HES student lands prestigious SAMHSA internship

photo of Joseph Espinoza
Joseph Espinoza

Health and Exercise Science senior Joseph Espinoza’s journey brought him from a small town in the San Luis Valley of Colorado to Colorado State University, and now his next step is a rare opportunity in Rockville, Md.

Espinoza has accepted a prestigious offer for an internship position with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration office (SAMHSA) just outside of Washington D.C. Espinoza faced heavy competition with students from across the country who applied for the position.

Hailing from Romeo, Colo., a town of 375 inhabitants located in the San Luis Valley, Espinoza came to CSU in 2011 as part of the Key Explore Community: a residential learning community that offers guidance to students by helping them explore their options at CSU. After gaining a holistic look at health care, he decided his focus at CSU would be on health promotion.

Extracurricular activities

Espinoza is still humbled by the opportunity that has been presented to him. When asked what he did to stand out among other candidates, he attributed his success to extracurricular activities that have expanded his experience.

“I’ve attended leadership retreats while at CSU, and take advantage of any opportunities I can,” he said. “Getting involved with professional organizations, such as the Academic Advancement Center, has been very helpful.”

The Academic Advancement Center is a student support services program that helps low-income, first-generation college students, foster youth, and students with disabilities stay in college until they earn their baccalaureate degrees. Having early exposure to leadership has also been a factor in his success.

“Being a part of the Beta Gamma Nu fraternity has gotten me involved in community organizations and helped me to develop management and leadership skills,” Espinoza said.

Work experience

Working was also vital in helping Espinoza set himself apart in the candidate pool.

“I’ve had a job every year since I’ve been at CSU; I also had the opportunity to fulfill HES practicum requirements,” Espinoza said. “A big reason I applied for the SAMHSA internship was because I was gaining experience from the CSU Health Network practicum, where I had the opportunity to work in mental health, which is a step toward working with substance abuse prevention.”

According to Espinoza, the 15-week internship will give him insights into progressive work being done in his chosen field. It will also give him a first-person perspective on the government’s role in dealing with behavioral health disorders, an aspect that Espinoza has not dealt with much up to this point in his education. He is also enthusiastic to be learning from his supervisor, who currently serves as the special assistant to the director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

The SAMHSA Internship Program works to help students recognize the value of ensuring that all individuals live a productive life within a community. The interns gain experience in the program through practical application in projects, special assignments, or research that support federal, state, and community-based programs, policies, and best practices in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and mental illness. While working 40 hours a week, students will not only draw from the knowledge they have learned in their formal education, but gain experience through applied projects and real-world interactions.