Cedarville may not be Disney, but for seniors Mayra Chavez and Danielle Banks, it was the place where impossible dreams came true.
Both forensic science majors interned during the summer and have continued the internships this school year with the Honors Internship Program of the FBI. The students learned of the internship through Robert Vaughn, assistant professor of criminal justice at Cedarville.
“Last January, I was in a criminal law class and our professor told us about this internship that was coming up and told me and my friend, Mayra, that we would be well-suited for it, that he thought we’d do well with it and should apply,” Banks said.
Vaughn said it was one of the first years they heard that the bureau was able to fund the program and he thought Banks and Chavez would be a good fit.
“Having them in class and knowing their academic potential and ability, seeing how they interacted with others, I knew they would represent Cedarville well in that sense,” he said. “And also, having the forensic science background as well, being that major, I thought it would be something the FBI would say, ‘This is someone we want to have as an intern.’”
The application process, most of which had to be completed within five days, Banks said, included a polygraph test; background checks; recommendations from friends, family, faculty and employers; interviews and a lot of paperwork.
“A federal application process for jobs is extremely competitive and not easy,” Banks said. “(My professors) worked with me pretty much every day during that window, making sure we hit every step.”
After completing the process, both candidates settled in to wait. As the initial start date of June 2 approached, they said they were told the background checks were taking longer than expected.
The phone call
Banks was the first to learn of her acceptance. She received the phone call as she was driving with her dad on the way to a family vacation.
“I literally screamed and I was like, ‘I’m sorry!’ because you try to be professional when you’re on the phone with the FBI, but that didn’t quite work out,” she said. “I was like a five-year-old child, super excited.”
When she told her dad the news, his reaction wasn’t quite what she expected.
“I laugh about it now, I didn’t laugh about it at the time,” she said. “I told him, ‘Oh, that was the FBI and I made it,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I was like, ‘That’s nice?’ And he said, ‘Honestly, I didn’t think you’d make it.’ This is my dad, he’s supposed to be my number one and he didn’t think I’d get in.”
Chavez’ acceptance took longer. After she heard that Banks had gotten in, Chavez said she began to worry.
“A couple weeks after the internship had started, I think I called and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard anything and, kind of, where am I at?’” she said. “And they were like, ‘Oh, it’s like the fourth week, so if we haven’t told you anything, you probably didn’t get in.’ So I was a little distraught.”
But the next day, she was told that the background check had cleared and she had been accepted into the program.
“I was ecstatic. I kind of couldn’t believe it, because I applied and I went through it, and Danielle had looked it up and they only hire three to four percent of applicants and so I was like, I’m going to try, and I’m going to do everything and whatnot,” she said, “but realistically I was like, just be prepared to receive a no. And so when it finally went through, I was like, this is not happening to me, this is so cool.”
Chavez began working at the Albuquerque, New Mexico, office on June 30 and spent six 40-hour weeks working with the violent crimes squad. She helped with a search warrant, transcribing jail calls, creating PowerPoints and summarizing cases. Other experiences included crisis negotiation, defense tactics and firearms training.
“The firearms and defensive training day was a lot, a lot of fun,” she said. “It was little more interactive and it was nice, getting out of the office and stuff.”
Banks worked with white collar crime, violent crime and counter-terrorism teams in the Louisville, Kentucky, office, starting in June.
After the initial internship program ended in August, both students were asked to continue their internships at the Dayton office. Both accepted and began working at the start of the school year, helping with small projects and making transcriptions of phone calls and conversations.
“There are so many positions that you can really help in just about anything,” Banks said.
Prepared for the task
Many people think being an FBI agent is just about law enforcement, Chavez said, but it actually requires training in several areas. The education received in the forensic science major at
Cedarville helped prepare her for the job and even made Banks and her more competitive in the program.
“The way I’ve learned to describe it is as a minor in biology, chemistry and criminal justice just mushed into one,” she said. “We take a lot of science classes, so I think it made Danielle and me more competitive because it was something different and a little more challenging overall.”
The forensic science program also focuses on integrity and ethics, which builds character along with knowledge.
“I feel like challenging majors tend to strengthen your character, you know, ‘Are they a quitter? Are they going to give up?’ Stuff like that,” she said. “Here, they encourage us to do things right, even if they take a little longer.”
In addition to experience and knowledge, Banks said the faculty at Cedarville was vital to applying and preparing for the program.
“Professor Vaughn was the one who told (us) the internship was happening and I never would have known about it without that,” she said.
Living the dream
Despite the knowledge and preparedness, Banks said she was nervous and intimidated on her first day at the bureau.
“The FBI office in Louisville is huge, and so it’s extremely intimidating, and you walk in the door, and there’s a wall around the compound and security gates and all the processes you have to go through to get in the door and so it was definitely very evident where you were and what you were going to be doing,” she said. “But at the same time, everyone there was extremely welcoming and professional but also, they’re all nice to people and they’re normal human beings.”
“The FBI, I thought, was going to be really intimidating and I was really scared, I didn’t think I was competent enough for this,” she said. “I know, on the website, it says ‘Oh, we’re like a really big family’ and to me, that’s what it really was like.”
Chavez said she grew close to her co-workers in Albuquerque and hopes to work there as an FBI agent once she graduates, a role she has been working toward since before high school.
“It’s really great working there. I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time,” she said. “That was my end career goal, I wanted to work for the FBI, and sometimes I still can’t believe it that I started there at 20 years old.”
Banks said she has always been interested in criminal justice, but her interests lie in a dif-ferent part of the field.
“I really love lab work, so I’m more towards that side of criminal justice,” she said.
She is also planning on continuing with the FBI after graduation, she said, but she isn’t sure where she wants to work.
“One of the best things about the bureau is that it’s so diverse in that you can come in in whatever job you’re in, whether that’s an internship or just an entry level position, and you can branch out a million different directions,” Banks said. “I could do pretty much anything, and I like that about the bureau, being able to have options open.”
In addition to offering a variety of positions, the FBI also tries to place people where they would do best.
“There’s a hundred different things to do in the bureau and I’ve loved pretty much everything that I’ve done,” Banks said. “They’re willing to help you pursue whatever your dream is. The FBI has a lab and they’re willing to help me look into that avenue of things and see what I’m best suited for.”
Wherever she decides to go, Banks said she enjoyed the challenges she faced and the confidence that came with affirming her capability to succeed in her internship.
“The challenge of it was just amazing, just coming in the first day and thinking, ‘I don’t know anybody, I don’t know what we’re doing, I don’t know these cases’ and just feeling lost,” she said, “and realizing, I can do this, they think I’m qualified for this and by the end of it, I can talk about these things and I know everything I need to know to be able to do this.”
For Chavez, the internship was another step toward her dream, an experience, she said, that was even better than she had hoped.
“Honestly, I think they exceeded my expectations of what I thought it was going to be. A big part of it for me was how personal it is, the environment and stuff. That really surprised me,” she said.
“I was expecting to feel like such a small person, as part of such a large organization, and realizing that they were really great and I got along with my supervisors and they were really encouraging and proud of me, which for me meant a lot.”
Working for the FBI has become routine, Banks said, but sometimes it still catches her off-guard.
“Now, I go to work and I come back to school and it’s just part of my day,” she said. “Every once in a while, I’ll just be walking down the hall at the office and I’m like, ‘Look where I am,’ and it’s still really exciting.”
Emily Finlay is a senior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She loves writing, reading, making obscure references in normal conversation and every type of geekery.