Internship connects Brandywine student to her passions and community

MEDIA, Pa. — Mary Beth Giandonato’s internship not only dovetails perfectly with her studies at Penn State Brandywine, but it’s giving her an outlet to explore her passions and positively impact her local community.

Giandonato, a human development and family studies (HDFS) major graduating from Brandywine this December, is interning at the Maternal and Child Health Consortium of Chester County (MCHC), a nonprofit with offices in West Chester, Kennett Square, Phoenixville and Coatesville. She found her internship through a family acquaintance.

“My mom is friends with a former consortium employee,” she said. “She found out I was an HDFS student and had a hunch that the program would be a good fit for me.”

That hunch turned out to be correct. Giandonato began her internship in August and will continue working at MCHC until early December.

For Giandonato, who switched majors from psychology to HDFS because of her passion for working with young people, the consortium fits perfectly into her personal interests and classroom experiences.

“I’ve enjoyed it so much,” she said. “It’s given me experience and grown me professionally, but it’s also been such a good personal experience.”

MCHC offers a wide array of services helping women and children in the Chester County region, including assistance with enrolling in SNAP benefits, health insurance and onsite programs geared toward teaching healthy habits. The consortium also conducts prenatal and postpartum home visits for new mothers.

“Honestly, they have so many programs and services that I’ve barely scratched the surface,” said Giandonato. “What you read about the organization online doesn’t even begin to cover it. Most people don’t see them giving car seats to new moms, driving them to appointments, talking with families. I work with incredible people.”

Giandonato handles a wide range of duties at MCHC, including administrative work and assistance with SNAP benefits enrollments. Recently, she also has gone on home visits with other staff members, helping with prenatal and postpartum screenings.

“It’s so rewarding,” she said. “You give a child a book or toy, or sit with a mom for 30 minutes, and they light up. I don’t think I could get this experience anywhere else.”

Although Giandonato had work experience prior to her internship, she credits Michael Sturm, lecturer in human development and family studies at Brandywine, for preparing her for her new role at MCHC. 

“All through last semester he would tell us things and I would say, ‘I’ve never heard of that,’” said Giandonato, “and then I’d get to my internship and experience it onsite and say, ‘he talked about this!’ He did a really good job prepping us for the internship world.”

As Giandonato prepares for graduation, her internship has given her a clearer picture of what she would like to do moving forward. She currently plans to keep working with adolescents and pursue a master’s degree in school counseling.

Reflecting on her Brandywine experience, she believes her internship has been one of the most critical parts of the journey.

“It’s given me the experience, the fieldwork,” she said. “That’s something you can’t get in the classroom. My HDFS classes certainly prepared me, but to find out what your field is like, you have to get out there and do it.”