College Internship Program helps students with learning differences develop interpersonal skills

Ruby Sapia/Staff

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The College Internship Program, or CIP, which has a location in downtown Berkeley, gives students with learning differences a space to develop interpersonal skills and transition into the workforce.

Located at 2150 Shattuck Ave., CIP offers several different modules for students to learn basic life skills, such as health and wellness, strong study habits and relationship development. CIP has 21 students in the program, about 70 percent of whom are on the autism spectrum, according to CIP’s national director of public relations Sarah Williams.

Additionally, students in CIP can participate in an independent living program at the K Street Flats, where students learn how to moderate roommate conflicts and do their own laundry, among other things.

“One of our main goals for all of our students is to become really engaged, become really interactive, and be able to navigate their community,” said CIP’s Assistant Program Director Pilar Page. “That’s what independence comes to: when they no longer need us.”

CIP was founded in 1984 by Michael McManmon, a psychologist who received his doctorate in education and worked extensively with students with learning disabilities. McManmon, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome himself in his early-50s, opened the first CIP center in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Since then, CIP has expanded to five locations throughout the U.S., according to Williams.

Williams said four UC Berkeley students interned at CIP over the past year. Some of the students worked in collaboration with coordinators to run group and individual modules. Rachel Tsipan, a campus junior majoring in psychology and minoring in disability studies, said in an email that she helped staff lead several modules, including cooking and media communications.

“Ever since I was in high school I’ve been passionate about working with individuals with disabilities and empowering them to reach their true potential,” Tsipan said in the email. “I like how holistic CIP is.”

Because several CIP students are in the process of deciding whether they want to pursue higher education, hearing stories from students who are already attending university is beneficial, according to CIP’s academic coordinator Stina da Silva.

Page added that CIP students were better able to grasp the importance of individual modules by interacting with current college students.

“Many students didn’t understand why we had a comprehensive program,” Page said. “By bringing in the different interns, (we) showed them that these are young adults in college, (who) have to balance a social life, nutrition and fitness, just like you.”

Spectrum: Autism at Cal — a UC Berkeley student-run organization that raises awareness about autism — has collaborated with CIP on several programs in the past, including a 5K run in support of programs for people with autism, according to incoming Spectrum: Autism at Cal president Meghan OConnell.

“We have worked to coordinate with them and they are very open to collaborations and getting more involved with our on campus activities,” OConnell said in an email. “From what I have seen, for those students who have access to the programs and resources that CIP provides, CIP has been effective in their efforts!”

Revati Thatte is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.