An annual Orange County Sheriff’s Office internship program for University of Central Florida students interested in law enforcement has its first all-female class of interns.

Six women this semester were chosen for the Law Enforcement Officer Training Corps internship program, which was created in 1999 as a partnership between the sheriff’s office and UCF with a goal of recruiting and training law enforcement personnel. The women – all seniors – were chosen by the sheriff’s office from among 42 UCF criminal justice students who applied for the internship.

“A lot of careers and majors have been traditionally dominated by males,” said Catherine Kaukinen, chair of the department of criminal justice at UCF. “To see a strong group of women who will be colleagues and become a support system for each other – it is exciting.”

This highlights a growing interest among women in what has historically been a male-dominated field, said Kaukinen.

In 1987, just 7.6 percent of full-time sworn law enforcement personnel were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. By 2016, 14.1 percent of police and sheriff’s officers were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The goal of the internship is to help students decide if a law enforcement career is what they want to pursue, and the hope is they will be sponsored by the sheriff’s office to attend the police academy to become sworn officers after graduating from UCF, said Ross Wolf, associate dean of the College of Health and Public Affairs.

Despite the relatively low number of women in the field, these UCF students were not discouraged to pursue their interests.

For Lianne Condon, her father – now a retired New York police detective – inspired her to pursue work in law enforcement. She recalls a memory of her father who, at 4 a.m. on a cold New York night, saved three police academy cadets who were involved in an accident and fell off a cliff. He risked his life to save theirs.

“He’s my work role model,” she said.

As for Brittaney Webster, the opportunity to work in law enforcement meant an opportunity to help youth in her hometown.

“I grew up in a low-poverty area in inner-city Miami and, being a minority, we didn’t really interact with law enforcement. I wanted to show minority youth that they could have positive interactions with law enforcement,” said Webster, who added that she was “mind-blown” when she realized her fellow interns also were all females.

“Law enforcement is a male-driven field, so to have, out of 42 applicants, six women chosen – it was empowering. As we push to the future, it’s going to become half and half [men and women] in the field,” she said.

As for the sheriff’s office, this first all-female class of interns could help show women they, too, have a place in law enforcement, said Andrea Undieme, recruiting and background supervisor at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“We hope that by including women in the hiring process from the very start, they will see that the agency is working hard to break down barriers,” she said.