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Leadership and Advocacy Internship

Project FINE

Kelly Highum

Winona State University

This summer I completed an internship with Project FINE, a nonprofit organization that

helps newcomers integrate into Winona and the surrounding communities through education,

informational programming, and community empowerment. I was able to utilize my

communication skills and knowledge to communicate respectfully and successfully both with

Project FINE staff, and members of the refuge and immigrant population of Winona, St. Charles,

and the surrounding communities. I utilized my cross cultural communication skills, and my

bilingual language ability in order to bridge covert and overt barriers to successful, and

respectful conversations.

Project FINE is a nonprofit organization based in Winona, MN that serves the refugee

and immigrant populations of Winona County, as well as the surrounding rural areas. Since its

establishment in 1990, Project FINE has been committed to serving the newcomer populations of

Winona County through a variety of programs and services. According to the 2010 Census, the

only population increase within the Winona community was among diverse individuals

( This specific population increase is expected to continue both within Winona

County, but also on a national level, as the United States continues to diversify. Project FINE

assists newcomers in integrating into Winona County and the surrounding communities by

providing foreign language interpreters and translators, and well as creating community

programs centered on education, information, and empowerment for immigrants and refugees

( The mission of the organization is to serve as a connection point and valuable

resource for refugees and immigrants as they rebuild their lives, as well as to promote a stronger,

more respectful, and more diverse community for all.

Project FINE provides a variety of programs and services to help newcomers adjust to

life within the United States, as well as to develop the skills needed in order to become engaged,

active members of the Winona community ( The organizations programs and

services fall into three main categories: navigating community systems, building communities,

and empowering youth. A major component of helping newcomers integrate into the Winona

community is the availability of foreign language interpreters; Project FINE employs more than

70 freelance interpreters available in 23 languages. These language interpreters assist refugees

and immigrants with navigating a variety of health, social, and government services. Programs

focus on individual and community empowerment, and offer access to education and resources

to assist newcomers with their transition. Current projects include Safe and Healthy Families, a

program which helps refugees and immigrants improve their family relationships, build healthy

homes and prepare for disasters, GRAB (Girls Reaching Above and Beyond), a program that

focuses on empowering young women from newcomer families, or who are newcomers

themselves, and the Winona Community Garden, where Winona Hmong families have access to

grow crops, and learn about healthy eating habits.

Fatima Said, the Executive Director of Project FINE, uses collaborate communication to

structure the organization. Under her leadership, Project FINE has received the 2009 League of

Minnesota Human Rights Commissions Award; the 2010 Engaged Partnership Award from

Winona State University; the 2012 Nonprofit Excellence Award from the MN Council of

Nonprofits; a 2014 Community Partner Award from the Winona Education Association; the 2015

Outstanding Leadership in Community Citizenship Award from the Winona Area Chamber of

Commerce; and a 2016 Equity Recognition Award from Winona State University. Fatima has

also been recognized for her personal commitment with a 2010 Woman of the Year Award from

the Winona Women in Business organization, a 2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Award in

Human Service from the McKnight Foundation, a 2013 Welcoming America Champion of

Change at the White House in Washington DC, and a 2016 Presidential Award for Outstanding

Merit from Saint Mary's University ( There are four other people who work for

Project FINE full time in a small basement office of the Winona County building: Chong Sher

Vang, the program development director, as well as the Hmong community liason, Katie van

Eijl, the program manager, and day to day office manager, Maria Rodriguez-Ramirez, the

Hispanic/Latino Community Liaison, and German Victoria, the program coordinator, and full

time Spanish language interpreter.

The Project FINE board members include physicians, businessmen, and other community

partners; the board makes the major organizational and financial decisions. However, as

Executive Director, Fatima provides direction for the organization and builds partnerships with

businesses, service providers and organizations in the Winona community. All members of the

Project FINE team contribute to program ideas and development, as well as grant writing, and

research completion. Katie Van Eijl arranges day to day office meetings and appointments, seeks

out a variety of grant opportunities that are applicable to the mission and vision of Project FINE,

and creates programs tailored to specific grant requirements. Chong Sher Vang primarily

communicates with the Hmong community, and Hmong newcomers centered specifically within

the Winona community. Both Maria Rodriguez-Ramirez, and German Victoria communicate

primarily with the Hispanic community and Hispanic newcomers centered specifically within the

St. Charles and Lewiston communities.

I first became interested in interning for Project FINE, when it was suggested to me by

Dr. Kate Jenkins. I decided to send an email to the Project FINE program manager, Katie van

Eijl, expressing my interest in the organization. I also submitted an internship application online

at This is the email I sent Katie van Eijl inquiring about the possibility of

an internship; I included my resume in said email.


