Cassandra Goncalves, a senior criminal justice major, has known since she was a freshman in high school that she wants a career in law enforcement. This semester Goncalves is getting a taste of what police work is really like. As one of five students in the UMass Lowell Police Department’s new internship program, Goncalves is getting a front-row view of investigations, dispatch, riding on patrols and other police responsibilities.
“The internship definitely gives me insight that most people don’t have,” says Goncalves, who plans to earn her master’s degree in criminal justice here and hopes to eventually get hired as a police officer in her hometown of Somerville.
UMass Lowell Police Chief Randy Brashears launched the internship program last semester to give criminal justice students practical experience with everything from the job interview process to working in a professional law enforcement setting.
“The students gain knowledge of the inner workings of a community policing agency and the department benefits from our connections with the students,” he says, adding that five students completed the three-credit program last semester and another five are currently enrolled.
The students cycle through different assignments to get a complete perspective of all the duties that the department handles. They must spend at least eight hours on each rotation over the course of two weeks. In addition, they meet with an adviser several times during the semester and have to complete writing assignments about their experience. “It’s a great opportunity,” says Campus Resource Officer Patrick O’Hara. “We give them an idea of what it’s really like to work in law enforcement.”
Senior Kyle Hartnett, who was among the first group of student interns last semester, says the experience was eye-opening.
“It gave me great appreciation for what the police department does. It was cool to see how all their work comes together and makes for a safe community,” says Hartnett, who plans on enlisting in the military after graduation with a long-term goal of becoming a police officer.
After just one semester, competition for the internships has intensified. This term, there were more than 20 applicants for the five positions. Officers reviewed the students’ resumes and then winnowed down the number of applicants to be invited in for interviews to 15. A panel of three officers met with the students and then provided feedback on how well they did.
“We critiqued them. We want them to look and act professional,” O’Hara says.
Junior Nicholas Santos, a current intern, feels like he’s gaining an insider’s perspective on police work – from how campus security is conducted to how officers deal with job-related stress.
“There’s a lot of information you wouldn’t learn in a class,” he says. He hopes the experience will differentiate him from other candidates in a highly competitive job market. “I feel like I’m getting way more prepared for a career. It’s going to be hard to get a job and I want to be as prepared as possible.”
Santos, who is thinking about earning a master’s degree in criminology and eventually wants to work in industrial security, was undecided about a major when he started at UMass Lowell. But after he’d taken several psychology classes, his adviser suggested pursuing a criminal justice degree, with a psychology minor. For Santos, who is fascinated by police work, the internship has affirmed that he made the right choice.