by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, BTC Assistant Director
Many Beyond the Classroom students approach their required internship as just that: a requirement. After working in the non-profit and civil society sector for a semester, however, they get a lot more than they bargained for. They find that they gain real skills that help them transition to their professional lives or pursue further study. More importantly, they come away with strong commitments to understanding and solving salient social issues.
The one-credit Beyond the Classroom seminar(listed as UNIV326) is designed to support students during their internships. At the end of the semester, students give class presentations about their host organizations and what they learned in their internships. Last semester, students shared that they learned real professional skills such as specific computer programs, how to present themselves professionally on the phone and in the workplace, networking, time management, communication skills, persuasive writing, taking initiative, and active listening.
BTC prides itself in being a multidisciplinary program. The diversity of internships and organizations clearly reflected students’ varied majors and interests. Participants interned at Greenpeace, UMD’s Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a Veteran’s Administration Hospital, the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation, and the Saylor Foundation – to name a few.
Students reported that they learned skills more specific to their majors or future careers. Communication major Emily Kleinman learned how to write fact sheets and make a pitch as the Community Relations Intern for the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN). As the Public Policy and Advocacy Intern for the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, psychology major Nonney Onyekwelli gained a better understanding for state politics and presenting research for non-academic audience. Erica Stern learned how to facilitate children’s self-discovery, develop age appropriate activities, and apply theories she learned as an education major in her internship as a teacher’s aide at UMD’s Center for Young Children.
These internship experiences also expose students to social issues, learning that BTC students report they will use in their professional lives. Psychology major Seth Myers said his internship with America Counts taught him that factors outside school greatly affect students learning and health – valuable learning for his future career as a pediatrician. Loretta Bacon, a Government and Politics major who is considering working as a social worker or lawyer, reported that her Investigative Legal Intern position with the Baltimore City Public Defenders Office taught her, “Not all people in the criminal justice system are criminals. There are underlying social issues that lead people there.” Addressing those issues is the best way to address crime. Erica Hamilton – a psychology major also considering social work – said her Client Relations internship with A Wider Circle showed her, “It is a civic responsibility to end poverty.”
Students share one lesson, expressed by Family Sciences major Stacy Rivkin, who served as a Mental Health Associate with the Montgomery County Crisis Hotline. “I learned the importance of having an internship,” she noted in her presentation. She also encouraged all students to get internships, especially “hands-on internships, interacting with people,” valuable advice as BTC kicks off a new semester and students begin securing internships for the spring.