My name is Kelly Highum and I am currently a third year student at Winona

State University double majoring in Sociology and Communication Studies. I
am incredibly interested in interning with Project FINE over the summer; I
truly believe in the work that Project FINE does within Winona and the
surrounding communities, and I want to offer assistance in any way possible.
I applied for an internship on the Project FINE website, but I thought I would
email you directly and include my resume.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to speak with you soon.

I made contact with Katie Van Eijl shortly thereafter, and we set up an interview time.

Katie Van Eijl, the program manager at Project FINE, was my internship supervisor and

advisor throughout my experience at Project FINE. The purpose of my internship was gain

experience and the specific knowledge required to be a program manager of a nonprofit

organization. Through this experience, I intended to improve my interpersonal, organizational,

and cross cultural communication skills in order to become a more effective, respectful

communicator. My primarily function as a Project FINE intern was to assist with program

development and aid the organization in pursuit of its organizational mission: to integrate refuge

and immigrant populations and people into the Winona community through education. I

participated in multiple programs, including leading a GRAB (Girls Reaching Above and

Beyond) session in St. Charles. I also created program informational flyers concerning recycling

and tornado safety, attended a Project FINE board meeting, and shadowed six Spanish foreign

language interpreter appointments. I was responsible for discovering possible grant

opportunities, and brainstorming possible Project FINE programs to fit specific grant criteria.

My main goal at the beginning of the internship was to gain credibility with Katie Van

Eijl in order to assist in a grant writing opportunity. I began my internship anticipating that I

would be challenged both personally and professionally; I expected to coordinate multiple

activities for the GRAB program, and connect on a personal level with young girls of newcomer

status in order to be a positive influence within their lives. In reality, however, my job description

and experience included small projects (e.i. flyers intended to be translated concerning bike

safety, paint recycling, tornado warning) and a good deal of busy work. Overall, I had a positive

experience with Project FINE; however, I was disappointed by the lack of responsibility I was

entrusted with, and the lack of substantial work I was given. The organizational communication

culture at Project FINE was one of partial inclusion; it was very difficult to assimilate to the

organizational and group culture because there was a general feeling of resentment towards the

program manager, my internship advisor Katie Van Eijl. This was due to outside influences, and

recent organizational power shifts within the office. My internship was also very short; I was

only at Project FINE for three weeks, so it was very difficult to practice mutual self-disclosure

with my coworkers and therefore eliminate communication barriers.

However, throughout the course of my internship, I was able to utilize my intercultural

communication skills by attending multiple Project FINE programs. The first event I attended

was an informational session about the warning signs of tornadoes, spring cleaning tips, and

advice on how to recycle old paint; this event was held at the Winona Lake Lodge, and roughly

seven Hmong, and three Hispanic newcomers attended. I was asked to create a flyer for the

attendees to take home detailing the information communicated in the session. Chong and

German translated the information being delivered by Fatima into Hmong and Spanish. It was a

very strange experience to have two interpreters interpreting within five feet of each other in

different languages; attending this program was directly related to language expectancy theory.

My own expected language norm is the English language, and that was violated by two different

languages being spoken simultaneously at this event. This event also challenged my own

expectations about how newcomer populations assimilate into American society after coming to

the United States. Participating within this event displayed the complexity of the Hmong and

Spanish languages, and reinforced the rejection of an ethnocentric mindset. Knowing the English

language is not a prerequisite to living within the United States, or to being an American.

The second Project FINE program I attended was a GRAB meeting at St. Charles High

School in St. Charles, MN. All of the girls who regularly attend GRAB in both St. Charles, and

Winona are required to be from newcomer families, or to be newcomers to the United States

themselves. I was expected to pick an icebreaker activity for the meeting in order to promote

effective communication both among the newcomer girls in attendance, and the Project FINE

staff. Organizational assimilation was a large component in my experience attending the St.

Charles GRAB meeting. I was a new member of the Project FINE organization, and more

specifically, the GRAB program; therefore I assimilated into the GRAB programs existing

organizational culture. I catered to the GRAB girls communication styles, and utilized implicit

personality theory in the meeting. The girls also utilized implicit personality theory because our

meeting was brief, and they had very limited time to form concrete opinions of me. Our

impression of one another were implicit and automatic because of prior societal perceptions and

biases about one anothers race, gender, and socioeconomic class. Despite the awkward tension

at the beginning of the GRAB meeting, the girls and I managed to break down (at least partially)

communication barriers through the icebreaking activity, and sharing personal details with one


I would also posit that intercultural communication and cultural understanding occurred

throughout the meeting. The St. Charles GRAB girls attending the event were all Hispanic, and

fluent in Spanish. We talked about celebrities, food and school in a mix of Spanish and English.

My ability to communicate with them in both languages certainly affected their impression of

me, and fostered a more positive cross cultural communication experience.

