MEDIA, Pa. — Helping others and building relationships is what drew Thomas McGuire to his human development and family studies (HDFS) career path at Penn State Brandywine.
“The reason I decided to become an HDFS major was to guide at-risk youth through challenging obstacles in their life. Each day I try to remind them to look inside themselves and imagine the bigger picture in this journey,” said McGuire.
Most Brandywine HDFS students complete a full-time internship through which they gain experience in the type of career they want to pursue after completing their degree.
“We have 11 students in the field this semester. Each student must complete 480 internship hours during that time,” explained Michael Sturm, lecturer and internship coordinator for the Human Development and Family Studies program. “This is a large metropolitan area, so there are lots of jobs for students.”
Five days a week McGuire reports to the Chester County Youth Center, which provides five specialized programs for Chester County youths who are receiving services from the Chester County Juvenile Probation Department; the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families; and the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
“The student interns provide more supervision, they observe intakes, and they have the opportunity to go to court,” said Strum.
A typical day at the Chester County Youth Center, McGuire explained, begins with staff making sure the kids are up and ready for school by 8:15 a.m. They then attend classes in various subjects and have some time for recreation.
Also interning this semester at the Chester County Youth Center is ShaCor Tyler.
“I enjoy watching the kids make consistent progress and seeing their reactions to being granted the opportunity to go home,” said Tyler.
Serving as a mental health caseworker for Chester County, as well as McGuire and Tyler’s internship supervisor, Kristi Washington said her goal for Youth Center interns is for them to “gain better knowledge of the juvenile justice field and how juvenile courts work. It’s a tough field and this is a tough job, so an intern can truly learn if this is something they would like to do within the field.”
The interns shadow the Youth Center staff most of their time, as well as participate in planning meetings and attend various trainings.
Nearing the end of his internship, Tyler explained that after graduation he will continue to work at the Youth Center. His goal is to become a caseworker for Chester County.
“This experience has helped me to grow as a person and start to really take the time to be an active listener to those who really need it,” said Tyler.
For McGuire, the most difficult part of his internship is seeing the children’s disappointed faces when things aren't going their way.
“In some cases, kids will be told they are going home or into placement, but because of complications with the court system they have to wait at the Youth Center,” he said.
McGuire explained that the internship experience has benefited him in many ways.
“It’s allowed me to network in hopes of finding a full-time job after graduation. It’s also helped me transition from full-time student to full-time employee. I feel as if there is less of a gap between school and work. It is a seamless flow,” said McGuire.
After graduation, McGuire said he plans to continue working with at-risk youth, either at the Chester County Youth Center or at another similar detention center.
“I feel like this is my calling in life, at least for now, and I want to pursue it,” he said.