Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class on student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina during the spring 2009 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
More and more undergraduate degree programs across university campuses are requiring students to participate in internships. Institutions are making this move partially because employers are increasingly seeking entry-level candidates with industry experience. A 2006 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) indicated that 62.5 percent of new college hires performed undergraduate internships (as cited in Paletta, 2008). An internship used to be optional, an added bonus. But for many of today's college students, it has become a critical career moveand a rite of passage into the workforce (Lipka, 2008, p. 10). This article will explore how advisers can assist students before, during, and after internships in order to help them make the most of their internship experiences.
Before the Student Accepts an Internship
One of the most important actions an adviser can take is to encourage students to participate in internship programs. The Retailing Department at the University of South Carolina requires each of its students to participate in an internship. This allows the students to gain industry experience and confirm their interest in the field. Mike Moody, director of internships for the Retailing Department in the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina, likes to meet with students to discuss their options and explains:
I find out what students' interests are and then suggest some different options they can pursue. I really try to figure out what each student likes and dislikes. This is important because the internship that is accepted will last at least a semester, so I would hate for the student to be stuck at a job in which he or she was unhappy. (M.Moody, personal communication, March 5, 2009)
At Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, students interested in experiencing an internship meet individually with faculty mentors who help them formulate specific goals and frame evaluation criteria (MacDonald, 2008). By doing so, the students recognize and understand what they should gain from the experience and what expectations they will face.
By questioning students, advisers can ascertain when, where, and why they are seeking internship opportunities. Below are a few sample questions that advisers can ask to clarify students' expectations of the internship:
- What semester does the student want to take part in the internship? (i.e., summer, fall, spring, Maymester, etc.)
- What specific skills does the student hope to acquire?
- Does the student want to work internationally or domestically?
- Is the student only able to participate in paid internships?
- Is the student interested in service-learning opportunities?
Once a comprehensive list of interests, needs, and requirements is complete, advisers can provide students with resources to locate employers. The unit may have such a list or the career center may be another resource. Many institutions post internship opportunities online. Advisers can also direct students to faculty, alumni, or staff members who may have connections in appropriate geographical or work-related areas. Advisers can provide students with the list of resources and give them moral support, but students take over from this point and are responsible for contacting these employers.
Advisers can also assist students formulate effective résumés and cover letters either by editing them or referring students to the institution's career center or departmental internship coordinator. Some departments offer internship seminars or career readiness classes that assist students prepare these documents. For example, the Retailing Department at the University of South Carolina requires students to take a one credit-hour internship seminar that meets twice a week prior to embarking on their internships. The class often features industry professionals who speak to the class about what they seek in internship candidates and who sometimes conduct mock interviews (M. Moody, personal communication, March 5, 2009).
During the Student's Internship
When students participate in internships, it is helpful if advisers maintain contact with them via e-mail or phone. If a student contacts his or her adviser to discuss a problem, the adviser should be prepared to help the student brainstorm solutions. If the problem seems to persist or is too difficult for the student to handle, then the adviser should either step in and speak to the employer or contact an administrator who can handle the problem. It is important that students understand the adviser is there for support and guidance. It is also always a good idea for advisers to encourage students to take the initiative and have open dialogues with their supervisors/peers during the internships.
After the Student Returns from the Internship
When students return to campus after completing internships, advisers can help by meeting with them individually and asking questions that encourage them to reflect on their internship experiences. Advisers can start the appointment by asking students general questions about internship highlights, learning points, enjoyable aspects, and least favorite parts. Advisers should listen carefully to student responses and ask appropriate follow-up questions. Advisers then can ask about the biggest challenges students faced and how they overcame those challenges. Finally, advisers and students can brainstorm about any transferable skills the students obtained and how they can apply these skills in a classroom or future work setting.
An Ever-Changing Market
To conclude, academic advisers can enhance students' internship experiences in a variety of ways. It all starts before the internship even begins. Encouraging students to participate in internship opportunities and reviewing their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences help them earn placements in appropriate internships. While students are participating in their internships, advisers should maintain contact and help them recognize and manage difficult situations. When students return from their internships, advisers can assist them in reflecting on and processing their experiences, identifying transferable skills they acquired, and determining how best to use these skills in future settings. Overall, students' internship experiences can improve significantly if academic advisers assist them throughout the entire process.