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Bottom Line: Internships are Hard Work, but Well Worth It


Mitch Handelsman

Professional, ethical and prepared – students who complete an internship in the Department of Psychology are all of these. Mitch Handelsman, professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, explains that internships through his department are many things; what they’re not is easy.

“These internships are intense. It’s not like you go, have fun and come back,” he explains. “We try to make it relevant.”

Handelsman, an internship faculty sponsor for the past two years, works closely with Rich Allen, assistant professor of psychology, and Tam Barthel, Experiential Learning Center (ELC) internship advisor, to initiate and guide students through the process. While Handelsman and Allen oversee the academic aspects, including developing learning objectives and providing a frame of reference to the field of psychology, the ELC partners with the department throughout the process to prepare students, team them with the appropriate agency, and handle other tasks such as registration and evaluation. To qualify for an internship, a student must have 15 CU Denver credits, 12 of those in psychology. “That ensures they have something to apply; this is not just summer camp,” Handelsman says.

Throughout the semester, each student is required to receive instruction on Blackboard working with Jennifer Rhoda, psychology instructor. They also must write a major paper incorporating what they’ve learned and applied from their courses, experiences and internship.

“One area of learning objectives I spend a lot of time on is professionalism; the principles and guidelines of how to work in the community. It’s just a coincidence that the word ‘ethics’ shows up in every internship agreement!” Handelsman quips.

Strict? Absolutely. But the outcome is worth it. “In terms of starting salary offers, there is a definite financial advantage for students who have internship experience,” Barthel says. The 2010 NACE study found that graduates in social sciences with internships were offered an average $6,500 more for a starting salary.

Handelsman adds “When applying for a job, the student can say more than, ‘This is what I want to do.’ They can say, ‘I’ve had this experience, I’ve done this, this is what I want to do and this is what I can bring to it.’

“It’s an amazing success in terms of working with different parts of the university,” Handelsman says. “Community agencies, ELC and the department are full partners. What a luxury . . . all these people working in the best interest of the student.”