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Q&A with an AIS intern: Kristi Bechtel at the Ho-Chunk Nation

| Denise Olson

The best preparation for work in any field is to actually do work in that field, which is why UW-Eau Claire places such importance on student internship opportunities. Hands-on, real life experience, whether that takes place on or off campus, is simply invaluable preparation for career or graduate school work, and students in American Indian Studies have many avenues for internships.

One advantage of a multidisciplinary field of studies like AIS is that internships can be based in so many different types of organizations, from commercial, to non-profits, social services, or financial. Since AIS is commonly paired with another major, both are avenues for finding a prefect fitting internship.

Recent alumna Kristi Bechtel, a double major in AIS and social work, was able to combine her fields in an amazing internship at the Ho-Chunk Nation in 2014. She took a little time recently to answer a few of our questions about that experience. It's always so valuable to hear directly from our students, so below you will find Kristi's responses in her own words.


Where did you do your internship?

In September 2014, I began a 4-month internship with the Ho-Chunk Nation Social Services department in Black River Falls. I moved to a different section (Child Protective Services, Juvenile Support Services, Intervention, etc…) every couple of weeks so I could get a complete experience while doing my internship at the Ho-Chunk Nation Social Services.
How did you get this opportunity?

While at the UWEC, I did my best to combine my two majors, social work and American Indian studies, as often as I could. For example, if I needed to write a paper for a social work class and was able to pick the topic, the topic I always chose addressed contemporary Native American issue (appropriation, poverty, the dismissal of Native American rights, etc.) . My primary reason for doing this was to create awareness about current Native American Issues among the students in the social work program or other depending on what electives I was taking. So when it came time to choose an internship for the social work program, I spoke with AIS Director Debra Barker about my desire to incorporate Native American Studies in with my Social Work internship and she in turn, reached out to a contact of hers at the Ho-Chunk Nation Social Services Department, Valarie Blackdeer. It was approved by the Social Work department and was interviewed and got the internship!
What aspects of the AIS coursework you had completed at that point prepared you for the work you did in the internship?

Absolutely all of my AIS coursework prepared me for my internship. Everything from learning about Native American history and culture, to learning about Native American literature, film, and music, to learning about Native American contemporary issues helped to prepare me in my approach to not only the individuals I worked with at the Ho-Chunk Nation, but also the clients we worked with daily. There are so many important cultural aspects to Native Americans that are constantly ignored by those who find those aspects inconvenient and had I not had the education I had by the amazing professors I was taught by, I would have been no different than those who choose to ignore the Native American culture. If one really wants to work within the Native American communities and be effective, then they have to take the time to learn everything they can first and not assume they know what’s best or what is needed for the Native American communities.
What would you say were the most impactful things you learned/experienced during the internship? How will you use that knowledge in the future?

Working with the employees at the Ho-Chunk Nation was very informative. I think the overall knowledge I will take with me is just how to be an effective social worker in general. I met a lot of amazing Social Workers who “took me under their wings” and gave me a lot of great advice to take with me in my career.
What would you say to current or future Blugolds who might be considering the AIS program as a major or minor? What should they know about the work and about the field as a whole?

Do it! I will never regret getting my major in American Indian Studies. It’s just as much for those who have no Native American heritage as much as it is for those that do. The AIS program taught me more than just who Native Americans are and what they stand for; it taught me how to have a voice, how to have passion, how to never give up making your dreams a reality, and how to never take no for an answer. I absolutely loved attending the UWEC, but it was the American Indian Studies program that taught me how to be a better person and a better social worker for my clients.