Idara shares how she was able to expand her counseling skills, plans for graduate school and the importance of building a network.
What is your name?
What school are you currently attending?
Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.
What is your major?
Where are you interning?
IONA Senior Services.
What are some of the responsibilities you have there?
In the morning if I’m there early enough, we serve coffee, tea, and read the news together. We exercise, and then we go onto whatever activities are lined up for that day. My specific area is the Wellness and Arts Center, so we do activities designed to help them cognitively. Sometimes we do music and memory programs; other times we do trivia to see what they still remember either historically or about themselves. I’ve designed a couple of programs myself, and they each have to be designed for either higher-functioning or lower-functioning participants. Recently, we put on a Celebration of Achievement program, which is when we invite family members to come talk about their loved ones. It helps them appreciate that, even though their family members aren’t who they used to be, it is still possible to value who they are.
Tell us about a project you worked on that was your favorite, the most challenging, or the most exciting.
One of the biggest parts of counseling is your ability to interact with other people, creating a relationship between yourself and a total stranger, and maintaining it so that person can feel at ease. At my internship, I regularly have to interact with at least thirty-two different people suffering from various levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s, so I have to lose my reservations, go in, and try to connect with someone who barely remembers who he or she is. That was exactly what I was looking for when I first came to IONA: The knowledge that I can reach someone on that level.
Have you been able to apply some of the learning from college to your internship thus far?
Most of the useful skills I’ve been able to apply in my internship have come from Earlham’s psychology department. For example, a couple of courses required me to volunteer at a Friend’s Fellowship (which is a retirement home) and the psychiatric ward at the state hospital, which is close to Earlham’s campus. Earlham finds a way to push you into doing community-related work so that you can gather that experience. If it weren’t for Earlham having that general education requirement, I would never have volunteered at those places and I would never have realized that those were skills I wanted to develop further. My professors back on campus are really good at that – they isolate that part of you they know you should work on, and they nag at it until you take the steps to do so.
Have a LinkedIn account before you get here! I’m realizing just how important it is to have those professional connections.Idara Udo-Inyang
Have you learned anything from your internship that you think is applicable to your college education?
Working at IONA – and especially working with our participants and my fellow staffers – has taught me a lot about patience; how to stop, actually pay attention to the words coming out of someone’s mouth, and apply that. I’ve learned how to be patient even when I feel like what is coming out of someone’s mouth is utter nonsense. I’ve learned how to smile at that, push aside all of my dissenting attitudes, and try to figure out what is going on.
What is the most interesting or unexpected thing you’ve experienced since you arrived in D.C.?
I know people say this about D.C. a lot, but there is just so much to do here! I originally thought coming here would mean paying an arm and a leg if I ever wanted to go out. But so much is affordable, and with the way The Washington Center’s program is designed, there is always someone I can call up to go with me. Plus I have some friends living in the D.C. area already, so I can reach out to my roommates, I can reach out to someone who does my LEAD with me, and I can reach out to a co-worker. Even if I can’t do that, there is so much to do here! Most of the museums are free, and even without those, there is always some event or parade or protest going on.
How have you expanded your professional network for future career opportunities?
I didn’t want to be on campus for my last semester—Earlham is a small campus in a small town—so I wanted to be in a big city. Washington, D.C. seemed like the perfect way to be a part of city life without being overthrown by chaos the way you would be in New York City. You understand that it’s a huge city with so much to offer and so many things to do, but at the same time you don’t feel like you’ll be trampled if you step outside your door. This holds true for meeting new people as well.
How has this experience shaped or impacted your career goals?
I honestly can’t tell at this point how it will help my trajectory, but I know it will. I can’t tell what the future holds. But I know that for now, my LEAD instructor, Pri Ekanayake, has been really helpful. I’ve needed help filling out applications [for Ph.D. programs in counseling psychology], looking over my C.V., and writing my personal statement, and she has been so willing to do all of that with me. At first, I only thought she was accommodating me because she was holding office hours, but even when I came late or when office hours were about to end, she made the choice to extend the hours just for me or offered to sit down with me on another day. I appreciate that a lot, and it has definitely helped me with my graduate school process.
Finally, what advice do you have for other students considering an internship with TWC?
Have a LinkedIn account before you get here! I cannot stress this enough, especially because I still don’t have one! I’m realizing just how important it is to have those professional connections. I used to look at networking as a self-serving thing, like you’re only trying to get to know someone to push your own professional agenda. But it is not the way I thought it was. It is necessary, and sometimes you make connections with people who you really appreciate – and not just based on how they can help you, but because of who they are and how your values align. This place helped me realize that. Oh, and business cards don’t hurt!