Students' Internship Experiences

Heather Haag talks about how majoring in Sociology helped prepare her to be a successful intern at Bloomingdales.

Emily Walthouse discuss how her experience as a Sociology major helped her to secure her internship with

-Written by Nicole Accurso, class of 2013

I imagined it would be something that you would see on Judge Judy.  People coming in, without lawyers, bickering back and forth about insignificant matters.  And just like that, the judge would rule in favor of one party, and quickly dismiss them both.  As a criminal justice major, I should have known better, but then again I have never truly experienced the civil side of the justice system.  My internship at New York County Family Court this past summer really opened my eyes to such issues.  A few of my expectations were confirmed; however, I also learned a great deal in those eight weeks.

Located in downtown Manhattan, New York County Family Court is a large gray building comprised of eleven floors.  The court employs judges, referees, lawyers, court officers, clerks, and administrative personnel, while also housing various agencies, such as Child Protective Services.  Family court matters include cases of custody, orders of protection, and juvenile delinquency, just to name a few.  The courthouse is divided into parts, as each part deals with different issues.  They do this because there are far too many cases for one or two judges to handle.

During my time at New York County Family Court, I was placed in Part 48, which heard custody battles and orders of protection cases.  I sat next to the referee (who is almost like a judge), which was awesome to say the least.  I got to see everything happen from a judge’s point of view, instead of someone just in the “audience.” I observed trials, took notes, helped the clerk call the cases, and did research on laws and policies.  I loved watching each case, because although they involved the same central issues, each one was so different.  There was a story behind every person that came in, and I had the chance to read about them in the petitions and listen to them when they spoke.  Some of the cases ranged from being funny to downright bizarre.  But most of the things I heard in family court were extremely saddening.  I remember during orientation on the first day, one of the judges told the interns that people come to family court fighting for the two things that are most important to them: their money and their children.  Boy, was she right.  I’ve never seen such passion and high intensity in one setting before.

As cliché as it sounds, this experience made me realize how lucky I am to have a great family, wonderful friends, and my Villanova education.  Many of the people I encountered faced family problems, suffered from poor living conditions, and lived in constant fear of losing what they hold dear.  I witnessed twelve-year olds being led into court in handcuffs, and their families seemed not to care what happened to them.  I sympathized with these children and realized that their life circumstances and troubles at home contributed to their delinquency.  There were also people who walked in who I sorely disliked (to say the least) because they beat their children or raped their wives.  These instances made the whole experience more real for me.  And after the first day in family court, I understood that family and civil matters were in fact nothing like Judge Judy, but far more widespread and serious.

Internships are great ways to gain experience and make connections.  They are incredibly valuable to one’s future.  This fall, I’m participating in an internship in Philadelphia at the Pretrial Services Warrant Unit.  Instead of seeing what happens in the courtroom, I am exposed to everything that happens before trial, such as the investigations process.  I know that both internships, combined with the classes I’ve taken at Villanova, are allowing me to develop a holistic view of the justice system, while also giving much more meaning to my major.

*note: this story was published in the Fall 2012 Interactions newsletter.

-Written by Alyssa Choma, Sociology Graduate, class of 2012

Last summer (2011) I served as an intern at the Women’s Program of Princeton House Behavioral Health in New Jersey. Princeton House Behavioral Health is a unit of the Princeton Healthcare System and it provides treatment for people who have mental illnesses and other behavioral issues. The Women’s Program serves women of all ages who have been diagnosed with a variety of different mental health disorders. As a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice, I have a strong interest in the field of

counseling, which is why I pursued this opportunity. Through my internship, I was able to experience what it would be like to be a counselor or other professional involved in the treatment of mental health disorders. I was given the opportunity to observe and co-facilitate group therapy sessions as well as assist in the creation of patients’discharge plans. I learned a lot from my experiences; in fact, my internship helped me to realize that after graduation I want to work more with children and adolescents than with adults.

Through this internship, I was able to see the applicability of some of the concepts we have discussed in my Criminal Justice classes. I was able to observe first-hand the effect that mental illness has on individuals. I heard about patients’ financial struggles, social problems, and, obviously, health issues. I saw how certain mental illnesses may lead to criminal activity, such as shoplifting or drug use. I also saw how being the victim of a crime can result in the development of mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Overall, I found my internship at the Women’s Program to be a great opportunity that allowed me to gain some practical experience in the field of counseling. I truly developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be mentally ill or suffer from behavioral challenges.

* originally published in Spring 2012 edition of Interactions newsletter

-Written by Emily Several, Sociology graduate, class of 2013

During the summer of 2011, I served as an intern in the Outreach and Development Office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.  Although I was really looking for a legal internship, I had difficulty finding one that was willing to take an undergraduate intern.  When I was offered the Outreach and Development internship, I saw an opportunity for exposure to the ACLU’s legal work, since both departments are housed in the same office and are intricately linked to each other. It turned out that taking the intern position in the Outreach and Development Office provided me with the legal experience that I desired in my initial internship search.   

When I began working at the ACLU-CT, I made sure to share with my supervisor that my main interest was law and that I was eager to help with legal projects in any way. Fortunately, my supervisor wanted me to get the most out of my summer internship, so she spoke with the legal department right away. The legal staff was extremely accommodating and open to having me assist them with their ongoing projects. I began analyzing and summarizing documents from the Connecticut Department of Corrections (CDoC) for the “Northern Prison Project.” For this project, the ACLU partnered with Yale Law School’s Detention and Human Rights Project. The goal was to work together to prohibit mistreatment of mentally ill inmates at Northern Super Maximum Security Prison and advocate for inmates’ civil rights. After proving my analytical and research skills to the legal team, and discovering my interest in doing this type of preparation work, it became my sole responsibility to find any incriminating evidence in the many requested items that were sent from the CDoC to the ACLU. I then presented the evidence I found to the professor in charge of Yale’s Project.

Not only did this opportunity allow me to gain exposure to the legal profession and acquire experience in the field, I also became a key player in a civil rights legal project—my original hope for a summer internship. My involvement in this project definitely made me reflect upon the introductory sociology and criminal justice classes I had taken at Villanova. I also thought about my upcoming semester when I would take “Punishment and Society” with Dr. Jill McCorkel and serve as a tutor in the Prison Literacy Program at Graterford Prison. I knew that this class would allow me to have a first-hand glimpse into incarceration and the issues I had been reading about all summer. I will never forget all that I learned regarding the conditions for the mentally ill at Northern Prison in Somers, CT. This project opened my eyes to an area of our society that is brushed under the rug.

In light of my ongoing interest in prison reform, and my dedication to the Northern Project this summer, the ACLU-CT asked for me to continue analyzing documents upon my return to Villanova. Currently I am still involved in helping the ACLU and Yale’s case against Northern Prison. I owe my incredible internship experience this summer and the opportunity to continue working on the Northern Prison project to my coworkers who wanted the most meaningful practice for their interns. I feel lucky that my co-workers really cared about my interests and wishes and trusted that an undergraduate was capable enough to contribute to the team. My advice to fellow students who are hoping to locate a fantastic internship experience is to speak up from the very beginning about what you are looking for and present possible ways that you can complete these goals.

* this is an edited version of an article originally published in Fall 2011 edition of Interactions newsletter

Update to Emily’s story: During the summer of 2012, I continued to work on the Northern Prison Project, but this time I was based out of the Yale Law School’s Detention and Human Rights Project.  My previous experience at the ACLU allowed me to assist staff at the law school as they addressed the complaints of incarcerated clients and advocated for prisoners' rights.