There’s a warm, inviting vibe at Burlington’s Mansfield Hall on a recent Tuesday afternoon. We meet a group of students at the back door and follow them into a cozy cafeteria, where it smells like freshly baked bread. Students and staff are in various modes of post-lunch hang-out: singing while they clean up the kitchen; joking around; huddling in quiet conversation. A friendly dog wanders through.
Mansfield Hall is a close-knit residential community of college students here to gain independent living skills, and it feels like a really welcoming combination of summer camp, college dorm, and family home. “Everyone that works here, their goal is to push students to achieve their personal goals, and every student that gets admitted here is sort of coming in with personal goals, so those two things marry really well,” says Sara Adsit, community outreach director for Mansfield Hall. “And we just have a lot of fun.”
Alexander Elwood is a resident at Mansfield Hall, and he’s also a CCV student. He just finished the 3-credit Exploratory Workplace Experience class, which included an 80-hour internship that allowed him to indulge his love of movies. Alexander worked with staff and students to produce a newsletter for Mansfield Hall, and he got to write reviews of three new science-fiction films: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and The Flash. He’s soft-spoken and sincere, with a quiet intensity, and he delivers each title with a flourish, turning The Flash into an onomatopoeia.
Mansfield Hall residents can take classes at several area colleges, but the CCV partnership is especially powerful, Adsit says, because it facilitates career training opportunities for students with varying abilities who tend to otherwise get overlooked in the job search process. “Most times it’s nothing to do with their ability or what they’re going to bring to a workplace,” she says, “but rather inaccessibility in the interview process, or lack of understanding of how to be transparent, or sites not understanding accommodations. So I think the uniqueness of what we’re doing is [that] I’m creating relationships in the community where all of that is established. It’s been really successful. The students feel a huge sense of pride and accomplishment.”
Grace Thier has a long list of skills they honed during their internship with Hotel Vermont and Courtyard by Marriott: creating a healthy work-life balance; the importance of a strong work ethic; professionalism and dress code; punctuality and time management; how to politely disagree. Thier had the chance to rotate through multiple departments at the hotels, from front desk to housekeeping to events. “I learned how important showing up for work is,” Thier said. “Because if you don’t do it, someone else has to do it and that’s not fair.” At Hotel Vermont, a many-hands attitude translated to a strong sense of community. “I was making beds a couple weeks ago with my supervisor who works in HR. Everyone chips in. It’s like one big family. When I came back from a Taylor Swift concert, everyone was like so happy and so welcoming. It was awesome.” (The concert, says the self-described “Swiftie,” was “the most incredible night of my life.”)
The Workplace Experience course connects classroom learning to real-life workplace settings, and it includes topics ranging from attitude and time management to DEI in the workplace and starting your own business. Adsit says students have participated in internships in a wide variety of businesses and organizations across Vermont, including law firms and art studios, child care centers and state parks. “We had a student just make a promotional video for Vermont Family Network, and we have students managing classrooms, and we have students making the marshmallows for Lake Champlain Chocolates.”
Jack Cariello interned as a marketing assistant at the Burlington Music Dojo. “I like media and music a lot so I thought it would be an opportunity to learn more,” he said. (Is he also a fan of Taylor Swift? “Absolutely.”) He learned a lot of multitasking skills, he said, and “I gained a lot of self-confidence, and a lot of researching skills I never knew I needed or had.”
“It’s all the things you want from an internship and more,” said Adsit. “We’re all very proud of it. It’s my firm opinion that colleges should find programs like ours and partner with them because many more students need our programs than are accessing them, and it just makes a better student experience, a better learning experience, a better community experience.”