$3.7 million gift endows the Karen M. Gil Internship Program in Psychology

Kirsten Consing is a clinical psychology intern who worked with Mother Infant Research Studies at UNC Hospitals. (photo by Kristen Chavez)
Kirsten Consing is a clinical psychology intern who worked with Mother Infant Research Studies at UNC Hospitals. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

In the fall of her senior year, Liz Bailey ’15 of Raleigh had job offers in sales and consulting, but she didn’t think they’d make the best use of her psychology and chemistry majors.

“I didn’t see myself thriving in these positions,” she said. “I had never been exposed to what a career in psychology or research would look like prior to my internship experience.”

That changed last spring when Bailey earned a Karen M. Gil Internship, working at UNC’s Neurocognition and Imaging Research Lab.

“Research is what excites and empowers me. I feel like I am contributing to the greater goal of finding effective treatments for people suffering from schizophrenia and PTSD,” said Bailey, now a research fellow at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is applying to Ph.D. programs in which she can focus on improving the diagnosis, understanding and treatment of mental illnesses and neurodegenerative diseases.

Generations of Carolina students will now have similar opportunities.

A Carolina alumna and her husband, who wish to be anonymous, are endowing the Karen M. Gil Internship Fund in Psychology, a program the College of Arts and Sciences piloted in 2014 with startup funding from the same donors. The effort has been so successful that the couple has committed $3.1 million in permanent funding for student stipends and program support, plus $600,000 in funding to continue the program while the endowment builds.

The gift honors Gil, dean of the College from 2009 to 2015, and the Lee G. Pedersen Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

“This generous gift is not only transforming the lives of our students, but it has enormous societal benefits through the work that the program’s alumni will accomplish,” said Kevin M. Guskiewicz, dean of the College. “It is a wonderful tribute to Dean Gil and her leadership of the College, as well as to her achievements as a clinical psychologist.”

More than 40 students have held Gil internships since the pilot program launched in fall 2014, said Steve Buzinski, faculty director of the program.

“The Gil Internships have been revolutionary,” said Buzinski. “They expose interns to the collaborative nature of science as a whole. … We are thrilled that the program will now inspire many more students.”

After a competitive application process, students earn internships in labs, correctional institutes, corporations, mental health centers, public schools or programs for the learning-disabled, a list that continues to grow. Workshops on professionalism, best practices for writing CVs, resumes and other job- or graduate school-related materials are part of the Gil internship program.

Rowan Hunt ’16, a psychology and economics double major from Mullica Hill, N.J., was a Gil intern in fall 2015 at Veritas Collaborative, an eating disorder treatment center in Durham, N.C.

“The internship really deepened my understanding of eating disorders, and the field of clinical psychology as a whole. Between volunteering in the lab for the past four semesters and taking psychology classes, I’ve amassed a broad understanding of mental illness, but understanding these things on an academic level is completely different from having tangible, clinical experience with the population,” said Hunt.

“I’ve also learned how much business goes into sustaining a successful private treatment center like Veritas. It not only requires having a talented clinical staff of psychiatrists, doctors and therapists, but also requires a lot of support staff and administrative staff. I didn’t think that my economics degree would be helpful in my role as an intern, but I learned a surprising amount about business in my time in the program.”

After she graduates this spring, Hunt hopes to work for a couple of years before pursuing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She is working as a part-time therapeutic assistant at Veritas and is also considering research assistant positions.

Daniel Horschler ’16, a psychology and anthropology double major and first-generation college student from High Point, N.C., was in the first group of Gil interns. His internship at Lenovo led to work there as a user experience researcher, a position that he held through his senior year.

“I knew that I loved research, and I saw the program as an excellent way to find out about what psychology research is like outside of an academic setting. The most surprising thing about my internship has been finding out how much psychology research is valued at major corporations like Lenovo,” said Horschler.

Horschler is applying to Ph.D. programs to research the evolution of the human mind, an area related to his internship last summer at Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center; his Gil internship likely strengthened his application to this highly competitive program.

For Bailey, the Gil internship opened a whole new world.

“The internship stipend gave me the financial freedom to spend my time working in the lab rather than waiting tables, and opened my eyes to my calling as a researcher,” said Bailey. “Without the internship, I never would have known how truly passionate I am about neuroscience and clinical psychology research. I feel as if I have made a flawless transition from an undergraduate to an influential career-oriented adult.”

For more information about the Gil Internship, contact Steve Buzinski, faculty director of the program, gilinternship@email.unc.edu, 919-962-4155. To read more about the interns and their experiences, go to gilinternshipblog.web.unc.edu. Watch a video of the program at https://college.unc.edu/2015/08/06/gilinterns/.

By Del Helton