Every year, an average of 12,000 students from across the country apply for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Honors Internship Program. SEU student Heidi Hester ’23 was one of just a few hundred that secured a spot. The Honors Internship Program is a 10-week, paid summer internship for undergraduate and graduate students. The program provides students of all academic backgrounds with the opportunity to work side by side with FBI employees and learn about the agency’s operations.
Change of Plans
Although she had always felt drawn to the field of criminal justice, she originally enrolled at SEU to pursue a degree in business management. However, it only took a few classes for her to realize that it was not the path God was calling her to.
“I think my passion for criminal justice stems from my desire to help people,” she reflected. “After switching to a double major in criminal justice and legal studies, I felt more confident that I was fulfilling what God had designed me for.” When it came time in her academic journey to select an internship, Hester happened to come across the FBI website.
“I had been praying about where God wanted to place me, and I discovered the honors internship opportunity. I thought it was a long shot, but I still applied,” she recalled. “I just loved how the core values of the agency were based on bravery and integrity. That’s what really inspired me to go for it.”
Applying for the program in the early fall of 2021, Hester secured her initial interview in December — which occurred over the phone due to the pandemic. She was selected to continue the process, which required her to pass all of the FBI’s employment background investigation requirements. She participated in polygraph exams, drug tests, fingerprinting, and multiple interviews. Headquartered out of the field office in Tampa, Florida, Hester began her internship with the FBI in June of 2022.
“At first, it can be very intimidating walking into this huge, looming building,” Hester remembered. “But once you meet everyone and get comfortable, they really become your family and truly care about you.” During her experience as an intern, Hester had the opportunity to see all of the varying aspects of what it means to be a federal agent.
Working with the Lakeland Resident Agency
“I was assigned to the Lakeland Resident Agency (LRA), which was amazing — I got to experience what a resident agency was like. Instead of being assigned to one specific squad at a field office like Violent Crimes, Domestic Terrorism or Cyber Crimes, I got to see a bit of everything at the LRA and work on a variety of cases. This really opened my eyes to the different opportunities I have in the bureau, not only as an agent but also as a professional staff employee,” she explained.
As the only intern at the Lakeland location, Hester often joined the other trainees in Tampa for activities and field trips. Hester’s recruiter took the interns to see a live autopsy at a medical examiner’s office, on visits to a federal court, to participate in a personal fitness test and for a ride in a Black Hawk helicopter.
“The experience definitely felt like a movie,” Hester emphasized. “What’s really cool about the internship is that your day to day is always different. You’re not just in the office doing paperwork, you’re out in the field getting hands-on experience.” She also had the opportunity to go on searches and meet with members of the evidence response team in Tampa.
In another instance, she visited a shooting range and learned how to safely handle and operate a firearm. “Going to the gun range was one of the coolest experiences. I had never shot a gun before, so getting over that fear really helped me take a leap out of my comfort zone,” she said.
Another valuable aspect of Hester’s internship was being able to see the connection between the content she was learning in her courses and the procedures she was observing in the field. “One week, I was learning about initial appearances in court proceedings in my U.S. American Courts class, and that very same week I got to attend an initial appearance with a federal agent,” she commented.
“It was super helpful to be able to apply what I was learning in the classroom in real time.” Due to her favorable evaluations, Hester was able to continue her summer internship into the fall of 2022 and the spring of 2023. During those semesters, she interned part time, dedicating about 16 hours a month to the agency.
Time to Serve Her Community
As a recent graduate, Hester plans to pursue a career in either local or federal law enforcement. “My main goal is to be out in the field where I can help serve the community around me,” she expressed. If Hester has the chance to continue her journey with the FBI, she already has a clear picture of what she’d want to be assigned to.
“I would really like to work for the Violent Crimes Against Children unit,” she said. “I have a heart for children, so if I have the opportunity, I’d like to make a difference in that area.” Ultimately, Hester considers her internship to have been a very formative and beneficial experience.
“It’s amazing to look back on the beginning of my internship and see how everything’s progressed, and the impact and difference we’ve made. Most of all, I really value the connections and relationships I’ve established with accomplished professionals in the bureau. It’s helped prepare me to develop the skills and qualifications needed for this next season of life.”