Throughout my internship, I shadowed Maria Rodriguez-Ramirez, the Project FINE

Hispanic/Latino Community Liaison on multiple interpreting appointments. However, there were

two appointments that were prominent in my memory. The first took place in St. Charles; Maria

has a standing interpreting appointment with a Latina woman and her home visit nurse. The

woman we visited, and interpreted for has a variety of health issues, as well as struggling with

social isolation. Throughout the experience of shadowing Marias interpreting appointment, I had

to regulate my own judgement of the woman Maria was interpreting for. This was due to my own

internalization of the theory of normative social behavior. The woman was distracted throughout

the appointment, concerned with her flowers rather than with the administration of her

medication. I had internalized the norm that when a medical professional is offering medical

advice, administering drugs, etc., the patient should listen in order to understand the information

the medical professional is attempting to communicate. However, this societal norm that I have

internalized did not fit in with this specific appointment because of the language barrier, and

because of the womans medical condition. The normative social behavior that I subscribe to

because of my own socialization did not apply to this woman because of different life

experiences, and because she was socialized in a different way. To break down my own societal

bias towards the womens behavior, I had to reject my own internalized ethnocentric viewpoint.

Within this first appointment, the home visit nurse practiced a physician centered

communication style. The nurse was not very communicative with her patient, and spoke directly

to Maria, rather than including both Maria, and the woman that Maria was interpreting for. The

nurse also conducted side conversations with both Maria and I; side conversations make it very

difficult for interpreters to fully communicate the necessary information to their client, and

makes it difficult for the client to feel fully included in the conversation. The nurse was very

concerned with the medicine, and not necessarily as concerned with her patient.

I violated the patients language expectancy and established my credibility as an

interpreter assistant by engaging in a conversation in Spanish with the patient. That short

conversation during her appointment broke down the language barrier, as well as the

communication barrier between us.

The second appointment that I shadowed with Maria that was a well child checkup

appointment at Winona Health. Maria interpreted the appointment for the mother and father of a

one year old girl. The one year old girl was examined by a nurses assistant in training, and her

supervisor. The little girl was happy and healthy, but very confused as to why they were strangers

examining her throat and ears. The appointment included routine vaccinations; the supervising

nurse explained the vaccinations that the little girl would be receiving that day, and then left the

two other nurses to perform the vaccination. The mother did not want to hold down her child

while she was getting shots, so Maria did. Unfortunately, the nurses were unable to find a viable

vein so they have to poke the little girl multiple times. The child was very upset, and the mother

became very upset at the sight of her child in distress. She demanded to know what was

happening to Maria (the nurses were having a side conversation about how they were having

trouble finding a vein), and get visibly angry at the nurses lack of effective patient

communication. There was distinct lack of collaborative communication among patient and


The parents of the little girl getting her well child checkup were lacking in cultural health

capital they utilized an interpreter to complete the appointment effectively, they were a low

income family, and they violated the norms of traditional American doctors appointments. This

affected the effectiveness of the health communication taking place between patient and


The medical professionals present (the nurses) were very nice to myself, to Maria, and to

the family, but it was very obvious they were uncomfortable with the intercultural interaction

taking place. Two of the nurses who interacted with the family (there were three) almost

exclusively addressed Maria, rather than the family. They also engaged in side conversations

with myself and Maria, which excluded the parents of the little girl, and distracted from the

purpose of the appointment. However, the supervising nurse made sure to confirm and explain

informed consent to the parents of the child, and included relevant health information both

verbally and in written form (a pamphlet in Spanish) at the end of the appointment.

The communication throughout the appointment was very patient-centered, with the

supervising nurse communicating effectively with the family about their childs health. The

mother and father of the little girl received accurate health information, and scheduled a follow

up visit to complete the vaccination regimen.

The Friday of the second week of my internship with Project FINE, I had the privilege of

sitting in on a monthly board meeting. There are fifteen total members on the Project FINE board

of directors, but only twelve attended the meeting that day. Throughout the meeting, the use of

leader member exchange theory by Tom Severson (the Board President) and Fatima Said

(Executive Director) was prominent. Both of their leadership styles were based on collaborative

communication, trust, respect, and including the entire group in decision making and information

sharing. Fatima asked myself, Katie, Maria, German, and Chong to speak on behalf of Project

FINE and its program development. She led the board in thanking us for our hard work, and

expressed her appreciation for everyone involved. Tom Severson was very careful to include the

board in all board conversation topics; he asked for the opinion of everyone on the board on all

joint decisions and votes, and allowed Fatima to discuss her own experiences running Project

FINE. He also thanked everyone at the meeting for creating programs and opportunities that

allow Winona newcomers to thrive.

