by Olivia Cook

When I first thought of being an intern prior to this summer, I thought of The Devil Wears Prada-level stress: getting coffee, picking up dry cleaning, and living in constant fear of my supervisor (Who wouldn’t be shaking in their boots at the sight of the infamous Meryl Streep?). Never did I think that after applying for an internship with the National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice, I’d be spending my summer at Policy Research Associates (Winner of the Times Union’s “Top Workplace” Award).

Being at PRA for the summer was such as blast. Not only was I able to grab sushi with the company’s president and other interns, but I also attended a minor league baseball game and engaged in a service project with coworkers. PRA took my warped internship expectations and fully turned them on their head. I came into contact with some of the most passionate people that are making a real difference in today’s world.

The NCYOJ intern role itself was perfect for me: I worked primarily on the National Institute of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. This project involved implementing a behavioral health approach in Michigan and Louisiana high schools in an effort to decrease exclusionary discipline practices, such as suspension, expulsion, and in-school arrests. As a psychology major with a minor in educational studies, as well as a person with a passion for working with at-risk youth, this was right in my wheelhouse.

Through this role, I hoped to accomplish two main goals: to grasp a greater understanding of my professional interests and to grow in my knowledge of schools and their relationship with adolescent mental health. Looking back, I’d say that I accomplished both.

On the latter goal: through helping to develop trainings that are given to educators and administrators, as well as conducting literature reviews on research-to-practice briefs focused on self-care and initiative fatigue as it applies to educators, I’ve learned a great deal about the intersection of education and behavioral health. This newfound knowledge has only fueled my passion for this work.

On the former: often when I tell people that I’m studying psychology, they give me a disapproving look. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “What are you going to do with that?” I’d never have to work again. Before this internship, I didn’t have an answer to give those people. I usually replied with something vague like “I just want to be in a school, helping young people.” I now recognize that my degree is not a fool’s errand; there is work to be done as schools become increasingly considerate of adolescent mental health. Whether in the future I engage in this work as a school psychologist or project assistant here at PRA, I look forward to making a difference in the lives of youth.