Internship gives Blugold a peek into the criminal justice system

| Judy Berthiaume

While Emily Bindl has long been interested in criminal justice, the Richland Center native wasn’t sure there would be a place for her in what she describes as a male-dominated field.

However, after just one criminal justice class at UW-Eau Claire — taught by Dr. Ming-Li Hsieh — Bindl realized she had no reason to worry that her gender would limit her future career opportunities.

“I had initial hesitation about the major being a good fit for me,” says Bindl, a senior criminal justice and psychology major. “However, my first criminal justice class was with Dr. Hsieh. I admire the strength that she has and the way she carries herself in a male-dominated field.

“Dr. Hsieh and other strong female professors in the criminal justice department inspired me to go this far in the major, and they have helped me to be successful.”

Last summer, another group of accomplished women convinced her she had found the right niche within the criminal justice field.

As an intern with the United States Probation Office in Des Moines, Iowa, Bindl worked alongside federal probation officers, several of whom are women.

“All the female probation officers made a big impact on me,” Bindl says, noting that her internship supervisor also was a woman. “It could be intimidating for me as a female to work in such a field, so it was great to see how successful the women are at the U.S. Probation Office.

“I had the opportunity to sit in during office contacts with my supervisor. It was rewarding to see how much of an impact she had on her clients’ lives and how strong of a relationship she was able to build with them.”

A front-row seat

During her internship, Bindl shadowed federal probation officers and assisted them in their work, giving her a front-row seat during daily federal court proceedings and one-on-one meetings with clients, as well as opportunities to talk with district court judges.

“I was surprised by how hands-on my internship was,” Bindl says.  “It was very beneficial for me to see almost every aspect of being a probation officer. There was never one day where I just sat at my desk doing paperwork.

“This challenged me to put myself out there and to get outside of my comfort zone. By the end of the summer, I had gained so much from the officers.”

The experience also has convinced her that she’s on the right path toward a career in criminal justice that will interest and challenge her, Bindl says.

When she graduates in spring 2020, she hopes to work as a probation officer, preferably at the federal level.

Bindl is one of many UW-Eau Claire students from academic programs across the campus who are gaining knowledge, experiences and confidence from internships, says Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services.

Internships often help students decide if a specific career or organization is or isn’t a good fit for them, she says, noting that nearly 60 percent of Blugolds complete at least one internship before they graduate.

“It’s a great way to test-drive a job, an area of interest or even a specific business or organization,” Heidtke says. “Like Emily, many students leave their internship even more certain about what they want to do after graduation and even more excited about their future.”

A challenging, rewarding career

When judges give federal offenders their sentences, the offenders are assigned to a term of probation, which they will serve immediately or at the end of their prison sentence. As part of that process, each offender is assigned to a federal probation officer, and they become part of the officer’s caseload, Bindl says.

The probation officers’ work is like that of a social worker, Bindl says. As people re-enter the community after serving their time, the officers ensure that clients are following all necessary treatment and that they are law-abiding citizens, she says.

“Being a probation officer allows you to take the role of both a social worker and a counselor,” Bindl says of what draws her to the field. “In both roles, the goal is to help the people you work with successfully re-enter society.”

That’s not always easy since most clients are coming directly from the prison system and many of them have been in that system for a long time, Bindl says. The society they once knew may be very different than today’s society.

A probation agent can help that transition go more smoothly, Bindl says.

“Being a probation officer has always been an option for me,” Bindl says. “This internship solidified that working in U.S. Probation is what I strive to do with my career.”

Preparing for future success

The knowledge and skills she’s gaining from having a second major in psychology will help tremendously in her future work as a parole agent, Bindl says.

“My psychology classes have given me a stronger insight into why some people behave the way that they do,” Bindl says. “Many of the people who are in the criminal justice system are suffering from a mental health disorder, so being able to have insight on some of the disorders that those people may be struggling with allows me to be more empathetic toward those clients.

“Having both majors has given me important skills and knowledge of two different fields that will benefit me with my future endeavors. I hope to bring a new perspective to the field by bringing in my psychology background.”

While her majors in psychology and criminal justice helped her build a path to her future career, the many and varied in- and outside-the-classroom experiences UW-Eau Claire offers has prepared her for both professional and personal success, Bindl says.

“When I toured the campus, I just kind of knew,” Bindl says of knowing UW-Eau Claire was the right place for her. “I think the climate of UW-Eau Claire is friendly and inviting. I also like that it has a strong emphasis on the arts, equality and inclusivity.

“UW-Eau Claire has prepared me in many ways for my future. Thanks to my liberal arts-based education, I will have a stronger understanding of how diverse and complex the people I will someday be working with may be.”

Photo caption: A summer internship convinced Emily Bindl to pursue a career as a federal probation officer.