Full-Time Employment, School, AND an Internship: How One UMUC Alum Got the Experience She Needed to Launch Her New Career

For many UMUC students, juggling a full-time job, a heavy academic course load, and other family and personal responsibilities leaves little time for sleep let alone anything else. UMUC alumna Kenithia Alston, ‘15 is certainly no exception, yet she realized that in order for her to successfully change careers, getting experience in her target career field was essential.

Her story of how she secured not one but four internship experiences highlights the importance of both persistence and flexibility. After calling her target employer weekly for over three months, she was able to secure a part-time internship in the swing shift hours so that she could get the experience she needed. As a result, Kenithia not only obtained an exciting opportunity as an Eligibility Examiner at the District of Columbia’s Defender Services Office, but due to the combination of her UMUC degree and internship experience, she was able to receive a higher starting salary. Read more about Kenithia’s internship success story:

Q: What sort of work were you doing prior to becoming a UMUC student?

Prior to becoming a student at UMUC, I was a full-time claims processor at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (working 50 hours per week) and a part-time student at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). While attending PGCC, I earned Phi Theta Kappa membership.

At a very early age, I unknowingly developed a passion for social/criminal justice. My employers prior to my degree were not social justice related. However, while attending PGCC, I began volunteering in many social justice arenas. Some of my volunteer assignments consisted of PGCC Spring break Interfaith Community Service at the Steinbruck Center; Philadelphia’s Habitat for Humanity; Luther Place Night Shelter and Bethany’s Women’s Center.  

After successfully obtaining my Associates of Science from PGCC in December 2012, I was determined to pursue my academic goal of obtaining my Bachelor of Science.

Initially, I was unsure which school to pursue my bachelor’s; however, after interacting with an awesome UMUC peer during my admission and transfer session, I knew UMUC was a match for me. She shared the Transfer Scholarship information and I was awarded the scholarship for my entire duration at UMUC.

Q: Why did you decide that doing an internship was important in helping you achieve your career goals?

I felt completing an internship was critical in achieving my career goals considering I desired to shift my career into a different field. For example, although I had volunteered in criminal justice, my hours were not sufficient enough to equate the level of experience majority job vacancies were seeking. Additionally, I strived to meet more social justice professionals to develop my skill set.  

Particularly, I had minimal experience and not many contacts in the field of social/criminal justice.  Additionally, I felt the need to engage myself in an unofficial manner to ensure I was choosing the best match for my future career path.

Q: How did you get your internship?

Getting my internship was not an easy task. It took a lot of patience, perseverance and determination. It all began when I approached a police officer at my church to share I was close to finishing my bachelor’s degree. I expressed that I was not interested in becoming a police officer. And, as a result he suggested I inquire about the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). I knew absolutely nothing about the agency, yet my curiosity strived. Therefore, I researched the agency and assumed it would be a match for my development.

When I inquired with CSOSA regarding an internship, the HR representative shared there were no current vacancies for internships and based upon my work schedule it presented a challenge. Despite the HR representative’s response, I phoned her weekly for approximately three months until she was able to find a department to host me. Considering I had a previous financial background, CSOSA’s Office of Finance (OFM) was the first department to host me.

Q: What internships did you complete?  Why did you do so many?

During the course of my internship with CSOSA, I transitioned to four of their departments. The four departments consisted of the Office of Finance (OFM); Investigation, Diagnostics, & Evaluations; Faith Based Initiatives (FBI); and Reentry Sanctions Center (RSC).

At OFM, I was solely responsible for retrieving vendor electronic invoices and employee travel reimbursement. Although the experience at OFM was great, I felt the need to expand my skill set through direct contact with defendants. As a result, I shared my concerns with OFM and later transitioned to additional departments within CSOSA.

Q: What did you learn from your internship experiences?

Through my internship experience, I gained an enormous amount of knowledge, skills set and was able to expand my professional portfolio.  

For example, my first assignment of seven weeks was located at the Office of Financial Management. I learned how to properly verify offenders’ identification of received treatment services and updated automated systems for the financial invoices mailbox.

My second and third assignment lasted for 17 weeks at the Investigation, Diagnostics, & Evaluations Branch. At the Diagnostics Branch, I was given the opportunity to increase my knowledge of Diagnostics and Pre-Sentencing Investigations, defendant/offender interviews, Pre-Sentence Investigation reports, and defendant’s sentencing practices according to the D.C. Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission.   

Meanwhile, I also became acclimated with additional programs and services at CSOSA, including the Traffic Alcohol Program (TAP), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Domestic Violence, Faith Based Initiative (FBI), and the Sex Offender Unit.

My final assignment lasted for 28 weeks at the Reentry Sanctions Center (RSC)-Mental Health Unit. At the RSC, I had the opportunity to develop my psychological skill set for co-occurring disorders. I gained valuable insight as it related to the assessment of high risk offenders and defendants. Some of my achieved abilities included: classifying triggers and alternative coping skills, identifying cognitive distortions, seeking change talk through motivational interviewing strategies, formulating Interdisciplinary Team Scripts, and drafting discharge plans.

Q: What are you doing today?  How did your internship experiences contribute to what you are doing now?

Today I am a proud Eligibility Examiner at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS)/Defender Services Office (DSO).  DSO provides services to individuals who have been charged with a crime (including traffic) in the District of Columbia Superior Court. My internship experience contributed to my current employment position tremendously. For instance, prior to becoming employed with PDS, the Eligibility Examiner position posted with a salary range. The salary ranged from entry level to specialized experience. Consequently, because I had obtained my bachelor’s in Criminal Justice accompanied by my internship experience, that served as sufficient skill to start my position higher than entry level.

Q: What advice would you give to a mentee or other UMUC student about getting an internship?

An internship and volunteering within your field is the best decision you can make for the development of your career path. You’ll get tons of exposure and impeccable experience for your lifetime resume.

Kenithia’s internship experience is a wonderful illustration of opportunities available through UMUC’s new InternPLUS program. For more information on InternPLUS, check out CareerQuest, UMUC’s career portal available to all UMUC students and alumni. After creating a CareerQuest account, click here to access InternPLUS resources and opportunities.

Kristin Schrader is the Assistant Director of InternPLUS at University of Maryland University College.  She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities.  Most recently, she was the Lead Trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning service members about the civilian job search.  She is passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.


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