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My name is Elissa Scherer and I am a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina majoring in Psychology and Global Studies with concentrations in Global Health and Latin America. This semester, I have had the incredible opportunity to intern with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) in the Prison’s Behavioral Health division. My work this semester has been accomplished under my mentor, Dr. Peiper, who is the Deputy Director of Behavioral Health at NCDPS.

The work that I have been doing involves the Therapeutic Diversion Unit program (TDU), which is an alternative to restrictive housing (often called solitary confinement) for inmates who are struggling with mental illness. During my time at NCDPS, I have been working on formatting a database that contains information on TDU inmates’ demographic information, psychological diagnosis, and self-injurious behavior before, during and after the program. The work that I do prepares data for analysis that will evaluate the effectiveness of the program, thereby insuring the inmates are receiving quality and effective care. In addition to the data management work that I am doing, I will have the opportunity to shadow therapists in one of the prisons this week, which I am very excited about! I am hoping that the shadowing experience will better inform the data management that I do, and give me a deeper understanding of the challenges and benefits of psychological care within the prison system.

Several aspects of my coursework in my time at UNC helped to shape my interests in a way that makes working with NCDPS a great fit. I have taken classes in social psychology, as well as statistical psychology, both of which help me to better understand the work that I am assigned. Additionally, my work as a Global Studies major has exposed me to many sociology and anthropology classes that have ignited a passion for health disparities. I am especially drawn to work pertaining to mental health within the prison system because it combines my interest of clinical psychology practices with my passion for addressing health disparities, since the prison population is disproportionality composed of those of minority status.

Outside of the classroom, my experiences in both Dr. Stacey Daughters Biobehavioral Research on Addiction and Emotion (BRANE) lab and The Water Institute within the Gillings School of Global Public Health have also helped to narrow my interests in a way that make working at NCDPS valuable to me. Within the BRANE lab, I have become extremely interested in both research methods and substance use disorder, both of which contribute useful knowledge to my work with the prison system. Additionally, my work with The Water Institute writing a systematic review on environmental health conditions in prisons further inspired a passion for providing quality care to the inmate population.

My experiences with the Gil program, both at my internship site and with our professional development activities have generated significant growth for me as a professional. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Peiper, Dr. Buzinski, and Molly Corrigan for all the work that they have put into providing this incredible opportunity that has shaped my approach to applying to graduate school and my professional goals extending into the future.


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