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2006-2007 Psi Chi/FBI Grant Winner's Experience
by Sarah Kunkel - Marshall University (WV)
Categories: Career Preparation | Personal/Academic Growth
Sarah Kunkel was the fall 2007 recipient of the Psi Chi/FBI NCAVC Internship grant. She graduated cum laude from Case Western Reserve University (OH) in 2004 with her bachelor’s degree in psychology, chemistry, and biology. She then went to Marshall University (WV) where she completed her master’s degree in forensic science in 2006 and will be graduating in May 2008 with her second master’s in psychology. She has been a member of Psi Chi since 2006. Currently, she is being considered for positions with the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Interning with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. The opportunity offered me the chance to work alongside the seasoned investigators of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. These individuals came from such a variety of backgrounds ranging from clinical psychologist to park ranger to lawyer to, of course, police officer. Most of the investigators have been involved in some of the biggest criminal cases of my lifetime including the Unabomber, Susan Smith, and the DC Sniper.
The journey to the internship was a long and difficult one. A year before I began, I was carefully compiling all of my application materials while double- and triple-checking every word on each form. A month later, I was finally satisfied enough with my application to place it in the mail. Then, I received a call that they wanted to set up an interview. It was my first experience interviewing by video phone, and I thought it could be my last because of the difficulty interacting with a 5-second delay after every word. Nevertheless, I received another call a few weeks later offering me the internship. I’ll admit I began to tear up when they told me the news. I had a few more hurdles to overcome, and then I began the arduous task of compiling a list of all the places I had lived and people that knew me throughout the years. Little did I know that this search through my past would be nothing compared to the nerve-racking polygraph I would undergo. Once the admission process was over, I was set to begin my internship.
Needless to say, on my first day I was very nervous not knowing what to expect from the special agents or my four fellow interns. For some, the title intern may render images of making coffee or copying stacks of paper all day long. However at the NCAVC, the title intern should be replaced with associate. During the length of my experience working with agents, I felt more like a colleague than an intern. I was amazed at the amount of respect that everyone gave us and their willingness to listen to our advice and feedback regarding cases and research projects. In fact, it was humbling to have these seasoned FBI agents listen intently to me and actually take my suggestions into consideration.
The most fascinating part of the internship was case consultations where we observed a team of investigators assisting local police departments with suggestions for investigative techniques and interview strategies. All of the interns sat like eager students carefully pondering every detail the primary investigator fed to us. The group of investigators were amazing to observe as they brainstormed together combining years of knowledge and experience.
Fortunately, many of the agents and major case specialists were eager to share their experiences and expertise outside of the consultations through formal presentations. The other interns and I would eagerly gather around a conference room table to spend the afternoon learning about previous cases, investigative techniques, criminal tendencies, as well as the mistakes that these investigators had made and the lessons learned from them. The presentations were unlike anything I had experienced in all my years at college. They were about real cases and real people. It was refreshing to concentrate less on theory and more on practicality. Of course, there were perks outside of the office which also made this experience unforgettable, such as firearms training at the academy, National Academy classes, a day trip to the Baltimore Medical Examiner’s Office to observe autopsies, and an invitation to the Australian Embassy. But these were just the icing on the cake for me. The knowledge and experience I have gained over the past 4 months have been extremely rewarding. The people that I met have helped me gain more confidence in my abilities, acquire new skills, and focus my interests. The NCAVC internship was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, and I would gladly go through another polygraph for another chance like it…well, maybe!