Student Fellows Program Builds Community at Office of Child Development

For Denise LaRosa, one of her most memorable experiences as an Office of Child Development Student Fellow was a Think Tank Tuesday meeting featuring guest speaker Kerry-Ann Escayg, a prominent anti-racism scholar.

LaRosa, an EdD student in Language, Literacy, and Culture, remembers the session as a turning point in her professional life. “It was transformative to the work I was doing. She demonstrated the difference between anti-racist and anti-bias. Now, I focus more on anti-racist curriculum,” said LaRosa.

LaRosa participated in the Think Tank Tuesday meeting through the Office of Child Development Student Fellows program.

“Our office has a long history of engaging Pitt students in meaningful internships, research, summer jobs, and learning opportunities. By starting the fellows program, we are formalizing those opportunities and giving students the opportunity to build relationships with all of the office’s leadership team members, other Pitt early childhood faculty, and key early childhood partners in the community,” said Shannon Wanless, director of the Office of Child Development.

The Office of Child Development welcomed 10 Pitt Education students to the inaugural fellows program for the 2019-2020 academic year. Students working within one of the Office of Child Development’s five divisions are eligible to become fellows.

Throughout the year, fellows participate in development opportunities, including talks, projects, and meetings. The fellows also helped with the Office of Child Development’s annual Books for Change book drive and attended the P.R.I.D.E. speaker series, which addressed fostering positive racial identity in early childhood.

Expanding their Knowledge

The Student Fellows program allows students to learn about multiple areas of child development.

“In the past, many of our students had experiences in our office with one program or one division,” said Wanless. “With the fellows program, we aim to build meaningful relationships between our fellows and staff across divisions so that they can learn about the breadth of work that happens in our office.

For example, LaRosa works with Healthy Childhood and Early Childhood Partnerships but has learned about the division of Community Programs through the fellowship program. “Learning about what the student fellows are doing in other departments really opened my eyes to what opportunities are out there, how I could do this work in other capacities,” she said.

Student Fellows also meet staff and faculty members at various networking events. “It’s nice to get to know them in a context that isn’t focused only on school,” said Ashley Shafer, a student fellow and PhD student in Applied Developmental Psychology.

Building a Community

The student fellows have varied interest areas but come together to grow as a group.

“We have developed a cohort-based fellowship model to create more opportunities for relationship-building and idea-sharing,” said Wanless.

Shafer helped to develop the program and now works with the Office of Child Development’s Director’s Office in her student fellow role. “I wanted to help build this program because I love the idea of building community with fellow students,” she said.

Meghan Orman, a PhD student in the area of educational psychology, values the friendships developed among her classmates through the fellows program. “We have bonded in our passion with the work we do and our future goals,” she said.

LaRosa agrees. “I feel like every time I engage with student fellows, I’m so motivated and inspired in my everyday work,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Wanless said, “I am excited to see this year’s cohort continue to take advantage of many in-depth learning and career-building experiences at the Office of Child Development. As it grows, the program will be an invaluable resource for connecting students at the office.”

Learn more

Applications for the 2020-21 Office of Child Development Student Fellows will be released in Fall 2020. Any School of Education students who are engaged with a division of the Office of Child Development are eligible to submit an application. Keep an eye on the Office of Child Development’s Facebook page, website, and on Pitt Education emails for more information.