Cornell Cooperative Extension interns recall summer experiences and community connections

Nika Colley ’23, foreground, works on a teaching farm in Rochester as part of her summer internship through Cornell Cooperative Extension. Photo by RJ Anderson/Cornell University
By Melissa Jo Hill
Originally published at

Some students spend summer vacation relaxing. Nika Colley ’23, used the time creating a new urban garden and leading workforce transition project for young adults in Rochester as part of the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Summer Internship Program.

“At Cornell, I study environment and sustainability and animal science,” Colley said. “And this internship has played into my interest in food justice and environmental justice.”

The project – Growing Relevant and Outstanding Work Skills (GROWS) – began with the conversion of a half-acre of the south lawn of CCE Monroe County property into an experimental teaching farm. Colley then worked with CCE Monroe County staff to recruit unemployed young adults from local communities touched by gun violence.

“They learned about farming, grew workplace skills,” Colley said. “We helped them get OSHA certified, get their driver’s licenses and then get into a continuing education program and place them in a job, or help them in the process of finding a job or their next schooling opportunity.”

The GROWS project was one of 28 internship opportunities that 29 Cornell students participated in over the summer. Spread across New York state, projects range from working with campus faculty to create a commercial guide for growing pawpaw fruits to helping solidify management tactics to reduce the impact of spotted lanternfly in grapes in the Hudson Valley to developing programming that supports families with gender diverse children in Suffolk County.

At the CCE Internship Reception, held Oct. 6 in the Biotechnology Building, students shared their success stories with faculty and extension staff.

“It is the collaborative academic culture at this institution that has welcomed and nurtured the unique partnerships CCE has developed on campus and across the state,” CCE Director Chris Watkins said.

The evening also included comments from the Esther Angert, senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology; and Basil Safi, executive director of the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement.



Nika Colley, ’23, spent her summer working on a new urban garden workforce development project in Rochester.


The CCE Summer Internship Program started in 2007 with five projects. Spanning CALS and CHE, the program now partners with the Einhorn Center to include internships that are open to students across the university.

“With a presence in every county of New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension exemplifies community involvement at its best,” Watkins said. “These experiences provide incredible opportunities for students, many of which can make huge difference in their future career prospects.”

Dunifon said the projects provide students with real-world experience.

“They want to make the world a better place,” she said. “These internships give students the opportunity to do just that. They’re able to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to improve the health and well-being of people throughout the state.”

For Colley, her impact on the GROWS program will be felt long after she graduates. A long-term vision for the project includes four-season production that educates and provides skill training to community members while growing produce to donate to local pantries.

“I’ve been able to build this program, and shape it with my own ideas, and contribute, and leave my mark on it,” she said. “I have always loved gardening and farming. And it's been a very healing process for me. So I’m really happy that I’ve gotten to share a little bit of that with others.”

Melissa Jo Hill is communications specialist and writer with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

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