Nov. 19, 2020
By Gillian Mathews
Navigating a future career path during your college career can be challenging for many students, but community-engaged learning and internship experiences can serve as a game-changing opportunity for students to use the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom and gain hands-on experience, which can help illuminate their career goals.
This semester, Meagan Kearney, a junior majoring in psychology, has been interning with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) Youth Initiative program. This program provides academic assistance and social support for youth in schools throughout Broome County. These approaches seek to increase self esteem in students and their overall motivation to succeed in school work. Binghamton University students who participate gain one-on-one experience in a classroom setting.
Kearney is currently completing her second internship through the Youth Initiative at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Binghamton, N.Y., where she assists a fourth-grade teacher who is teaching her students entirely virtually. Kearney previously interned in the special education departments at Windsor Central School in Windsor, N.Y., and Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, N.Y.
According to Kearney, her career aspirations shifted dramatically in the past year. Before interning in several different school districts, she had intended to pursue a career as an applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist. ABA therapists use behavior analysis methods to impart behavioral improvement strategies as a form of treatment for individuals with autism or other developmental challenges.
Kearney had been researching what professions sparked her interest in the education field to ascertain what she wanted to pursue. During her research process, she stumbled upon a niche field of law called education law. Education lawyers work to expand access to high-quality education and entry into higher education for all children. This field pertains to everyone involved in the education community including students, parents, teachers, supervisors and school boards.
Kearney attributes her newfound passion for pursuing a career in education law to her internship experience. She noted that she hopes to specialize in defending the needs of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and students who lack access to accommodations and resources dictated by the Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“After my experience in the special education departments,” said Kearney, “I developed a passion for special education and pursuing a career where I can not only advocate for students with disabilities but make real changes for them and their teachers as well.”
Kearney’s experiences in classroom settings caused her to worry about educational injustices that students face. She said that many of the students that require small group settings and isolated locations are subjected to restricted space and resources, and it was clear that the schools were lacking proper funding and accommodations to support these programs.
“The first day when I was directed to what classroom I would be working in,” she said, “I was brought to a closet-sized room that five to six students were being stuffed into. My curiosities of just how far these injustices reach were catalyzed. Both teachers that I worked with were incredibly passionate about their work with the students and clearly would do anything they could to benefit the students’ education.”
Kearney is currently enrolled in a seminar that offers coursework alongside her credit-bearing internship. The seminar requires students to complete journals on a weekly basis to reflect on their experiences and how they connect to nationwide issues and discussions. She found a career timeline project particularly helpful in narrowing down her career search.
“The career timeline project that I’ve had to complete each semester was a great way to reflect on my experiences,” she said. “I was able to look back on my past career goals and think about the ways that I can apply those aspirations to my newer career goals. Additionally, because many of us in the course are working in community schools, we learn about the injustices of the public school system along with topics such as systemic racism and trauma.”
Kearney expressed that she has learned how to value her own skills, work ethic and values by reflecting on what she has accomplished thus far and applying it to situations that benefit herself and others. She encourages all students to take advantage of similar opportunities.
“I learned the value of reflection,” she said. “In conjunction with the reflections and assignments for the seminar class, I was able to see for myself just how passionate I was about this. If I didn’t have the ability to reflect each week and learn about the injustices that impact countless groups of people in the world, I would have never become as motivated as I am today.”