Student earns two Washington D.C. internships

October 30, 2018
John Berringer

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — John Berringer, a senior political science and criminal justice major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville from Wheaton, Illinois, has a high-reaching goal when he graduates this December: he would like to work for a United States federal agency as a special agent paramedic in the counter-terrorism and national security field, hopefully somewhere in the Washington, D.C. area or abroad in Europe or the Middle East.

His goal, while high-reaching, is also realistic. Berringer, like many UW-Platteville students, knew that an excellent way to gain knowledge and professional experience in his field before graduation was to pursue an internship. So, Berringer did just that – he completed two internship opportunities, both in the area of international affairs, with federal agencies in Washington, D.C.

Internships in Washington, D.C.

Berringer first became interested in international affairs after taking the International Relations course, taught by Dr. Shan Sappleton, assistant professor of political science at UW-Platteville, in fall 2015. His interest piqued, he set his sights on an internship with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security-Operational Medicine Unit, also known as OMU. The application process took almost one year and consisted of two phone interviews and a large amount of paperwork. In September 2016, he was informed he had been selected for the internship.

In mid-February 2017, after attending only one week of spring semester classes, Berringer packed his bags, said goodbye to his family and friends, and moved to Washington, D.C. to begin his adventure. Within 72 hours, he was already at work as an intern with the Operational Medicine Unit, located outside Washington, D.C.

For the next 10 weeks, he attended courses that the U.S. Department of State held for Diplomatic Security special agents and foreign service officers. Courses included a High Threat Operations medical class, where he completed coursework toward his emergency medical technician license, and a weeklong Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course that covered ballistics and attack recognition, security awareness/threat protection, personnel recovery, medical training and explosives and vehicle searches. He also was able to shadow medical coverage of High Threat training and see, up close, the training that Diplomatic Security special agents receive before being sent overseas to various embassies. One highlight of the internship he really enjoyed was being able to ride in a helicopter during one of the training exercises with the special agents.

“This internship confirmed my interest in working for the federal government in the areas of international affairs and medicine,” said Berringer. “I loved working with the former special operations medics and made many great connections. The medical classes at the training agency were taught by military Navy SEALS who were very open to helping me learn.”

In spring 2018, when he heard from a friend about another internship opportunity that promised to give him additional experience in his field, he knew he had to pursue it. This opportunity was with Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., a non-partisan, security policy organization. Berringer’s friend had interned for the center previously and found it to be an exciting and challenging learning opportunity.

In March 2018, Berringer applied for the internship online. Thanks to the background knowledge he had gained through his coursework at UW-Platteville as well as his previous internship experience with the U.S. Department of State, the center offered him a position.

As an intern for the Center for Security Policy, Berringer worked in the Threat Information Office, whose role is to research and analyze current terrorism and national security concerns related to United States National Security. There, he scanned and reviewed current domestic and foreign news articles related to terrorism, then wrote one-page summary articles that were published on the Center for Security Policy website. He also completed working projects as part of the office’s think tank, including researching individuals who would be speaking at hearings and the topics they would speak about. He also attended congressional hearings related to designation terrorist organizations and research in national security. 

“I loved this internship,” said Berringer. “Washington, D.C. is a hub of information, and an awesome place to be. Interning with the Center for Security Policy gave me a taste of the operations, policy and analysis side of counter-terrorism and emergency medicine, and confirmed that I want to pursue a career in this field.”

Importance of liberal arts coursework

Berringer credited his liberal arts coursework at UW-Platteville with preparing him for the heavy writing and research that was required in the position. “Having writing-intensive and research-intensive classes prepared me for the in-depth and detailed research that was required at the Center for Security Policy,” he said. “The critical thinking skills acquired in my criminal justice classes allowed me to adapt to changing environments while with the State Department.”

Berringer’s thirst for knowledge and pursuit of high-level, hands-on experiences in his field came as no surprise to his professors at UW-Platteville, including Sappleton; Dr. David Krugler, professor of history; and Nate Forrest, lecturer of criminal justice.

“Besides being hardworking, focused and disciplined, one of the hallmarks of John’s success is his intellectually curiosity,” said Sappleton. “John is always willing to ask, and seek answers to, the ‘why’ question. This curiosity propels his quest for knowledge beyond abstract concepts and the confines of the classroom to figuring out how things function in the work world.”

“John’s love of learning and reading is truly exceptional,” said Krugler. “Usually, it’s professors who say to their students, ‘There's a book you should read…’ – Johnathon frequently stops by my office to make reading recommendations that are perfect fits for my interests.”

John’s interest with criminal justice is not limited to just the traditional parts of law enforcement, courts and corrections,” added Forrest. “He has interests with global issues, emergency response, counter terrorism and how all of these elements interact with our criminal justice system.”

Importance of professors’ encouragement and support

Berringer also credits his professors for providing him with the encouragement and support he needed to be successful academically.

“I love my political science, criminal justice and history courses because of the experience my professors bring to the classroom,” said Berringer. “They have work experience in the field, so they can relate what they are teaching to specific experiences in the field. They also have connections with other professionals in the field, which can be very helpful.”

Other hands-on learning opportunities

As a student at UW-Platteville, Berringer had several other hands-on learning opportunities that will make him very marketable as he enters the workforce. In his forensic investigation photography course, for example, he had his final exam at the university’s Forensic Crime Scene House. The final exam consisted of taking photographs of a crime scene and putting together a presentation about what he and his classmates believed happened. Berringer’s group took more than 300 photographs during their session that day.

Berringer also had a chance to participate in a field experience at Ellis Island in New York City to learn about the history of immigrants coming to the United States in New York. In addition, during the second semester of his freshman year through June, Berringer worked 16-25 hours per week as a student first aider at UW-Platteville Sports Medicine, providing a variety of medical services to approximately 450 university student-athletes. He also worked, and continues to work, about 12-20 hours per week as an EMT at Green County Emergency Medical Services in Darlington, where he was, and is, on call on nights and weekends.

“My internships and other hands-on learning experiences have given me experience and knowledge to go into an entry-level position a leg up from those who didn’t have one,” said Berringer. “This is a clear advantage.”

Looking ahead

As soon as Berringer graduates in December 2018, he will attend paramedic school for one year at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois, and then prepare to enter the workforce.

“In order to pursue a career in the counter-terrorism and intelligence field, I must be willing to go anywhere in the country or world,” said Berringer. “I must be willing to throw myself in there. One of the most important lessons I learned from my professors and from these internship experiences was that I should never think I can’t do something. Always set the bar high and say to yourself, ‘I can do this.’ Anything is possible.”


Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, University Relations Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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