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Applying academics through an off-campus internship

By Lara Palmquist '13
November 30, 2012

"It's so important to learn how to apply the skills you have been given in college," says Maddie Wood '13, who is earning credit this semester for an internship at the Washburn Center for Children in Minneapolis.

This semester Maddie Wood '13 spends three days a week learning about developmental psychology in her courses at St. Olaf College. She then spends two days a week directly applying those principles to an internship at the Washburn Center for Children in Minneapolis.

Wood's work at the Washburn Center is part of St. Olaf's Academic Internship Program, which provides students with the opportunity to explore vocational interests by earning credit for approved off-campus internship positions.

"It is so important to learn how to apply the skills you have been given in college, as well as to learn if you really want to go into a specific field," says Wood. "And it never hurts to try something new — you just might realize your true passion."

At the Washburn Center, an organization dedicated to helping children cope with social, emotional, and behavioral problems by providing expertise in mental health, Wood applies her background in developmental psychology to the Family Focused Program.

"I work with four-year-olds who have behavioral issues from experiencing a traumatic event or being abused," says Wood. "In the classrooms I help teachers with interventions and teach the kids social and emotional skills that they will need for kindergarten."

By working regularly with this group of children, Wood provides them with the guidance they need for a successful start, while simultaneously gaining hands-on experience in the field through the process.

Building upon a personal passion
Wood learned about the internship opportunity at the Washburn Center through the Career Network for Oles and the Minnesota’s Private Colleges Job and Internship Fair. Both programs are connected to the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, which operates the Career Network for Oles — a powerful tool for connecting students to the college's alumni and parent community — and provides students with preparation for and transportation to the job fair.

"At the job fair I had the opportunity to give my resume to the Washburn Center representatives," she says. "This allowed me to connect with the head of the internship program, and I was able to interview for the position in the spring."

The internship position at the Washburn Center was of particular interest to Wood, as it directly aligns with her academic passions. Within her study of psychology, Wood is specifically interested in looking at how children progress socially and behaviorally based on their childhood experiences and family situations.

"I applied to the program because I am very interested in working with high-risk children after I graduate," says Wood. "I knew that it would provide me with great first-hand experience while allowing me to further explore that career path."

The application of academics
The Washburn Center internship allows Wood to solidify her knowledge from previous coursework while simultaneously building new skills that are not as easily accessible in a classroom setting.

"At Washburn I have learned to think more creatively, specifically in the way I deal with the different behaviors of a child," says Wood. "Because these children come from such different backgrounds, it is important to learn how to deal with each situation, and I think the only way you can truly learn that is by fully immersing yourself into an application setting."

Following her graduation in May, Wood plans to attend graduate school for a degree in psychology and public policy, a path that she finds is increasingly affirmed by her internship experience.

"My dream job is working in the education sector helping at-risk children and teens be successful," says Wood. "I want to help these kids get into a program that will provide them with the best education possible and allow them to have the same opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or