I’m in the right field and thanks to this program. This experience has confirmed that nursing is the right field for me. I have no worries if I do remain in the Ohio Valley, which I do plan to do, that I can find a successful job as a nurse here,” Walker said.
CLIP interns also get together every Friday to meet community leaders and visit businesses, nonprofits or government agencies in their area. The community foundation’s Program Officer Debbie Stanton recently took interns to Marshall County. They toured a natural gas well, then went to visit the Marshall County Animal Shelter.
Stanton wanted the interns to meet the shelter’s founder and director Barb Scanlon, a highly motivational self-starter who has had big impacts in the community through her work creating the county's anumal shelter.
"Barb is grassroots," Stanton explained. "She built this organization with some friends of hers from the backyards of the neighborhood ladies that were rescuing dogs to the grand facility that it is today. I am amazed by Barb’s story."
Stanton says above and beyond exposure to existing businesses, the CLIP program aims to enlighten and inspire.
Following Your "I Oughta's"
During the interns’ tour of the Marshall County Animal Shelter, Scanlon shared stories about how she found purpose and motivation through service to her community and by identifying what she calls her “I-oughta’s”
“I think that all of us get messages of ‘I oughta’ -- ‘I oughta do this for my mother’, ‘I oughta do this for my friend’, ‘I oughta do this for my neighbor down the road.’ I know you get them and they come into your head,” Scanlon passionately explained. “And some people just think that ‘oughtas’ come into your head to take up space. They’re sent there for a reason. You get a message and you decide it's real important that you oughta do and it comes from your head and your heart.”
Scanlon says her I-oughtas led her to create what has become a thriving animal shelter that has effectively decreased the number of dogs that have to be taken in by almost 60 percent since the start of their spay and neuter clinic in 2015.
The Urge to Return
While networking with community leaders is a plus for the students in the program, there’s hope the area will benefit from the program just as much. The main goal of the internship is to try to keep young talented people in the valley. But limitations exist.
In the case of former CLIP intern Casey Wilson, who is now interning at SpaceX, he doesn’t see enough economic diversity to keep him in the valley.
"But that being said," Wilson said, "I think there is some inclination for me, maybe to look into moving back to Wheeling, or moving back to the valley and maybe retiring there. Which I guess is not as great as I make it sound, it’s one of the things I’m kind of disappointed about. But hey," he added, "maybe when I’m 35 i’ll come back and start a rocket company in Wheeling."
This year CFOV's CLIP program has twelve interns with placements including a minor league hockey team, a bankruptcy court, and the city of Wheeling among others.
A similar program exists downriver -- the Parkersburg Area Community Foundations' Civic Leaders Program.