On the last two days of my internship with Project FINE, I attended the 11th Annual

Frontline Conference at Winona State University on behalf on Project FINE. The two day

conference was for AFSCME and MAPE employees. AFSCME and MAPE are two unions;

many members of these two unions work within the MnSCU system. Project FINE set up a table

in the student union to inform those attending the conference about the programs and services

Project FINE offers to Winona County. For the last two days of my internship, I was in charge of

the table in the student union, distributing information to conference attendees interested in the

organization, and sold international cookbooks produced by Project FINE.

Throughout both those days, I utilized social penetration theory to connect with the

conference attendees to recruit potential volunteers, share information about Project FINE, and

sell Project FINE international cookbooks. I would share small details about my own life, and

how Project FINE helps the Winona community in hopes of connecting with conference

attendees. I also avoided the use of stereotyping when engaging with the conference attendees.

The common stereotype about people from small towns/people who reside in small towns is that

they are ignorant about social issues. By rejecting that commonly held stereotype, I was able to

effectively engage in dialogue with many people from small towns about the refugee and

immigrant populations of Winona. I was an active listener throughout both days, both by

listening to other peoples experiences, and offering the option of a cookbook, a volunteer

application, or an interpreter application based on those experiences.

The programs, events, and appointments I attended as a Project FINE intern allowed me

grow as a human being, as well as a professional. My internship with Project FINE allowed me

to gain hands on experience, and internalize valuable lessons that will assist me in my future

professional career.

One of the most important lessons I gained through this internship, that will guide my

entire professional career, is that every person is important. This is a very simple concept that is

often overlooked and/or ignored, especially within the corporate world. I made it a point to be

very aware of my own privilege when interacting with people attending Project FINE programs;

I did not interrupt, I did not look down, and I examined my own internalized biases towards

people of immigrant and refugee status. Remembering names and faces, practicing active

listening, and examining the intrinsic power imbalance present within these cross cultural

interactions was an important part of respecting and valuing each individual. Ignoring my own

internalized biases regarding people of refugee and immigrant status would have done a great

disservice to myself, the other person within the interaction, and Project FINE; actively

unlearning these socially constructed biases is the first step in practicing effective and

respectfully cross cultural communication.

One lesson I can take away from attending one of the monthly Project FINE board

meetings is the importance of collaborative, respectful, organizational communication. The

experience allowed me to view how an effective, inclusive workplace functioned on multiple

levels. I appreciated how easy it was to assimilate into the Project FINE organizational

environment. Everyone was welcoming, respectful, and friendly; in my opinion, this

environment was sustained by managers (Tom Severson, and Fatima Said) who modeled that

behavior. In my professional career, I will model the same type of behavior displayed throughout

the meeting.

The importance of active listening, especially within interpersonal interactions, was

another lesson I took away from this experience. Mirroring nonverbal body language within

interpersonal interactions, especially when shadowing Maria as an interpreter, was a vital part of

building trust between the newcomer client and myself. The client trusted Maria, and by

extension, they accepted my presence in their private appointments; however, by practicing

active listening, as well as respectful nonverbal communication and body language, the clients

were able to build a relationship with me, however brief.

Through my internship with Project FINE, I was able to learn how to accurately and

respectfully communicate with non-English language speakers through an interpreter. In every

appointment I shadowed Maria on, there were times when the English-language speaking

professional (doctor, therapist, social worker, etc.) would speak directly to Maria, instead of the

person she was interpreting for. Interpreters are a necessary part of conducting programs and

events with diverse populations; not everyone is English speaking and able-bodied. Learning to

work with interpreters is especially important within the context of our globalized world. By

completing this internship, I witnessed professional primary English-speakers failing to

communicate respectfully with non-English speakers and their interpreters. As a result of this

type of disrespectful behavior, the ideas, opinions, and humanity of the non-English speaking

person is neglected in order to primarily speak English within said interaction.

Finally, as a result of completing my internship with Project FINE, I now know that

nonprofit advocacy and/or program management for a nonprofit will not be included in my

future career plans. Advocacy will be an important component within my professional career, but

I prefer a theoretical approach to social equality and justice, rather than on an individual basis. I

respect and appreciate the selfless work Project FINE, and other nonprofits do for communities

throughout the country and the world, but my passion lies in macro level societal analysis.

However, I do not regret completing this internship; it confirmed for me what I already knew

about my professional career goals, as well as allowing me the opportunity to improve my cross

cultural communication skills, especially with the Hmong community of Winona.

Overall, I had a very positive experience with Project FINE. I was able to utilize my

communication skills and knowledge to communicate respectfully and successfully both with

Project FINE staff, as well as members of the refuge and immigrant populations of Winona, St.

Charles, and the surrounding communities. My internship with Project FINE allowed me to grow

personally and professionally; communicating with members of newcomer populations

challenged my own internalized ethnocentric viewpoints regarding people of refugee and

immigrant status, and fostered a deeper understanding of Hmong and Latino cultures.

Project FINE.