The Best Internship I Ever Had…

trio_logos-mcnair_redWhile pursuing my doctoral degree at the University of Maryland at College Park, I applied and was selected as the first Counselor for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This federally funded program is designed to prepare students who are primarily from low-income, first generation and traditionally underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral studies. When I was selected for this position, I was both honored and overjoyed!

Here are seven reasons why this internship will always be my favorite:

  • It was the first career opportunity that allowed me to directly apply knowledge I was gaining through my classroom and practical training (i.e. Individual and Group counseling, consulting) outside of a counseling center setting. Interestingly, this was my first true exposure to the world of Student Affairs.
  • My job was intellectually challenging. I got a true sense of what it would be like to hold a position as an employee who was responsible for designing and implementing a brand new educational program.
  • I was given the freedom not only to continue my own development in a variety of areas such as counseling, research, leadership, program development, public speaking, event planning – end of program research event), but I was also allowed to set forth strategies and timelines for implementing the Counseling component of the program.
  • I had wonderful supportive colleagues!
  • The leadership team in my department as well as my co-workers highly valued working with multicultural populations.
  • This position allowed me to use my strengths every day (Individualization, Learner, Relator, Connectedness, and Responsibility).
  • Another important factor was that I got paid to do what I was passionate about!

 

What challenged me most about this position? Ambiguity. Ambiguity can be a challenge as we make transitions from familiar to unfamiliar places or roles. It didn’t take long to realize that no one was going to “tell me exactly what to do.” This was a pivotal experience in my career development. Frankly, this situation was initially very anxiety provoking since I was technically still a student. In addition, being the “new kid on the block” can be a frustrating experience because there is a lack of knowledge about the new work environment in general, along with unclear expectations, and finding one’s place within the new social milieu.

 

My advice about entering a new position or work environment is to be patient with oneself as well as new supervisors and co-workers. Taking on a new role or transitioning to a new work environment is a process of adaptation. It takes time to get oriented to the new system, which can include the rules of the workplace, the demands of the position along with forming healthy connections with colleagues among other factors. Learn to embrace ambiguity as an opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, willingness to initiate projects and wisdom in decision making. These are qualities that are highly valued in most work settings. And remember, if you are selected for a position you applied for, it must mean the company or agency saw you as a person who could competently fulfill the requirements of the job, so make it your goal to prove them right!

 

By: Myra Waters, Ph.D. – Director, UB Counseling Center

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