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Internship sparks career goal for New College student

June 07, 2010

Jessica Garcia sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  Rather than a freight train, it is a career-path opportunity she credits to her recent internship experience in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

A junior majoring in psychology at Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Garcia has turned what she calls a “test drive” into a fulltime position serving the Attorney General’s unit chief in the Crime, Fraud & Victim Resource Center, and now has her sights set on a future she hopes will include a Ph.D. in forensic psychology and possibly a Juris Doctorate.

At Agua Fria High School in nearby Avondale where she graduated in 2004, Garcia was an honor roll student who excelled in theater and music.  She fully expected to further polish her musical talents after high school.

“When I was in high school, you could not have convinced me of being anything other than a music education major and joining the Sun Devil Marching Band,” she says, in reference to the ASU 350-plus member ensemble.  “Music was a huge saving grace in my life and I wanted to be able to share that with others.  I wanted to help children with music the way it helped me.

“Music was my whole life; I didn’t have a ‘Plan B.’”

After enrolling at Estrella Mountain Community College, Garcia first experienced a taste of life outside music, taking an abnormal psychology course.  However, she says she was still unsure of what her undergraduate degree might look like one day.  After receiving four different A.A. degrees, including an ATP (Associate in Transfer Partnership) with the New College psychology degree program, she turned her attention toward ASU’s West campus where Associate Professor Dawn McQuiston’s Legal Psychology Lab piqued her curiosity.

“I decided after graduating from Estrella Mountain that psychology was the place for me and the West campus was the best opportunity,” says Garcia, who is also a student in ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College.  “I looked up possible research opportunities and noticed Dr. McQuiston’s lab.  I knew I wanted to be a part of that lab and that it would be a good academic and future career choice.”

Once enrolled at the West campus, Garcia took “Psychology & Law” and “Correctional Functions” classes in addition to supervised research.  Then came the internship opportunity.

“I wanted to get as much experience as I could in law and psychology,” she says.  “I had already done a bit of research and presented it at a conference, so now I wanted to check out the law and forensic side of my degree choice.”
Elaine Jordan, a New College political science professor and director of the college internship program, worked with Garcia to target the Attorney General’s Office.

“Jessica has developed a real passion for forensic psychology and the logical next step was to get her the real-world, hands-on experience that is featured in any of our internships,” says Jordan.  “The AG’s Office was an ideal setting for Jessica; she took the ball and ran with it, which is the objective of an internship – giving a student the opportunity to prove him or herself in the professional workplace, while also giving them a taste of the real deal.”

Garcia indeed ran with it and was recently recognized for her “exemplary service” during the annual office Volunteer Appreciation Day awards ceremony.  Initially assigned to input data and answer and redirect phone calls, she quickly advanced to working with educational specialists in the Crime, Fraud & Victim Resource Center.  Additionally, at times she was called to assist in Attorney General Terry Goddard’s executive office and often stood in as a photographer at the Attorney General’s press conferences and community appearances.  Along the way, she grew a deep appreciation for the Attorney General’s Office.

“I never realized what a great resource the Attorney General’s Office is,” says Garcia, who will be working full-time with Unit Chief Thomas Reade, hiring office interns, helping schedule and coordinate events for the unit’s education specialists and assist with community outreach efforts.  “I knew the office was staffed with lawyers who served state officials; I just never realized how much they do for the community every day.  When I talk to constituents and try to help them solve their issues because they have been scammed or defrauded, had their identity stolen, or someone needs help getting their aged parents medical care, I think about what these people would do if we weren’t here providing answers and assistance.”

Reade, whose Crime, Fraud & Victim Resource Center represents the statewide crime prevention and education initiative, says Garcia’s grace under fire was evidence of her ability to take on real-world assignments.

“The first test I usually put my interns through is a trial by fire on the open phone lines,” he says.  “You will get people who are angry, crying, screaming, sobbing, cynical and any other emotion you can imagine.  Jessica was able to calmly handle each caller’s particular personality and find the answer for them.

“Enthusiasm is a definite quality she brought, as most new employees bring to a new job.  The most unique quality though is resourcefulness.  We are a state office, so the most logical answer to a problem is not always available; the ability to work with what we have is the key to the job, and Jessica has been able to do just that.”
Garcia is quick to espouse the value of an internship.

“I think you can learn a lot from a book, but you learn more from first-hand experience,” says Garcia, who hopes to land a prestigious Washington Center internship next spring after she receives her B.S. in psychology.  “The internship was a great way for me to get my feet in the door, and it really helped me to develop a sense of what I wanted.  It gave me a new perspective.

“I didn’t know what I wanted out of a degree or a career until I took the internship with the AG’s Office; without it I would have never come to have so many wonderful political and professional connections.”

She goes as far as to call an internship the ultimate proving ground.

“An internship is the icing on the great cake of your achievements.  You may have that 4.0 GPA, tons of community service and a near-perfect GRE, but nothing better prepares you for the world than actually living and working in it.

“It is like test driving your future.  Why wouldn’t you want to be given that chance?”