August 20, 2012

Internships Become Part Of The College Experience

As the economy continues to recover from a deep recession, having relevant work experience when you apply for a job can be a deciding factor in whether you make an employer's short list.

For graduating students entering the workforce, opportunities to acquire experience can often decide their occupational fate. That's why today, for college students, internships are the name of the game.

"The popularity of internships is growing," said Beth Rossi, director of Assumption College's Office of Career Services. "Important work experience makes students more competitive."

And students must be competitive. With a ballooning number of recent college graduates and a stubbornly high national unemployment rate of above 8 percent, the applicant pools are only getting deeper. Yet, while job-market tension remains, there are ample opportunities for a student to build a resume while on campus.

Mark Wagner, director of service learning and civic engagement for Worcester State University, said the school has been "promoting civic involvement" in its students, and that "all students are encouraged to participate. The university is very committed to the community" he said, and the mutual benefit of their students through experiential learning.

The College of the Holy Cross provides similar services for its students. Pamela Ahearn, who directs Holy Cross's summer internship program, said a newly designed recruiting platform has a large portfolio of companies to which students can apply. That doesn't include other campus programs top students have access to.

"The Summer Internship Program is open to sophomores and juniors once they have passed selection," Ahearn said.

Students have a wealth of opportunities in what she said is a "very competitive" internship market, in which "some companies are already looking for internship experience (for their own internships)."

‘What Have You Done?’

The first question most employers ask is: "What have you done?" So, rather than rely on a single experience, students are told to seize as many as possible.

Rossi agrees that one is good, but more is better. "We actively encourage students to complete internships, not just one, but multiple."

Yet while quantity is decidedly a good thing, quality also plays a role. Worcester State places more emphasis on awarding students credits for their endeavors outside the classroom, as well as finding places where students can earn some money well. "We want them to gain civic and professional knowledge," said Wagner, "and ideally, we want them to be paid for it."

Quality Counts

Holy Cross and Assumption also sift through the noise to find quality experiences for their students. "We receive Worcester-area emails on a daily basis looking for interns," said Ahearn. But the college remains selective about its offers. The elements for student learning and growth are still very much important outside the classroom. "We're looking (to see) if there is supervision and mentoring in place."

Rossi said students who graduated from Assumption this year were 35 percent more likely to land a job if they had completed internships. Colleges across the board have had similar results, and state officials have taken note. The commonwealth recently initiated a new program, the Massachusetts Internship Collaborative, to encourage businesses to widen the number of internships they offer.

Ultimately, internships are not merely learning exercises. "The key component is the potential opportunity to convert that into a full-time position," Rossi said. n

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