Summer Internship Spotlight: Robin Mahung

July 20, 2012

Recent graduate Robin Mahung '12 has helped young parents and their children during the past two summers in the Chicago area during her internships with the social service organization UCAN Chicago. Mahung, a psychology major and social service and child development (self-designed) double minor from Chicago, fills her days working with clients and evaluating fellow social service workers. Her work will greatly benefit her as she starts graduate school at Loyola University Chicago, pursuing a dual degree in clinical social work and children's law.

Tell us more about your summer internship.
I work at the Teen Parenting Service Network (TPSN) at UCAN Chicago, which is essentially a sub-agency of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). When DCFS removes a child from the home, that child becomes a ward of the state. When that ward of the state gets pregnant or has a baby, that person is referred to TPSN and becomes my client.

I work in the quality improvement department, so I contact the clients and make sure that they're getting everything they need and assess the quality of the services that DCFS and their respective agencies and foster placements are giving them. If there's something they need that they can't get or aren't getting, I help make sure those needs are met. I also look at internal quality improvement, making sure TPSN's own staff are doing what they should be. I make sure our therapists, mentors, and educational liaisons are keeping a regular schedule with their clients and are following through on their services, then I write reports on how great they are or what they need to improve on. I recently got drafted into the LGBT allies board, so I've also been doing research on the nature of safe spaces for sexual minority youth for the past couple weeks.

Describe your day-to-day experiences so far.
Robin Mahung '12 interns with the social service organization UCAN ChicagoNo two days at my internship are the same. The office is really relaxed, and we're given handfuls of projects that need to get done. I can work on them at my own pace so long as I get everything done by the deadline. I basically do whatever I'm in the mood for, which includes contacting clients, contacting caseworkers, reviewing case and intake files, doing research, or every once in awhile, I get to do a home visit, which is always cool. And when I'm bored or I have down time, I'll look at clients' case files to look at their psychological assessments. I basically have a giant closet of case studies where I can look at in-depth backgrounds of clients, their psych history, and their treatment plan. I'm particularly interested in how their relationships with their families come out in their own romantic relationships and their own parenting skills. It's pretty awesome.

How have classroom experiences helped you in this internship?
It's funny, because not a day goes by that I think of a skill I use in my internship that I got from Knox. Obviously, having done a big research project is a huge deal. My supervisor loves putting me on research projects because I know how to use PsychINFO and how to write scientifically. I also use Excel regularly, and thanks to statistics, I have a good idea of how to make the equations that I have to use every day. Having been a Pi Beta Phi, I know when it comes to my job, I just put on pin dress. It's the simplest thing, but I realize now that I never really knew how to appear put together for a work environment before my sorority made me do it on a regular basis.

The biggest skill I think I have is working with people older and more qualified than me. It's intimidating to know that your coworkers all have an MA or Ph.D. in something, but then, so did my professors. Being able to approach these people, speak my mind, and collaborate with them definitely put me above other interns. It was a very comfortable transition for me since I've been a teaching assistant at Knox and have really close relationships with my professors. I'm used to collaborating with my superiors instead of being afraid of them. My supervisor's boss has also said on several occasions that she loves that I have a liberal arts education. Those critical thinking skills are highly valued in my field. And literally everything I learned in former Assistant Professor of Psychology Gail Ferguson's Developmental Psychopathology class. Understanding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and child assessment has come in handy every single day.

How do you think this internship experience will benefit you in your future plans?
I know that my internship isn't what I want to do for the rest of my life. I was actually disappointed when I first learned I'd be doing quality improvement last year, but I think the best part about evaluating everyone is knowing what it takes to be considered good in the field. By reviewing cases and talking to clients, I have learned what the client's needs are and how to best serve them. I can't wait to use those skills once I get myself a job in the field.

What has been the best part of your internship so far?
I love talking to my clients and getting to know them. I love hearing about their kids and all of the goals that they have, all the things they want to do. You always get those clients who have no idea what they're doing and don't want to listen, but you'd be surprised at how many of them have big dreams. And all they want to do is be a good parent to their kid. I love hearing those stories, about how they want to get that GED or that job or that apartment in a better neighborhood so they can be the best parent they can. They may be teenagers, but they're not stupid, and a lot of them are actually fantastic parents. I also love that I've been at my agency for two years. I remember a lot of the clients I had from last year, and it's neat to see where they are now and how far they've come in just one year.

What have you learned over the past two summers and what do you hope to learn more about as you finish your internship?
I've pretty much learned all that I can in terms of the technical parts of my internship. I know where everything is and how to do my job. I hope though that I'll learn more about DCFS and social service. I want to learn more about the role of our therapists and legal staff. That's what I'm going to grad school for, and I'd like to get exposed to that. I also want to be an Excel master when I'm done. I'm pretty technically disinclined, so I'm practicing new equations and spreadsheets every day and I'm getting there, slowly but surely. It'd be a good skill to put on my resume. I've also learned what a hyperlink is and wow, those are so neat.