SARASOTA, Fla. (April 27, 2018) – Kathyrn Carlin refers abused women to housing and counseling programs. Alexandra Ricketts helps employees understand their benefits and oversees hiring decisions. And Melissa Callejas makes sure children caught in volatile family situations are protected.
The three are USF Sarasota-Manatee students who’ve transitioned to meaningful new careers from USFSM’s Interdisciplinary Social Science (ISS) program. Motivated to help others, they say they enrolled as ISS majors to learn more about the work of social service organizations, from nonprofits to public agencies. Along the way, they entered into paid internships to expand their education and find a gateway to their vocations.
Now in the midst of their last year of college, the three are beginning their careers and say they couldn’t be happier.
“I’m very lucky that I am able to start a career in what I love to do,” said Kathyrn Carlin, 24. “I’m able to work in a field that I’m passionate about.”
Carlin, originally from Chicago, works for Selah Freedom, the nation’s largest anti-sex trafficking organization.
Headquartered in Sarasota, the nonprofit organization’s four-fold mission – awareness, prevention, outreach and residential – is directed both to teens and adults as well as victims and potential victims of sex trafficking.
Carlin works as a residential advocate, helping women who’ve fled abusive relationships and sexual exploitation to find housing and counseling programs appropriate to their needs. The programming area where she works includes options to aid in the healing process: personalized educational planning, job placement, trauma therapy, life-skills counseling, medical and legal assistance and holistic restorative care.
“I’m helping a lot with preparing the women for the next chapter in their lives, either with a long-term program here or at another facility,” she said.
As for her own future, Carlin says she wants to stay at Selah Freedom. After her internship ended in March, she was offered a fulltime position and currently is transitioning from her residential advocate job to a programming coordinator position. She’s on track to graduate from USFSM in the fall.
“I really just think that as women we need to have ownership of our bodies and we should never feel as though we don’t have a say in how we are to be treated,” she said. “I want to give a voice to those who are voiceless.”
Ricketts, also 24, said she felt a similar call to serve when she enrolled at USFSM. A native of Memphis, Tenn., she moved to Florida as a teenager and soon found her vocation helping families and children, which led her to USF Sarasota-Manatee’s ISS program. As a senior, she learned of the Salvation Army’s many outreach programs and applied for an internship at a branch in South Sarasota.
While for many, the Salvation Army brings to mind second-hand stores, Ricketts is quick to point out the many social programs offered there – from food and emergency housing to “life-recovery” courses aimed at men and women who are homeless, incarcerated or addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Starting as a human resources generalist in January, Ricketts left her internship two months later to accept a part-time position in the same department. She currently oversees staffing decisions at three Salvation Army locations, from hiring to terminations, and she manages the implementation of agency benefits and policies and procedures. After she graduates in the fall, she hopes to work there full time.
“I want to play a part of offering employees a better work experience,” Ricketts said. “I like to be helpful to people, from helping them understand their benefits to any other human resources issue they might have. But what I like most is knowing that I’m part of an organization that helps children and families.”
Melissa Callejas likewise plays a part in children’s lives. She’s a family support worker at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
A native of Nicaragua, Callejas came to Florida as a college student to study at Miami Dade College and Santa Fe College in Gainesville. For a while, she worked as a pre-Kindergarten teacher, which brought her in contact with DCF investigators and opened her eyes to the plight of abused and neglected children.
“When I was 19, I started teaching pre-K at a private school and started relating to families and the problems that surround our society, and that’s what motivated me to get into social sciences,” she said.
She enrolled in USFSM’s ISS program and, after hearing of a DCF internship, applied for the position, interviewed with two DCF supervisors and underwent a background check.
“Once I passed that, I got an email saying I had been accepted. I was so excited,” she said. “The department is where I really wanted to work, ever since I was a pre-K teacher.”
For three months, she shadowed DCF investigators as they investigated abuse and neglect cases. She was more than an observer, though. She was encouraged to talk with parents and others, ask questions and contribute to reports.
“We would do interviews with parents and children and also with school staff, or anyone else who had involvement with the children,” she said. “Our goal was to make sure the children were safe where they were and if not we would find them a better placement, hopefully with another family member.”
As the internship was wrapping up in March, Callejas’ supervisor offered her a fulltime position and she jumped at the chance. Now a family support worker, she’s on track to become a DCF investigator – her end goal – and after graduation next fall she’ll apply to the DCF’s 10-week investigator training program.
“I like the sense of fulfillment the job gives me, knowing that the children I’m helping are going to be safe and they won’t be neglected or abused,” she said. “I’m so grateful for this internship. It helped me meet a lot of people and make great connections. It opened the door to my future career.”
To learn more about USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Interdisciplinary Social Science (ISS) program, visit usfsm.edu/academics/programs-and-majors/undergraduate/interdisciplinary-social-sciences/index.aspx.