UW-Madison PEOPLE Internships at Agrace Hospice Care
Beauty of the Human Spirit
|UW PEOPLE Interns Joseph Smith (l-r), Mercedes Binns and Angie
Mungura-Simon with then Agrace Chief Diversity Office Brenda Gonzalez
For Angie Mungura-Simon, who will be a senior at Madison Memorial this fall, she wouldn’t even be thinking about attending college right now if it weren’t for
“It’s really long during the summer,” Mungura-Simon said about the high school component, echoing thoughts that Smith had had as well. “They are very long days
taking classes. The ACT prep was very helpful. I really used my resources and it’s been helpful that I get to have these resources that some others don’t have and
some people don’t even want to take advantage of these resources. During the school year, I get tutoring from the college students here. They come to our schools
and help us with the subjects, which was very helpful. I got to meet the college students and form relationships with them. They told us how UW-Madison was going
to be like and their experiences going there, the challenges they faced and how they are overcoming them. I just learned a lot from the college tutors. And some of
them work during the summer. Every summer, college students who worked in my school would be there. I would goof around with them.”
Mercedes Binns, a rising 12th grader from Milwaukee, is shy and doesn’t mind hanging close to home. PEOPLE had brought her out of her shell so that she can see
all that life has to offer and develop confidence in interacting with her peers and adults.
“I’ve always been kind of shy and I feel PEOPLE has given me the opportunity to break out of my shell and interact with people from other places in Milwaukee,”
Binns said. “It was strange at first, but I am very thankful to have the opportunity and to connect with authority figures who can help me with my future and help me
with my goals and reach my goals. It was amazing to spend my summers at UW-Madison. It was good to get out of the house so that I wouldn’t just sit around. Going
to class was great because over the summer you do lose your intelligence in a way. PEOPLE was a way for me to retain that and apply it in my next year of high
What these three PEOPLE students have in common is that they spent four weeks this summer in an internship at Agrace Hospice Care in Fitchburg. All three of
them had, at some point or another, expressed an interest in nursing. And while all three of them wish to serve other people, the internship at Agrace allowed them
to experience — and confront at times — the realities of the nursing profession.
Smith seemed to the most sure of — and committed to — going into the nursing profession.
“When they gave me the application, they asked what your major is and I just put nursing,” Smith said. “Everything was nursing. I ended up getting an email telling
me I was placed at Agrace. I didn’t know what Agrace was and my mother told me that it was where older people go to pass away. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to be
sad.’ But it’s something that happens. It’s terrible that we try to avoid it, but it happens and you have to deal with it. I thought it would be good to expose myself to it
Mungura-Simon chose Agrace over a more traditional hospital setting.
“I heard that Agrace was a place where elderly people come and it was just like a nursing home,” Mangura-Simon said. “Now that I’ve been here, I saw that it really
wasn’t a nursing home. The staff here is very friendly. They are very kind and very patient. I see also that the CNAs make an impact in the health care field and I like
that. Agrace is very homey. It feels like you’re at home.
While Binns wanted to enter the health care field, she had expressed some reservations about death. The internship at Agrace was the best setting for her to deal
with any issues that she had and make basic decisions about her career.
“I am in a place where essentially you are surrounded by death,” Binns said philosophically. “Agrace was a way for me to come to this acceptance that death is
something that we all go through whether it’s a family member, friend or someone we know. Overall, just coming to an acceptance of that and being able to not just
brush it off and in a way be okay with it was good. Not talking about it, sometimes we forget that it happens or we’re not okay with it or it’s this taboo thing. But being
exposed to it has opened my eyes to it being part of life.”
During their four-week internship, the PEOPLE students spent time shadowing Agrace staff as they performed their duties and also engaged the Agrace patients and
their families. Smith especially enjoyed the hands-on portions.
“During my final week here, I was in the in-patient unit, which was my favorite,” Smith said. “I want to be a nurse, so it’s awesome to follow a nurse and see what
they do. I learned so much about Agrace through these nurses. It can get really hectic and nurses walk really fast. Kevin is quick. But it was awesome to experience
that and see how the nurses and CNAs all work together on patients and how they all connect with the patients and know everyone on a first-name basis. I just feel
that would be me and it would be awesome. It was awesome to watch in the background. They asked if I wanted to do hands-on and I said no. Doing hands-on is
how things stick with me. Being up close and personal is how I remember everything. It was really nice.”
When someone completes their end-of-life journey at Agrace, the staff stands at attention while the person is placed inside a hearse to be taken to a funeral home. It
was an eye-opening experience for Mungura-Simon.
“I had never really experienced a death before,” Mungura-Simon said. “I really did get emotional. There were a couple of processions here. I got to attend one where
there was a family member and all of the teams. One nurse asked me if I was okay. And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ But then towards the end, I was like crying, having a lot of
tears. And then I talked to my mom about it. She was like, ‘You’ve got this. This is just a part of life. If you want to be a nurse, you’ll get comfortable with it.’ I really
haven’t seen a lot of processions the past three weeks when I was behind the desk. I got comfortable with it. I saw the staff and the patients make jokes. It’s just a
part of life.”
The experience at Agrace not only affirmed the three PEOPLE students’ desire to enter the health care field, it also helped them mature as people and gain an
important perspective on life.
“I’ve grown more comfortable with death,” Smith said. “And I also learned that as you get to that point, you become comfortable with death and it’s okay to joke
about it. It doesn’t sound good, but a lot of the patients were joking about it and they were comfortable with knowing that they were going to pass. It was heart-
breaking at first, but it was also comforting that they’re comfortable at Agrace and ready to go. It made me grow as a person. It made me more open to things. It
improved my communication skills with patients. I got to talk with patients’ families. They asked me questions and I answered. It was very nice to make connections
with the families.”
The students also learned the sense of camaraderie that allows people to perform difficult tasks day in and day out and stay on top of their game.
By Jonathan Gramling
The beauty of the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program, the university’s main high school to
college pipeline program for underrepresented students is that it allows students to
find themselves and their career interests as the also find their academic best selves.
Joseph Smith, a Milwaukee rising 12th grade student from MacDowell Montessori,
has enjoyed hands-on learning experiences since he enrolled at the school 15 years
ago. He followed his older brother into the PEOPLE Program. Joseph really had no
choice in the matter.
“My family was like, ‘Oh, when you get to the ninth grade, look out for the PEOPLE
Program,’” Smith said with a chuckle. “They really pushed me to do it. Once I got into
it, it’s been a really big help prep-wise for classes. I feel like I’ve always been
prepared when I’ve gone to my next year of high school. And with the ACT, I was very
confident. I didn’t do too well, but I was very confident when I took it. Overall, I’m very
appreciative of what the program has done for me and how it helped me grow as a
“What I really liked was talking to the patients and also being comfortable
with death also,” Mungura-Simon said. “A challenge for me was staying
awake because we have long days here. At the end of the day, I was just so
tired and I barely had any sleep. But during triage, there were some people
who tried to keep the conversation going to try to keep us awake. It was
really nice to get to know all the staff here. They were very, very nice.”
The human spirit is indefatigable. No matter the challenge, people rise to the
challenge and overcome whatever obstacle stands in their way.
There is a sonnet by John Donne that begins, ‘Death be not proud.’ Through
the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program internship at Agrace, three PEOPLE
students found the meaning of those words as they continue to pursue
careers in helping others. They have placed end-of-life in its place and