UHV student gains new experiences in New York City internship

University of Houston-Victoria student JoAnn Benavente, 21, had the opportunity to experience firsthand what it takes to handle various trial cases in a New York City federal court this summer when she worked as a clerk intern.

Benavente said she took a risk traveling from Texas to New York by herself, especially because it was her first time in the city, but the overall experience was worth it. The Houston resident learned a great deal from her internship at a federal district court and found out what it was like living in the Big Apple.

JoAnn Benavente

“It was a very exciting experience,” Benavente said. “Within the federal court, I was able to sit in on various high-profile cases. I was able to have hands-on experience. For example, I attended a naturalization ceremony by being part of the staff that hands out certificates. I was able to visit different facilities within the court. I also got to follow cases from the beginning to the end, so I got a feel for it. We got to follow jury trial cases that lasted from two weeks to a month. That was really exciting to learn the full process.”

Before going to UHV, Benavente already knew she wanted a career within the criminal justice system. She is interested in law, criminal minds and, on the psychology side, why people do what they do, and their personalities, she said.

“I decided I wanted to study criminal justice during my junior year in high school,” Benavente said. “I’ve been thankful enough that it’s something that I set my mind to. It’s something that’s literally in my heart. I want to continue to study it and eventually be able to help people within the system.”

Benavente knew that UHV was the place she wanted to go to earn her degree because of the location and class size. It also offered what she wanted to study.

“I like the smaller classes and how you get a more personal connection with the professors if you reach out,” she said. “I’ve been taking the same professors since I started, so I’ve been able to get to know them. They know me, and they know how I study and what kind of a student I am. I think that’s important in being successful. Because of the small community of Victoria, I’ve been able to work and connect with people here.”

Benavente previously interned at the Victoria County Courthouse. She always knew she wanted to work in a federal court one day, so she found the internship opportunity online and landed the position in New York. She was grateful to be among the seven who were chosen out of 150 applicants.

Staying in New York City was a different experience from her life in Houston. One major difference was her commute to work, which took more than an hour between walking to the train station, spending 20 to 30 minutes on the train, then walking another 15 minutes to work.

“It is definitely, a very big, fast-paced city,” Benavente said. “The commute was an experience of its own every single morning. In Texas, I just got to hop in my car. I had no idea what to expect or how I was going to make it in a whole other state, but I was determined to go.”

She said she liked how every place was conveniently located. Whenever Benavente needed something, she didn’t have to go far to get it.

“There were shops and places to eat on every street and corner, so it’s so convenient even though you have to walk everywhere,” she said. “Everything is literally a few blocks away.”

Benavente also had time to meet some friendly acquaintances and make a few new friends during her time in New York. Every person seems to be in their own world out there, she said. Everyone was moving at a fast pace and not really bothering each other.

“I think, for the most part, everybody in my internship group were extremely nice and kind,” she said. “They were just so surprised by how I got the internship all the way from Texas.”

Benavente just started her senior year at UHV. She will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. She most likely will continue going to UHV to earn her master’s degree, she said.

She also is the vice president of the Criminal Justice Society, an organization that started two years ago. Its purpose is to bring students who are interested in criminal justice or are majoring in a field that relates to it together.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Lisa Shapiro, Special to UHV