This week, we’re saying goodbye to four Jean O’Connor-Snyder (JOIP) interns. 

Rebecca Davis and Jessica Holdnak interned with the Mathews Center through the University of MontevalloLauren Dillon and Darvelle Smith interned in their school community of Tuskegee University. Below, they share what their experiences have meant to them. 

Since the Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship Program began in 2008, the DMC has partnered with 10 of Alabama’s colleges and universities, nearly 150 students, and communities across the state to create unique research-based learning experiences. These experiences provide students the opportunity to collaborate with community members in addressing common concerns through the use of deliberative practices. We’re grateful for the opportunity to learn alongside each cohort of JOIP interns. 


JOIP intern

I have started to appreciate the work it takes to improve a community and how interconnected problems are. I think I understand more about the importance of community engagement and the difference it can make. My internship has really helped me to feel like I actually have the ability to change things in my community, something I think a lot of people of my generation struggle with.” 

– Jessica Holdnak, 2015-17 JOIP intern

Jessica has interned with the Mathews Center since 2015. She recently graduated from the University of Montevallo with a degree in history. She has worked with DMC civic education programming and conducted a tremendous research project towards a new historic issue guide on the Creek War; this resource is designed for educators using deliberative dialogue to teach historic issues.

JOIP intern

“I love what the community of Montevallo (and Alabama) has to offer, and my passion for building and nurturing relationships between people has helped me realize my ability and potential as a civically-engaged citizen.” 

– Rebecca Davis, 2016-17 JOIP intern 

Next, Rebecca is completing her MBA from the University of Montevallo. During her internship, she has contributed her undergraduate English skills and deep interest in civic education to the Mathews Center. She has researched and composed two annotated bibliographies for Students’ Institute and the Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship program. She has also planned civic education field trips and events throughout the year. 

JOIP intern

“The internship is very different than others that strictly work with numbers or information – we’re actually asked to be in Tuskegee, doing work for and about Tuskegee. There’s so much you can learn outside of the classroom. I thought I’d come here, get my education, and leave…I never thought I’d see someone I know in the grocery store and be able to have a conversation with them. Tuskegee has taught me about keeping in touch with where you’re from.” 

– Lauren Dillon, 2015-17 JOIP intern

Last week, Lauren graduated from Tuskegee University with a degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. Lauren’s internship was part of a long-term community development research project by Dr. Lonnie Hannon of Tuskegee University’s sociology department. This project uses a series of community lunches to examine and strengthen community trust, with an underlying focus on how such relationships relate to a community’s overall economic health.

JOIP intern

“Civic engagement, to me, means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.” 

-Darvelle Smith, 2016-17 JOIP intern

Finally, Darvelle also recently graduated from Tuskegee with a sociology major and a political science minor. He joined Lauren on Dr. Hannon’s research project. Together they went out into the community to recruit folks to the “Power Lunches,” assisted in statistical analysis, and presented at a research symposium. 

Coming up in June, six University of Alabama JOIP interns begin their summers living and learning in Walker and Perry Counties. Our partners at Auburn University’s Living Democracy post regular updates on their three summer interns, who will spend eight weeks in Collinsville, Elba, and Thomaston, AL. We look forward to sharing their stories! 

The Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship builds upon a millennial spirit of connection and civic engagement by developing the next generation of Alabama leaders. To learn more, visit our website at or contact DMC Program Director Rebecca Cleveland at

– Written by Rebecca Cleveland, Program Director