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Undergraduate Psychology Internship Bridges Concept and Experience

Toree Vandyke sitting at table at a USO event and the text Toree Vandyke, psychology internship, Southern New Hampshire University.

As a military spouse, Toree Vandyke’s lived on 4 military bases in eight-and-a-half years. With each move, she faces a new community to settle into, knowing no one beyond her husband. 

The United Service Organization (USO) understands the challenges of this lifestyle and runs a Military Spouse Networking program to help connect people and ease the transition.

So, in 2018, when Vandyke and her husband made the dramatic leap from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, to Fort Campbell, Tennessee, she knew she had to attend an event. “Being a military spouse makes it difficult to make friends, so I attended a coffee date that the USO hosted,” Vandyke said. 

The coffee date resulted in more than new connections and friendly faces for Vandyke, though. While chatting with the event’s organizer, Vandyke discovered the USO offers internships that align with the bachelor’s degree in psychology she’s pursuing.

Hands-On Experience Coupled with Real-World Networking

Vandyke immediately voiced her interest and ended up in an internship with the USO Pathfinder Program, which helps transition service members back into civilian life.

Tonya Wacker, a site manager for the USO Pathfinder Program, said she looks for interns who are prepared for hands-on experience, working with clients alongside a case manager.

Living up to Wacker’s wishes, Vandyke immersed herself in the program. She worked with service members to identify their next steps, whether it be advancing their education, finding a job or housing or tapping into Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. She spent her days scheduling appointments for clients, interviewing them and researching information, based on their needs. 

Toree Vandyke and the text Toree Vandyke “Toree was an amazing intern,” Wacker said. “She worked hard to learn about the program and resources in the community. Toree showed incredible empathy and treated everyone with unconditional positive regard.”

Not only did Vandyke get hands-on experience through her internship, but she also had the chance to network with her co-workers and learn more about the field.

“I felt like I was among people who really understood what I was interested in, and I could talk to them about their careers and education to gain more insight,” she said.

Best of all, Vandyke interned for an organization she related to, and she was passionate about its mission.

“The military life is so different than the civilian (life), so the idea that the USO can help alleviate some of the stress was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.

Connecting Theory with Practice to Reaffirm Career Goal

Vandyke’s internship with the USO introduced her to case management, which will prepare her for her ultimate goal of working with kids as a school guidance counselor.

She was also able to apply what she’s learned about developmental psychology in her coursework as she helped service members plan for their future.

At first, Vandyke was nervous about speaking with clients, but her co-workers boosted her confidence. “They believed in me and helped me through it, and I became better at it,” she said. By the end, she even had the opportunity to lead interviews with clients.

Even though she wasn’t required to complete an internship, she’s glad she had the experience. “I think that internships are a great way to put ourselves out there and practice some of what we have been studying and see how it actually feels,” she said. “... This helped show me that I am right where I am supposed to be,” she said.

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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