Xavier University graduate Eddie Owsley-Longino gained additional skills and discovered new career possibilities through an internship with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Tell us about your background and academic interests.
I attended Xavier University, where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology and remained at Xavier to pursue a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. As a graduate student, I committed to exploring opportunities to be involved in research focused on individuals within underrepresented and marginalized groups.
I am passionate about destigmatizing mental health services among BIPOC and underserved communities while working with families, children, adolescents and young adults with severe mental illnesses and substance use disorders. My past experiences heightened my awareness of the ample number of underlying challenges (e.g., unobtainable treatment, unreliable support system) and adversities (e.g., racism, traumatic events) that could affect a person's mental health. These experiences provided insight into the difficulty of ensuring these individuals are not disproportionately affected by their challenges and adversities.
As a result, I discovered an interest in researching innovative methods to improve the mental health and resilience of at-risk children, adolescents and young adults with thought disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, psychosis), mood disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, major depression), and trauma and stress-related disorders (e.g., OCD, PTSD). That is why passion and determination to achieve my goals complement the overall objective of making an impact on those within my community suffering from mental health and substance use.
Where was your internship and what were some of your responsibilities?
I interned with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) as an Office of Evaluation (OE) Intern. This center is the lead Federal government agency for behavioral health data and research.
CBHSQ's role is to coordinate integrated data strategies, which include annually collecting data on national incidences and prevalence's of various behavioral health. In addition to designing and carrying out unique data collection and analytic projects, CBHSQ examines such data to assist federal agencies in developing national health statistic policy.
As an intern, I primarily assisted with managing evaluation and performance reports through data analysis and identifying grant program performance indicators. Internal departments and external organizations would use the indicators in future report presentations to departmental and external organizations.
In addition, I constructed a brief report that promotes qualitative data and quantitative data surrounding the performance of a program, initiated the data dissemination and redaction process for several report documents, and assisted in reinitiating a data-themed multi-agency meeting for the fiscal year 2023.
Tell us about a project you worked on during your internship that was your favorite, the most challenging, or the most exciting.
One of the evaluation projects I worked on throughout my time at SAMHSA required me to interview one of the staff members working on a grant program currently undergoing the evaluation process. This interview allowed me to learn first-hand the effects of some evidence-based practices (EBS) that substance abuse agencies implement in their treatment of clients.
I discovered that agencies that receive funding from SAMHSA's grant programs emphasize providing clients with peer support services throughout their treatment. Receiving peer support services is a resource that some clinicians would say is vital to the recovery journey. SAMHSA recognizes the benefits of peer-support services, including that clients who received peer support services were able to build their support systems (network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support).
In addition, having someone who understands the difficult journey you are going through helps clients feel heard and respected as they battle the challenges of addiction, including the negative stigma that comes with being labeled an "addict." The interview was just one of several memorable moments from my internship.
Why did you decide to apply for a SAMHSA internship with TWC?
I was seeking opportunities to enhance my research skills. When I discovered the internships TWC provides, I thought it was an opportunity I could not pass up.
I was attracted to TWC's partnership with SAMHSA and other federal agencies, advertised opportunities for student and recent graduates to gain experience analyzing mental health and substance use data, and the emphasis on assisting minority students in establishing a career in the federal government.
I valued having the opportunity to work with a professionally diverse staff that was welcoming and supportive.
How were you able to apply your academic studies to your internship work? On the flip side, how have you been able to connect your work experience to your studies back on campus?
This experience reinforced my beliefs about the importance of collecting and presenting data. I can use the skills I learned during this experience to comprehend academic journals that use comprehensive data charts and visualization tools and explain the information to those with less data analysis experience.
Whether I present to a fellow student during presentations or to an internship client who wants to see the statistics surrounding a treatment method, I know I will be able to highlight the bigger picture.
What did you value the most about your internship?
I valued having the opportunity to work with a professionally diverse staff that was welcoming and supportive. Having a team with a diverse professional background allowed me to gain brief insight on the grant application process, expand and enhance my skillset around qualitative research, quantitative research, and data analysis, and diversify my professional network.
I was able to virtually meet the Director of CBHSQ, Naomi Tomoyasu, Ph.D. Naomi is heartwarming, intuitive and passionate about engaging with the CBHSQ staff. At the end of my internship, I was fortunate enough to have Naomi make a star appearance during my internship presentation; it was nerve racking at first, but she was like the rest of the OE team: kind, heartwarming and intuitive. The chance to practice my presentation skills and receive positive feedback from experts in the field was priceless.
How did this experience shape or impact your career goals?
This experience provided insight into the evaluation process for grant programs. In the future, I plan on opening a private practice and being a part-time primary investigator. I know that I will have to apply for grant funding if I want to enhance my ability to conduct clinical research and provide mental health services. This experience provided insight into how I can locate and apply for grants.
Meanwhile, the experience also provided an opportunity to work in a new employment sector. If I believe I want to pursue a career or additional opportunities within the Federal government, this experience has opened the door for such a possibility. I hope to pursue my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and apply for a doctoral fellow position with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to participate in research and develop innovative treatment methods tailored to marginalized and underserved communities, specifically for BIPOC with severe mental illness.
What advice do you have for other students considering an internship with TWC?
I would tell other students that it is okay not to know how a particular internship opportunity will be beneficial. The TWC and SAMHSA staff will help you by providing information on the available federal internships.
That way, when you research the agencies, you can determine which opportunity is best for you. If you think that the agency aligns with your academic or career goals, then apply. Once you're in, ask every question, take on all the tasks you can manage, and make sure you communicate with the team. They are here to help; trust me, there are no dumb questions!
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