Jan Term internships offer real-world experience

February 16, 2010

Nearly 50 students took off on a different kind of Jan Term adventure – each testing knowledge, skills and interest in careers that ranged from wildlife conservationist to mental health counselor, from social worker to athletic trainer, from marketing specialist to legal researcher during the three-week mini-mester of uncommon courses and experiences.

Senior Lin Sun Oo returned to his native Myanmar, formerly Burma, for his Jan Term internship and discovered a whole new area of interest. The environmental policy and philosophy double major ventured onto unfamiliar ground with his research in tiger conservation, arranged through the Wildlife Conservation Society by world renowned wildlife activist Alan Rabinowitz ’74.

Oo has been a fan of Rabinowitz since his years in high school in Myanmar when he read every one of Rabinowitz’s books. He had no idea that Rabinowitz was a graduate of McDaniel until last September, when Rabinowitz returned to his alma mater to be inducted into the college’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and to give a lecture. It was then that Oo finally met the person who motivated him to become an environmentalist.

Until this experience, Oo’s interests nudged him toward environmental policy, not fieldwork in saving a species.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” said Oo. “I was fighting for a species that didn’t have a voice.”

But that is the nature of internships – self-discovery, exploration, trying on a career looking for a good fit.

Brittany Libernini ’11 took two years off of college to work in the mental health field before enrolling as a Social Work major at McDaniel last fall. She spent the three-week Jan Term at the non-profit Access Carroll, helping the homeless and insurance-less find not only medical care but transportation to receive care.

“There are so many barriers for these people,” says Libernini, acknowledging that even though clients’ situations are usually difficult, most people are grateful and the hard work is extremely rewarding. “They need someone to advocate for them. They really do.”

Whether advocating for people or tigers, it’s not unusual for students to discover new populations they enjoy working with, according to Social Work Professor Cathy Orzolek-Kronner, who sponsored Libernini’s internship. While Social Work majors are required to participate in internships during their senior year, most seniors have already benefited from practical experience by then.

“They learn valuable lessons around helping and begin to realize that not everyone wants to be helped or is as grateful as one may wish,” she says. “This is often difficult information to digest, but a wonderful opportunity to recall theoretical ideas to explain this phenomenon as well as engage in self reflection around thoughts and feelings this type of rejection evokes.

“Students also discover limitations pertaining to lack of resources within the community. Students thus can experience what it is like to feel helpless when they strive to be helpful.”

Lin Sun Oo saw firsthand the complexity of tiger conservation in understanding the difficulties of finding a way for people and tigers to coexist, especially as populations expand and encroach on tiger territory.

“I was able to learn about tiger conservation from the most experienced people who had been working in the field for 10 to 15 years,” he says of the Wildlife Conservation Society staff members whose research Oo studied.

Environmental Policy and Science Professor Scott Hardy underlines the importance of experiential learning.

“Lin is an ambitious student who has consistently expressed a passion for wildlife and the environment,” Hardy says. “Working with alumnus Alan Rabinowitz he has gained an incredible education in real-world international conservation.”

Libernini has worked with behaviorally and emotionally challenged children in a residential setting and is currently volunteering at the Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster. Last fall, she was placed at Access Carroll to fulfill the service-learning requirement in a Social Work class taught by Professor Jim Kunz.

“She felt strongly committed to the mission of this poorly funded and essential organization, and wanted to go back during January and fully invest herself in helping the dedicated staff with their goal of providing healthcare and medical resources to uninsured adults in Carroll County,” Orzolek-Kronner says, explaining that Libernini’s extraordinary work there has paved the way for other students to follow her.

“Brittany did awesome work,” says Access coordinator Trish Ruther, adding that Libernini was self-motivated and wonderful to work with.

Brittany Libernini with Trish Ruther

In other areas as well, students sometimes create their own internships. McDaniel student leaders Ben Cowman, David Castle and Zach Weeden delved into student government and organization leadership through videos and blogged about what they learned. Exercise Science and Physical Education majors T.J. Develin, Stephanie Hammond and Katherine Jones explored a gamut of careers as collegiate strength and conditioning coach, physical therapist and athletic trainer and elementary physical education teacher.

Eleven Psychology students worked as interns in clinics and human service organizations at Sheppard Pratt Health System, Family and Children’s Services, Catholic Charities Head Start, the ARC of Carroll County, Westminster Boys and Girls Club, a long-term structured residential program for individuals with mental illness, and others. Business Administration and Economics students spent Jan Term at banks, a law firm, AFLAC and the NBA’s Washington Wizards.