Field internships helped Saint Mary’s seniors Ellie Niedbala and Lexi Assimos focus their potential career paths in psychology. The two based their recent SMU Psychology Symposium presentations around what they learned from these real-life experiences working with local school children and adults undergoing drug treatment in Illinois.
Their experiences couldn’t have been more different.
Niedbala spent the past semester interning with Winona elementary schools, primarily Washington-Kosciusko. Originally, she said she thought that school psychology was a possible vocation for her, particularly because of her love of children. But after working closely with a school psychologist for several weeks, Niedbala has decided to instead pursue a career in research.
Her internship included assisting with IQ or behavior tests, as well as counseling youth about a variety of issues including self esteem, social skills, bullying, home issues and behavior disorders.
“I really respect that profession,” she said. “And it’s an amazing career, but I decided that I’m really more of an introvert and would rather be involved in research; I love reading and writing.” The Geneva, Ill., native has decided to pursue Ph.D. programs in social and personality psychology to further study how people interact and what makes up their personalities.
Niedbala’s symposium presentation focused on human figure drawings done by children who have may have experienced physical and sexual abuse. “I gave indicators of how to spot traumas and how to interpret emotional indicators through their drawings,” she said.
Senior Lexi Assimos of Northbrook, Ill., interned this past summer at Arlington Center for Recovery in Arlington Heights, Ill., an outpatient drug treatment facility.
There, she observed and led group sessions, led education classes and assisted clients as her first experience with applied psychology.
“It was really eye-opening and helped me figure out what I am going to do with my life,” she said. “I’ve decided to go into forensics psychology. I have a criminal justice minor, and I would like to combine those two areas of study. I am intrigued with the psychology behind why people do drugs.”
She plans to pursue a master’s degree after graduation. “It’s a new field and I’m finding there is a lot of job opportunity. I did a ride-along with a Northbrook police office for class, and it felt comfortable. I belong in this field.”
Assimos’ presentation was titled “Becoming the drug.” She examined how external issues can play a role in eventual drug use. She examined a variety of factors including social groups, not having a strong sense of identity, and prior usage by family members.
As Assimos developed a relationship with the clients that she worked with last summer, she discovered that there is no stereotype of drug users. “Everybody has their own story,” she said.
The two have discovered that a degree in psychology can take many different directions. And both would recommend completing hands-on internships before graduation to gain valuable experience, or to solidify (or even change) career paths.
“Even though I decided not to go into counseling, I learned so much working in the real-life situation every day,” Niedbala said.
The annual Psychology Symposium was held Dec. 7. The symposium featured 11 student presentations on original research projects; an alumni panel where recent graduates discussed their post-graduate experiences; and a poster session that highlighted the research of the department’s collaborative laboratories.