Berks Campus global studies students complete internship in India

READING, Pa. -- Two Penn State Berks global studies majors had the experience of a lifetime when they completed an internship at Social Change and Development (SCAD), a nonprofit, non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering the marginalized communities in Tamil Nadu, India, during the spring semester of 2014.

Seniors Katherine De Crescenzo and Lislienid Melendez-Rodriguez were the first two U.S. interns to complete an internship at SCAD. Melendez-Rodriguez explains that SCAD had many interns from European countries, Belgium in particular, but there had never been any interns from the United States. Randall Fegley, associate professor of history and political science and former coordinator of the global studies degree program, had made the connection during one of his international student trips to Belgium and helped to facilitate the SCAD internship with Penn State Berks.

Since its founding in 1985, SCAD has helped residents of 500 villages through their community empowerment approach. From pre-school to college, their teachers and volunteers assist everyone, whether they are academic students or individuals looking for practical-skills training to gain employment.

When they arrived in March, Melendez-Rodriguez and De Crescenzo became acquainted with the organization and the clients to determine where their skills were best suited before deciding how they could contribute to the organization. Many of the interns had specific skill sets, such as training in midwifery, nutrition, special education and speech therapy. The students realized that the most valuable skill they had to offer was their knowledge of the English language, so they decided to work as English tutors, teaching basic language skills to Indian students who planned to become teachers through one of SCAD’s university programs.

While teaching English language skills, Melendez-Rodriguez and De Crescenzo were getting an education themselves — learning about Indian food, culture and way of life in the villages. They lived in the small, rural village of Cheranmahadevi, where life is very hard for the residents. Half the population survives on approximately one pound of currency a day. The climate is harsh and those living in remote rural villages suffer the consequences of drought, poor soil and a lack of basic resources. 

Melendez-Rodriguez said, “I was impressed with how SCAD started from nothing and built something so big, and how they continued to serve their community,” referring to how Cletus Babu, the founder and chairman of SCAD, built the organization when he himself had no start-up funds.

De Crescenzo added, “SCAD grew from a one-room schoolhouse to a multi-city school and college system. There can only be development of the people through education and Dr. Cletus Babu understands that. It was truly an honor to work with such a successful organization.”

Babu was a Catholic priest in southern Tamil Nadu before leaving the church to start a new job as a social worker. It wasn’t long before he started his own social development programs in the small town of Cheranmahadevi in 1985. To date, more than 500,000 people have been served by SCAD.

The organization places a special emphasis on the value of education, focusing on engineering and technology in particular. Melendez-Rodriguez explains that the schools do not cover a wide range of subjects as they do in the United States, but are more focused on the trades and skills needed for employment.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Melendez-Rodriguez served in Bahrain. She commented that this internship was a life-changing experience for her. “It showed me the other side of helping other countries and that I really could make a difference. You can start with a little and build from there.” She is pursuing the contemporary history and politics option within the global studies major and plans to work for a nonprofit organization after graduation.

“India has such a rich and colorful culture,” said De Crescenzo. “I wouldn’t have picked anywhere else as a global studies major. I had the time of my life meeting the amazing people and learning about the way they live.”

De Crescenzo, who majored in global studies with the Latin American culture option, went on to say that she plans to seek employment in an international nonprofit organization, such as the United Nations, and eventually would like to start a nonprofit organization for at-risk children in South America.

Zohra Guisse, program coordinator for global studies and lecturer in foreign languages at Penn State Berks, added that the college would like to expand the internship program with SCAD, and students are welcome to apply to the program. There are also a variety of other international internship experiences available through the global studies program.

The Penn State Berks B.A. in Global Studies helps students to prepare for employment in a wide range of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and business and industry. Students can choose from two different options within the major — contemporary history and politics, or Latin American culture — allowing them to prepare for the career they want. 

For more information, contact Guisse at 610-396-6197 or via e-mail at ZXG10@psu.edu.

Media Contacts: 

Zohra Guisse

Work Phone: 
610-396-6197

Zohra Guisse, Program Coordinator for Global Studies and Lecturer in English at Penn State Berks

Last Updated September 09, 2015