MERCER – During her senior year in college, Jenna Rabideau struggled to find an internship until she called the Mercer County coroner’s office.
Rabideau, 22, was a forensic anthropology major at Youngstown State University when she tried for several months in late 2019 to to find placement with a coroner or medical examiner. She looked in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and even back at her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., without success.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there,” she said. “Nobody could help me and nobody could give me answers.”
In a "last ditch effort," Rabideau reached out to Mercer County Coroner John A. Libonati. He told her the county had paid internships available under a program through the West Central Job Partnership.
The job partnership, a private non-profit agency that provides job training and workforce development programs in Mercer and Lawrence counties, administers private and government grants, like the one that funded Rabideau's paid internship.
Rabideau started shadowing Libonati in February 2020 and took a paid internship for the summer.
Rabideau said learned from investigating, but also learned life lessons. She moved to Mercer for the internship.
“What I got was one of the best experiences of my life,” Rabideau said. “I have a second family that I never thought I’d have.”
Rabideau graduated from YSU and moved to Mercer permanently. She has accepted a county position on the staff of District Judge Dennis M. Songer’s office in Sharon and will continue to work on a volunteer basis for the coroner’s office.
She is an expert in bone identification. From a single bone, Rabideau can determine whether it came from a human or animal.
If the sample comes from an animal, she can identify the species. If it comes from a human, she can provide additional information, including the person's height and age, that can be used to determine where the bone came from.
“Her specialty is a specialty that we’ve never had in our county,” Libonati said. “To have her relocate and continue with our office and to have her employed here, it’s really neat because now the court system has a valuable employee and we still have access to that valuable resource.”
Libonati expressed gratitude for the West Central Job Partnership program that brought Rabideau onto the county workforce.
“It’s a great program,” Libonati said. “It’s more than having summer help come in and do filing. They’re actually involved with the organization they’re doing the internship with. It’s really a hands-on, practical experience.”
Rebecca Moder, planning and policy director for West Central Job Partnership, said the organization, along with the Pa. CareerLink centers in Lawrence and Mercer counties, is dedicated to working with local employers to support employment opportunities for youth and young adults.
This summer, the partnership will use the State Local Internship Program grant and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal funding to support 51 paid internship placements of people 18 to 24 years old.
“These internships provide high quality work experiences with established learning objectives related to the interns’ career interest or program of study,” Moder said.
Under the internship programs, employers hire interns at a wage of $10.35 per hour or more and are reimbursed 75% of the hourly wage for eight weeks of employment for 25 to 40 hours per week. The program runs through Aug. 31.
Rabideau advises students looking for internships to be persistent.
“You might have your heart set on an internship,” she said, adding that she was expecting something other than what she got. “You’ll end up where you need to be.”
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