While many college seniors mark the countdown to graduation with memories of late nights with friends, spring break trips and parties, some Saint Mary's students are already busy exercising their education and expertise in a professional setting.
Students who major in nursing, education and social work are required to work several hours each week in their field prior to receiving their degree.
Senior social work major Kimberly Smith, who works approximately 32 hours per week at the St. Joseph Health Center's Chapin Street Clinic in South Bend, said she does not find her full-time internship more stressful than being a full time student.
"It is just like a real job, and it requires just as much effort," Smith said. "I do not have homework, so I do not have to be in the field everyday and then come home and do [work]."
The College's Social Work Web site calls the fieldwork experience an opportunity "for students to learn more about their professional interests as they plan their careers."
All seniors are required to complete a supervised internship during their senior year and can be placed in a local or national position.
Social Work students typically complete their fieldwork through two semesters while simultaneously taking a two-credit practicum seminar class, according to the SMC Web site.
During their last semester at the College, Saint Mary's education majors must manage their own classroom for 15 weeks at local elementary, middle and high schools.
Director of Student Teaching and Field Study Karen Van Meter said although they are under the guidance of a veteran teacher, they are responsible for the planning and execution of all classroom activities.
"Teaching is so complex, and they need that real life experience before they have their own classroom," she said. "They need to understand how a classroom works and what they need to do as a teacher."
Senior education major Jessica Landgraf said the high expectations placed upon her as a student teacher at Ballard Elementary School in Niles, Mich., far surpasses any challenge she has faced in a college classroom.
"[I am] not just working for [my] grade anymore," Landgraf said. "I have a responsibility to myself, my cooperating teacher, and to my students to do my best and be prepared. There are no more extensions or re-dos."
Van Meter said senior education majors are required to observe in classrooms during their sophomore and junior years. They must also pass the national praxis exam and have a minimum G.P.A. prior to student teaching.
Nursing majors are also required to attend class while gaining practical experience through working and observing at regional hospitals.
"I think it is nice only having class twice a week after the [general education requirements] are done," senior nursing major Alicia Heimann said.
Heimann said that like the stress of student teaching, working in the health field demands students' full attention and can prove stressful at times.
"We talk about topics and procedures that involve people and their health," she said. "The stuff we learn we are responsible for remembering from year to year and need to know in order to pass the class, tests, and to make it on our own in the nursing profession."
The high demands of being both a young professional and college student often prevents seniors in this position from slipping into the sometimes comatosely lazy self-described state of 'senioritis'.
"Because I have to get up early each morning to be to school by 7:30 a.m. ... I have to make sure that I get enough sleep," Landgraf said. "It is hard to give the students that I teach the attention and enthusiasm that I feel they deserve if I am working with only a few hours sleep. So I leave going out for the weekends."
Smith's fieldwork requires her to wake up early. as well.
"I do not usually go out during the week because I am usually tired," she said. "It is not like a class where you get away with being hung-over, it is a responsibility and I have to be there everyday. There are people counting on me."
Senior education major Monica Beil must wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to arrive on time at her classroom at Prairie Vista Elementary. So she says going out with friends during the week "just isn't a reality".
"Although student teaching has been an amazing experience, it is still hard sometimes to hear classmates talk about exciting nights and whatnot," she said. "It is very hard to find a balance between being a teacher and being a college student."
Despite the fact that these seniors, like so many others, are not living out their final college semester in the typical classroom setting, they are optimistic the professional work is worth the sacrifices they must make.
"Without a doubt student teaching has been a beneficial experience," senior education major Jessica Eaton said. "It's only the forth week [teaching at Darden school], but already I can see how much I have grown, especially in areas like classroom management. You can only learn those sorts of things by being in the classroom fulltime."
Van Meter said training for a career, especially teaching, is not solely based on course work. There is a practical side and the only way to fulfill that is through training.
"[Saint Mary's education majors] are kind of lucky because they get to practice what they are going to do next year," Van Meter said, "where other majors don't get that."