Sometimes, the place you least expect to wind up is the very place you’re meant to be. For Nicole Federici, who was one of Catholic University’s first students to double major in social work and psychology, that’s turning out to be the case.

A senior in the National Catholic School of Social Service, Federici is doing a year-long field placement working with students with behavioral health problems (ADHD, aggression, etc.) who cannot function in a traditional school setting. A hospital or other medical environment was her first choice, but her disappointment was short-lived.

“I was intimidated at first,” said Federici, a native of Northborough, Massachusetts, “but I definitely am coming to like it more than I thought I would.”

Her field placement is at The Episcopal Center for Children in Northwest D.C. There, Federici engages in play therapy with kids, working with them on social skills, impulse control, and trying new things; tracking the children in their daily life; writing progress reports; and assisting teachers in the classrooms and helping the students stay focused.

“I’m not used to working with this population in this setting,” she said, “but I just go in with an open mind.”

Her supervisor at The Episcopal Center, John Pleasant, has been thrilled with Federici’s work.

“Nicole is terrific. She’s beyond her years in a way,” said Pleasant, who has been a social worker there since 1980. “She’s very grounded, very steady. If she is flustered, she manages well with our kids, who are very challenging. She has a calming, steady way.”

Federici is not the first Catholic University field placement student Pleasant has supervised, and he already knows he would like to offer her a paid internship over the summer, after her placement is completed in May.

“The kids have really connected to Nicole. There’s just a steadiness about her,” he said.

For her part, Federici isn’t quite sure what she’d like to do immediately after graduation, but is considering a year of service or maybe a 24/7 behavioral health case management company that does its work via text, phone call, FaceTime, and email instead of face-to-face meetings with clients.

Ultimately, she wants to get an M.S.W. and engage in clinical social work, integrating the theories of psychology into the practice of social work in a medical setting. She believes all the hard work of the double major will pay off professionally. Meantime, the kids at her field placement are keeping her busy and sharpening her skills.

“I feel you learn from every experience,” she said, more than two months into her assignment. “Any takeaway is good, and my placement has turned out great.”