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Forester News

Paige Thiel ’21 focused on enhancing cultural understanding

As an intern, Paige Thiel ’21 worked with CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, on their Chicago Arab Heritage Resource Guide to advance a wider understanding of the Muslim community among school-age children.

CAIR benefited from Thiel’s religion and international relations double major to bring their resource guide to life.  

Q: What is it that you do for your internship?

A: I’m working right now on a project that’s called “Who’s my Muslim Neighbor: A Resource Guide.” It’s an outline that is about the cultural history of Muslims and Arabs. The guide is a  background about Islamic faith, the differences and similarities in their beliefs and practices, and similar topics in that area. I’m hoping to provide a resource for groups wanting to do different workshops for community education. Ideally, we would love to get this guide into schools, elementary school up to high school, we can use the guide to teach younger ages about the cultural differences and help fight misinformation and discrimination during their formative years.

Q: What your biggest takeaway from your time at CAIR?
A: The amount of time and energy that goes into working for a non-profit. Non-profits often do not have the ideal funding to be able to execute all of the projects they wish to, so they must be creative in their ideas of execution. In addition, it takes time and lots of cooperation between coworkers to be able to come up with effective, creative solutions to limited funding to still be effective in their work. The work at non-profits such as CAIR is often tiring; however, being able to see your own results in action, helping a community to fight discrimination, makes all the time and effort worth it 1,000 times over. Working at a non-profit is an emotionally rewarding experience.
Q: How has working at CAIR influenced your academic life and plans after graduation?
A: Working at CAIR these past six months has completely altered the way in which I intend to continue my studies after graduation and the type of careers I wish to pursue. When I started undergrad, I had intended to become a high school history teacher. Now, with the help of working at CAIR, I hope in the future to be able to work in careers such as a government consultant on religion, a museum curator, a textbook writer for world religions, or other careers in that wheelhouse. Working on the Who’s My Muslim Neighbor: A Cultural Resource Guide, has helped me to focus my goals and passions, to which I can then pursue in my future career.
Q: How did the CAC help you in your search for an internship?
A: Honestly, before talking with Ben at the CAC, I had not heard of CAIR, which is ironic considering I had lived in the suburbs of Chicago for my whole life. Ben helped to connect me with Gerald, Outreach Coordinator at CAIR-Chicago. Without this foundational connection, I may not have had the opportunity to intern at such a wonderful organization, meet insightful coworkers, or to work on impactful projects.
Q: Do you think other students would benefit from internships?
A: I would definitely recommend to other students that they get hands-on experience through an internship! With Chicago being so close, there are opportunities for everyone to find the internship that is best for them. An internship taught me things that I would not be able to learn in the classroom from interacting in an office environment to journalistic writing to managing my time to cooperating with others on a long-term project. Not only theses factors but working at an internship helped me to finalize my career goals and narrow down what my interests really were.
Q: Have you had internships before CAIR?
A: Working at CAIR-Chicago was my first internship. I started the summer before my Junior year and continued it into the fall. I am currently abroad this spring, but when I return to LFC in the fall, I will only have one semester left of undergrad. I may continue to intern with CAIR outside of LFC because I can no longer get academic credit for it; however, my experience with my coworkers was invaluable, and I am excited about the possibility to continue working on projects I had not finished by the end of the fall semester.