Students in Pivotal’s Intern Coach Program are working towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. Our program gives them an opportunity to complete their required professional hours under the supervision of our team of experts, all of whom have Master’s degrees in Social Work. Intern Coaches work exclusively with high school students for one year and manage a caseload of roughly six students per coach. They deliver social-emotional learning, teach success skills such as time management, interpersonal communication and self-advocacy, and guide youth through career exploration, college matriculation and financial aid applications. Typically, we host 15-20 Intern Coaches each year. It’s our pleasure to share these reflections from one of our rock star interns, Peter Phi.

When I was 13 years-old, my parents put me on a flight from Vietnam and sent me to the United States to live with my uncle, aunt, and grandfather. My high school years were especially hard and in those four years, I changed schools three times. What I didn’t know back then was how similar my experience of living with a family I didn’t know and shuffling from school to school was to that of foster youth. It could be why I was drawn to a career in social work, which began as an Intern Coach at Pivotal.

About three years ago, a friend told me about her work as a social worker, and I thought “What? There’s a career like that? That’s cool! I want to do that!” So, I enrolled in De Anza Community College and later transferred to San Jose State University, where I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work. That’s when I first learned about Pivotal and its Intern Coaching Program. The Intern Coaching Program allowed me to practice the skills I was learning in the classroom and receive supervision and support from incredibly talented professionals. I worked closely with six high school students with varying backgrounds, interests, and motivations. My experience with one high school youth, Mike, will stay with me forever because I witnessed the immediate impact of my work.

Mike was a senior and captain of his school’s basketball team. His dream school had always been Sacramento State University. He was so committed to that school, that he did not apply to others. As his coach, I guided him through the application process. A few months after submitting his application, he contacted me to say that he had not been accepted. It was a bittersweet moment for me: Although I was glad that he’d reached out to me to share his disappointment, I knew how much getting into Sac State meant to him. We talked about appealing the decision and he said he’d think about it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that persistence pays off. I urged Mike to reconsider his decision and he did. We contacted Sac State to ask about the appeals process and learned that the denial had been made on a technicality regarding his high school credits! The deal was this: If we could prove that Mike did actually have the credits he needed, they might reconsider his case. We got to work quickly, gathered the information he needed and wrote a compelling appeal letter. I leaned on my Pivotal supervisors for additional support and was amazed at their level of expertise in the education area. With so many people cheering for him, Mike rediscovered his confidence and felt great about his decision to appeal. In fact, instead of mailing his packet, Mike decided to DRIVE it to Sac State’s admissions office. Then we waited. The following week, all of Mike’s hard work and persistence paid off. He was accepted into Sacramento State!

My internship year at Pivotal has given me so many opportunities to expand my interests, hone my skills, learn about policies, and practice working across many government systems. I’ve worked with the school system, social workers, Independent Learning Program, family reunification therapists, transition and case managers. I love that Pivotal staff consistently gave me feedback and reaffirmed my competency and resiliency. My role as Intern Coach helped me delve into a new depth of empathy too. I can’t come close to expressing how grateful I am for my social work internship at Pivotal. Life has taught me that you don’t always get back what you put into things, rather, sometimes, you get much more. That’s what Pivotal has done for me.