“What are you doing this summer?” it goes.
I say, “I’m interning at Hillcrest Educational Centers in the administrative office.”
“Ah, an office internship.” *Usually accompanied by a pitying nod and ironic smile implying poor compensation and menial labor.
*Insert explanation about how my experience at Hillcrest could not be farther from that description.
I am a rising sophomore neuroscience major struggling to produce a satisfactory answer to: “What Do You Want To Do After You Graduate?” the second-most-requested dialogue in my repertoire after “What Are You Doing This Summer?” Since I have no idea, I usually improv here. Thus, I came into this summer desiring little more than some real-world experience and hoping that, good or bad, I might be able to narrow down the type of career path I am interested in.
Prior to filling out the application, I had given little thought to residential treatment facilities for psychologically traumatized youth. However, what I found here was honestly inspiring. Every day I am impressed by the staff, a group of extremely hardworking, dedicated, personable, and compassionate people. Highlights include witnessing staff console, instruct, and play basketball with students with the same seemingly-inexhaustible energy supply and cheerful enthusiasm. I spent most of my time at the administrative office and not on the campuses, however, but was met with the same dedication and enthusiasm there. This was probably due to the fact that almost all members of senior management were youth development counselors, themselves, at one point or another. Furthermore, an impressively large percentage of staff members have told me word-for-word that the Hillcrest team “is a family” (and this was not a recited line, but an honest sentiment on their part). I feel the same way.
My day-to-day experience interning was dynamic as well as meaningful, (not at all warranting the sympathetic nod often elicited by the words “summer internship”). I split my time between the Human Resources department, and a special outcome study project. The study was particularly gratifying because of the independence it granted me. I was charged with the responsibility of designing and implementing every step. This also meant that while I spent some days in the office assisting the HR staff with their projects, I also spent a lot of time on the campuses, explaining the study, interviewing clinicians, sitting in on meetings, collecting data from student portfolios, etc. Another significant portion of my time was filled speaking to discharged students, parents, and caseworkers on the phone, listening to their success stories since leaving Hillcrest.
My summer culminated in a 30 page report and a presentation to the senior management and board of directors. I definitely felt that my time and work were appreciated, and my opinions valued and considered. Overall, I had an incredible experience, and though I am still unsure what I want to do as a career, my experience at Hillcrest put organizations serving kids with psychiatric and behavioral disorders on the map of possibilities.