Student internships make mark on community

A screen shot of people participating in a Zoom call

Students of the Rehabilitation and Human Services program spoke about their internship experiences.

Credit: Teri Kistler

Students of the Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) program at PSU-LV spoke proudly of their contributions via a Zoom presentation on April 21. Seniors in the RHS program are required to complete a semester long internship totaling 600 hours in order to prepare for positions in a variety of human service settings, particularly those that provide services to persons with physical, emotional or mental disabilities.  

"This is a special group of RHS student interns, who despite the many challenges of the pandemic completed their internships in person. Their resiliency and hard work is a true testament of their passion to help others," Teri Kistler, RHS program coordinator, said.  

These internships provide real-world experience and important connections for students, often leading to jobs upon graduating. More than half of the interns who spoke have been offered future employment at the facility in which they’re doing their internship.  

Members from the PSU-LV community came together to hear from the RHS students about the work they’re doing in the community: 

Makalya Brown-Paul at Boys and Girls Club of Bethlehem 

Brown-Paul works with youth as part of Triple Play, a dynamic wellness program that is designed to help youth create opportunities to take charge of their personal health and wellness. She met with youth to provide mentoring services and spends time with them in the gym. For Brown-Paul, this internship has taught her patience, conflict resolution, accountability and how to project her voice. 

Ashley Cassarella at Benedum Law Personal Injury 

Cassarella interfaces with a diverse population for her internship in Chestnut Hill, PA. Her work includes meeting with clients for intakes, depositions, mediations and gathering and filing medical records. Working better under pressure and adapting to change are two skills that she said she gained from the opportunity. 

Julie Comins at Pyramid Healthcare of Lehigh Valley 

At this residential treatment facility for women, Comins assisted in facilitating group therapy, individual counseling and treatment plans. She shared the importance of staying mindful and focusing during her time at the facility. Her biggest discovery was that sometimes the best gift you can give to someone is holding them accountable for their actions. 

Katie Green at Red Door Early Learning Center 

Green’s role at this private institution for children ages pre-school through kindergarteners was to provide behavior modification and social support to students with autism or a diagnosis. She intervened during outbursts to work on calming techniques and works with the children to integrate them into daily routines. Through her work, she enjoyed seeing how responsive children are to& enthusiasm. She noted that students with autism are all so different and each respond to individual treatment plans.

Merissa Groller at Colonial Academy 

For her internship, Groller provided mental health support services for students ages middle through high school. Her responsibilities included locker room checks, working one-on-one with students during sessions, behavioral support and treatment plans. She said she learned the importance of detailed documentation and holding yourself and others accountable in order to show up for the kids.  

Puja Patel at CSF Buxmont Academy 

This alternative school in Bethlehem provides counseling for primarily high school students. Patel’s internship included progress planning for students, teaching them how to be successful in classroom and develop consequences for themselves. One of the most notable lessons for Patel centered around adaptability and learning how to read the room. She enjoyed building interpersonal relationships with clients and offering support during trying times. 

John Pring at Success Rehabilitation, Inc. 

Pring helped adults with traumatic brain injuries at this Quakertown facility for his internship. He helped clients (re)learn how to walk, tie shoes, bathe and build relationships with people. Pring had also taken on a supportive role to help the therapists in group sessions, encouraging clients to do best and keeping them engaged in the activities.  One thing he said he learned is that every brain injury is different and needs to be treated as such. 

Melissa Mayer at Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley 

This organization provides home-delivered meals to homebound adults and their pets. Mayer’s work focused on completing client assessments and maintaining files. Since many of their clients have limited access to the internet, they are also working with the health bureaus to administer in-home COVID vaccinations. One of the biggest challenges in this role is when clients’ health starts to decline. Mayer came to understand the importance of advocating for geriatric clients because they are often forgotten. 

Erica Simmons at Victory House of the Lehigh Valley 

This shelter for men and veterans offers transitional housing services and helps clients gain employment. Simmons was a case manager who facilitates client assessments and then provides referrals for services such as mental health and addiction treatment and physical therapy. This internship has shown her that everyone has a different timeline when it comes to recovery, and she also gained an understanding of working with the county to secure future funding opportunities. 

 The students were happy to offer advice to underclassmen who are preparing for their internships: always be on time (or early), communicate with your supervisor, start applying early, volunteer first to find out what you like and use the time wisely to learn from the professionals. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go after your goals!  

For more information on the RHS program at Penn State Lehigh Valley, contact Teri Kistler, program coordinator, at [email protected] or visit the RHS website.