Internship leads psychology major toward her goals

A summer internship and participation in the McNair Scholars Program at Ripon College are helping psychology major Emily Connovich ’15, of Marinette, Wisconsin, toward her goal of a better future.

Connovich had a difficult childhood. Her parents divorced when she was young, and for a short time she was homeless. “One moment you’re in a family, and the next moment you’re in a shelter,” she says. “Until I was a senior in high school, we didn’t have any money at all. I was used to going to school full time, working 20 hours a week and participating in extracurriculars. You have to do everything you can to get into higher education.

“I did not want to be that poor for the rest of my life, and also I really wanted to help people, children especially. When I was in the shelter, there were a lot of people who helped me.”

She says she felt lost when she first arrived at Ripon College. “I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I just went with the flow and did what everyone else was doing. I was completely terrified to apply to graduate school.”

Then she was notified that her grades, income requirements and other factors made her eligible to apply to be a McNair Scholar. “What the heck is a McNair Scholar?” she thought.

The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded United States Department of Education TRIO program. It is designed to encourage students often underrepresented in graduate programs to pursue doctoral degrees. Guidance is given about opportunities associated with graduate study, GRE preparation and graduate school visits.

“It’s incredible. They created this program for people like me who didn’t have a role model for college,” Connovich says. “The neat thing about being a McNair Scholar is that even if you don’t have any idea what to do next, the McNair people always know.”

She says she had a lot of insecurities about her place in a college environment, but “they keep reminding you that you are supposed to be here. It’s not an accident. You might think, ‘I’m not really good enough or smart enough for graduate school.’ It’s ingrained into our backgrounds that people with low income or other difficulties would not have that option.

“The McNair program picks you out and says, ‘Hey, you could probably do this if you wanted to. You are among those with the highest cumulative grade point averages at Ripon College.’ ”

For this last summer before her senior year, she applied to numerous places for internship positions and received help with all of her applications from the McNair program. She was accepted for the state of Wisconsin Area Health Education Center System program, which focuses on public health. She worked in Buffalo County.

“I had two projects for the summer,” she says. “The main one was setting up a parent support group. The second was setting up a grocery store tour for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food and nutrition service.”

Connovich says she set up her projects so that it would not be difficult for someone after her to continue. “I learned about the inner workings of many areas in public health and learned a great deal about the importance of community involvement,” she says. “ This was an invaluable experience as it allowed me to see the benefits of the research I want to do.”

She says she had a great mentor and coworkers in Buffalo County. “I learned how to work with adults better and gained people skills,” she says. “As an intern, you get all these assignments that nobody else wants to do. But I got to meet a lot of people, present things to board members and learn how to wade through the bureaucracy.”

Connovich is majoring in psychology and knows she wants to work with children someday. “At the same time, I don’t necessarily want to go the traditional therapy route,” she says. “I’d like to do something more hands-on. I’d like to get my Ph.D. in either clinical psychology, specializing in children, or in developmental psychology.”

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