In the summer of 2013, Emily Balmer ’13 pulled up to a small house — practically a shack — in a remote part of Tioga County and met the young woman who lived inside: a mother who had no money, no resources and no one to turn to.
“To see that and to think ‘Wow, I could be in this position’ really had a big effect on me,” Balmer says.
As a human development major at the College of Community and Public Affairs, Balmer had read plenty about the issues facing struggling young mothers. But the 100 hours she spent with the Lourdes PACT (Parents and Children Together) program for the Practicum in Human Development capstone course — which combines structured curriculum with hands-on experience — gave her the practical experience she’d always desired.
“You can read about this stuff, but to actually see it is completely different,” Balmer says. “It was a huge insight into low-income families.”
Balmer demonstrates the sensitivity she developed at PACT as a marketing and outreach coordinator for Mobility Management of South Central New York, a service that helps mostly low-income individuals in rural areas find transportation to urban areas for medical concerns. She secured her position at Mobile Management through AmeriCorps, a national volunteer program that engages more than 80,000 Americans in service each year.
Assistant Professor of Human Development Diane Crews, who has taught Practicum in Human Development for more than 14 years, says service opportunities such as AmeriCorps give students the chance to build on the “toolkit” they begin to develop in the practicum.
“Post-baccalaureate service experiences can be very important in continuing to shape that emerging professional identity outside the protection of the educational environment,” Crews says.
Michael Ohonbamu ’13 worked at the College Connection Office at Binghamton High School for his practicum, tracking down kids who didn’t have a post-high school game plan and encouraging them to attend college. He now helps youths 4,000 miles away as a caseworker for Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The position is through the Faith Community program, a year-long service opportunity similar to AmeriCorps. His practicum experience helped him develop the skills necessary to handle his current duties: helping homeless teens find direction and prepare for the real world.
“The practicum helped me to be professional with my peers and whoever else I’m working with,” Ohonbamu says.
Chelsea Reome ‘13 is confident in her AmeriCorps position at the United Way of Broome County, as a part of the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition, where she works to improve childhood obesity rates and community health on the North Side of Binghamton. When she started her practicum experience at a United Way lending library program for kids, however, she was hesitant to approach people. Parents and children would come to pick out books, and she would simply stand back and watch. Over time, however, she came out of her shell and started walking right up to families to discuss the program.
“It taught me a lot about working with clients,” Reome says. “That’s a necessary skill for what I do now — going up to people’s personal space and knocking on their doors to advertise our programs. You have to just be willing to put yourself out there and promote what you’re trying to do.”
Reome’s transition from hesitant student to self-assured professional exemplifies the purpose and promise of the practicum. It’s a time of tremendous transition, when the student begins to think about himself or herself as an emerging professional, Crews says.
“The idea is to help young people set their compass toward the direction they’re aiming to head for a lifetime, to begin to recognize themselves as young professionals,” Crews says.
about the Practicum in Human Development at bit.ly/ccpa-practicum.