A number of students who set foot into college as freshmen are unsure of the path they want to tread. This was not the case with Leah Kaylor, a proud alumnus of the MA in Forensic Mental Health Counseling program at John Jay, who had known all along that psychology was her calling.
Growing up hearing stories of incarcerated men wanted for violent crimes and sex offences from her mother, a nurse at one of Pennsylvania’s largest detention facilities, left Leah intrigued from an early age.
Currently a PhD student in clinical psychology at St Louis University, Minnesota, Leah recalled how she made the most of her time at John Jay. “I was always interested in conducting research regarding sex offenders, so the first thing I did was get involved in the lab. I introduced myself to Dr Elizabeth Jeglic, who became my mentor and advisor. She encouraged me to pursue my interests and helped me immensely, for which I will always be grateful. Although I graduated in May 2015, we are still in touch and remain very close,” she said.
Grades may speak for themselves, but nothing beats real-world experience. While Leah was still an undergraduate student, her mother helped her get an internship at the State Correctional Institution at Greene – an all-male, maximum security prison - in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where she observed group therapy sessions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation meetings, and parole assessment interviews.
While at John Jay, Leah was one of the five students picked by the American Psychological Association to intern at the United Nations in New York. She also completed an externship with the Brooklyn Supreme Court starting in her third semester where she had hands-on experience helping to conduct clinical interviews and parole assessments, as well as counseling and group therapy sessions for undertrials.
During the summer of 2014, Leah flew to South Africa where she interned at a psychiatric hospital in Cape Town for two months.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. The system employed in South Africa is starkly different from ours, and they choose to send sex offenders to treatment instead of jail. I got to assist in conducting interviews, group therapy, and assessments. I was permitted to take notes during sessions to file case reports later, and I can confidently say that this internship is what gives me an edge over other students and clinicians on my level today. Of course, I did manage to make time for fun and went on a road trip, went shark cage diving, and explored the city,” she said.
Her advice to current students includes not waiting for opportunities to drop into one’s lap. “Start early, chart a plan of action and apply to externships as soon as possible. It may take months for an application to get approved, and there could be other roadblocks. Also, networking with professors is paramount to success. Find someone willing to help you and who understands your interests. It sounds daunting and requires a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it in the end,” she added.