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Exploration helps focus career path for three at SAPC

"I strongly suggest that everyone do an internship out in the world. There are some students who do internships on campus just to get the credit, but it really makes a difference to apply to places in your field that you might not expect to be. I never thought that I would want to do social work but now it's what I'm going to do."

This strong statement by senior psychology major Elysia Tiegs reflects the strength of her summer internship at Grand Rivers Hospital in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. However, she is not alone in seeing the benefits of the internship opportunities at St. Andrews as fellow students Dani Buchanan and Ashley Disque spent part of the summer exploring areas related to their academic programs.

Buchanan, a senior, did a women’s studies internship, working with REACH of Jackson County while Disque worked with NASA in Maryland.

"I worked with robots to test the pollution in the atmosphere,” said Disque, a third year 3-2 Engineering Major from Frederick, Md. “Our original goal was to deploy 20 but we ended up deploying 11 over a 4.5 km square over Maryland."

She learned of the job through her mother’s co-worker and received the call on her cell phone while at King’s Dominion.

"I'm going into mechanical engineering,” she said. “I've done woodworking before, but I'd never really worked with robots before. They gave me one to take apart, clean and then figure out how to put back together. I really wasn't excited about the process when I was told that each robot was worth between $30,000 and $40,000."

Disque and two fellow interns went through an orientation process together before beginning the work as a team.

"There were three parts involved in any set up,” she said. “There was the robot, deployment box and satellite. I liked doing the deployment box the most because if the date or the time was wrong we would have to drive 40 miles to revisit the site and fix it. I wanted to be responsible for what came through to the information center. I wanted that responsibility. I oversaw the entire process that way while also doing my own part."

The experience helped Disque get a clearer picture of what she would like to do after completing the 3-2 program.

"I would like to do the office part of the job again,” she said. “I enjoy prepping the materials for deployment and letting others do the site work. I didn't like the heat and I did not like climbing on roofs. I'm scared of heights and there were ladders to climb at every site. I actually climbed a ladder for the first time as part of the job.

"I want to run my own show. I want to work hard and be responsible for the finished product. I would rather be in control than making lots of money doing little things."

Like Disque, Buchanan went into her internship with an idea of what she wanted to do that was fine tuned by the experience.

"I went into this internship thinking that I want to go to graduate school and become a social worker,” she said of her work with the non-profit organization that focuses on victim advocacy, counseling, transitional living, and job placement. “But now I am looking at the legal system and considering law school or taking some time off from school and going to be a victim's advocate."

Through her internship, Buchanan was exposed to a variety of assignments within the organizational structure.

"I worked alongside the victim's advocate,” she said. “I accompanied clients to court. I worked on client/lawyer relations. Some of the victims were able to understand the lawyers without a problem but other times they didn't understand and I would work to translate the information for them. I worked on public relations and one weekend I managed the shelter and received emergency hotline calls.

"I learned how to fill out legal documents, properly write up news releases and how to deal with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” she added. “I also learned the positives and negatives of working for a non-profit. I enjoyed the casual attire and the small staff where you got to know everyone. But the down side is that most of the positions are based on grant funding so you don't know how long your job is secure or who will be there for how long."

Buchanan found her overall perspective changed by the internship. "I look at the world differently now because I saw bad things first hand. I came to realize that the little things we deal with on campus are not that important in the scheme of things."

This broadening of perspective also happened for Tiegs at her internship at the hospital where her mother also works.

"I didn't think that I would enjoy social work and now it's what I want to do,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to all aspects of the opportunity."

Tiegs shadowed a different social worker each day in different areas of the hospital, keeping a journal of the events while also working on different presentations and pamphlets for the social work supervisor.

"My St. Andrews education was incredibly helpful in the internship,” she said. “There was a lot of terminology and background information on various conditions that enabled me to keep up with the conversations and diagnosis process. My abnormal psychology class helped me to understand about the drugs and mental illness diagnosis and the counseling class helped me with other aspects. The research methods class was a huge help with the presentations I had to make. I was not as nervous making the presentations because of that."

The experience completely changed Tiegs’ plans for after graduation.

"I was planning to go into clinical psychology and spend the next 10 years in graduate school,” she said. “After this internship, I realized that I could do two years and still do private practice and be dealing with people all the time, which is much more in line with my personality. It was also nice to have a social worker there this summer who graduated in May and got the job over the summer. Having her share her experience making the same decision helped a lot. Also having a chance to talk to the psychologists on staff who said that they would've made the same choice if they could do it over again made a difference too."

Read about Business Internships from the summer 2010.
Return to Alumni & Friends Magazine 2010
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