Putting psychology experience learned in field into practice

Daisy Soto (top, left) is among several UIC applied psychology students who interned at Mujeres Latinas En Accion, then found a job there. Kathryn Engel (top row, third from left) helps students find the best match for their one-semester internship. Other UIC alumnae who interned and now work at Mjueres Latinas En Accion include (top row, from left) Yurianna Reyes, Mayra Quiroa, Maria Leon, Martha Ramirez and Alma Vargas, and (bottom row, from left) Erika Aguirre, Estela Melgoza, Roxana Franco and Jennifer Hernandez.

It was his experience outside the classroom that gave Marcus VanSickle the edge getting into graduate school.

VanSickle, a 2011 UIC graduate, completed an applied psychology fieldwork course that let him put what he learned in the classroom into practice.

“My internship gave me assessment and interviewing experience — two big clinical experiences that are very hard to get in an undergraduate program and were very well received in my graduate school interviews,” said VanSickle, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

“It gave me a big-picture view of how everything I was learning in my courses applied in the real world.”

UIC’s applied psychology program includes an intensive one-semester internship, called Fieldwork in Psychology. Students must select internships to apply for from a pool of 220 approved sites, ranging from urban after-school programs to domestic violence shelters.

“Students get right into the thick of it and get their hands dirty — they do a lot of everything because the sites are really welcoming of them,” said Kathryn Engel, director of internships in applied psychology and lecturer in psychology.

Students who complete the internship program have advanced to top graduate programs and found strong connections for networking; some have been offered full-time jobs, Engel said.

“Some have been hired before the course was even over,” she said. “Our students are functioning at a much higher level, which is why our interns are so well-received out there.”

Before they look for internships, applied psychology students must complete prerequisite courses that teach them the skills they’ll need, such as interviewing and assessment.

“Our students are well-prepared and have strong foundational skills to bring into the community,” she said. “The internships are fabulous and we give them a lot of training and support along the way to land these internships.”

UIC alumna Elizabeth Garcia’s internship experience led her to find other ways to help out, including a medical mission trip to Costa Rica. “I want to help kids in any way that I can,” she says.

Elizabeth Garcia’s experience in the field helped her find the right career path.

During her internship at the Manuel Saura Center, which provides an alternative to juvenile detention, Garcia helped youths ages 10 to 17 learn coping mechanisms for anger management.

“I didn’t know places like this existed. The kids really picked up a lot and took away life lessons to help them in the future,” said Garcia, who graduated in spring 2011.

Garcia found her passion for working with kids through the internship and has sought out other opportunities to help out, such as through a medical mission trip to Costa Rica.

“The internship taught me that I want to help kids in any way that I can,” said Garcia, a doctor of physical therapy student at Northwestern University.

Senior Daisy Soto interned last semester at Mujeres Latinas En Accion, where she currently works part time and hopes to find full-time employment after graduating in May. Her job duties include supervising court-mandated visits between families.

Interning “really prepared me” for grad school, says UIC alum Martin VanSickle.

“Every case is different so I have to refrain from trying to psychoanalyze each one of my clients,” she said.

Her coursework helps her better communicate with the children she serves, Soto said..

“I’ve been able to pick up signs if I see them feeling anxious or nervous,” she said. “I’ll help them understand what’s going on and that they’re going to be safe.”

VanSickle completed his fieldwork with UIC’s Institute for Disabilities and Human Development. He conducted interviews to analyze the impact of a state policy change that allows people with disabilities to hire family members as personal service workers.

“It was a really great experience taking the time to learn about the community and the history of the experience of people with disabilities,” he said. “It allowed me to see the practical application of the research process.”

When he finishes his doctoral program, VanSickle will complete at least seven years of service with the U.S. Navy. He plans to become a clinician, serving members of the Navy and Marines.

“I was intrigued by the applied psychology program and that pushed me further and ultimately launched me into graduate school,” he said. “It really prepared me for the experience.”

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