The jury is in: Internships give students transitioning to the work world a leg up on the competition. And for institutions of higher learning, internships can also be effective recruiting tools for career-focused students. “University-bound students and their parents consider a number of variables as they make the decision about which institution to attend,” says Eileen O’Laughlin, assistant director of career services with Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU). “Because of the current employment environment and because experiential education is often a gateway to permanent employment, many are evaluating the work-based learning options offered by universities and choosing a school that has strong co-op and internship programs.” By extending their educational experience beyond the classroom, students can improve their job prospects while also helping their college or university improve their curriculum.
It goes without saying that today’s job market is competitive, especially for recent college graduates. Having real-world work experience, coupled with good grades and relevant extracurricular activities, puts graduates in the position to become valuable resources for today’s employers. Their employability goes beyond classroom learning.
“Kennesaw State University seeks to prepare career-ready graduates who will be competitive applicants in the job market,” says Amanda Long, assistant director of experiential education at KSU. “Internships are one way in which this is accomplished. By providing students with the opportunity to intern while attending classes, students are better prepared to successfully transition from the classroom to the workplace following the completion of their degrees.”
Professionals at the state’s technical institutions agree. “Hands-on experience is an important component of education in the technical college system,” says Rebecca Long, public relations specialist with Chattahoochee Technical College (CTC). “This experience is gained through work in Chattahoochee Technical College’s lab-classrooms, practicums and clinicals in the field and through internships and externships with local companies, organizations and industries.”
Kate Brummel of Alpharetta, who plans to graduate with her master’s degree from KSU in July, understands the importance of internships after having worked two different programs at accounting firms. “I wanted the real-world experience and to find out more about the career I want to pursue in forensic accounting,” she says. “Accounting is very competitive and you really have to have an internship to get a job offer.”
Heather Pennington, a graduate of KSU, was an intern several years ago while she was still in college. Today, she’s offering the same opportunities to students in her marketing firm, Day Three Media, based in Cobb. “Internships are a great way for the next generation of professionals to get their feet wet in the real world,” Pennington says. “They can see what they want to do and have a chance to learn what their intended career is all about. Plus, it’s a chance for me to give something back to the community and to education. These interns are eager and willing to learn and I’m glad to be able to help them in their career growth.”
Celine Romanus started interning at Day Three last year. Today she works part-time with Pennington’s firm while finishing her degree. “There’s a lot of competition for internships and I’m very fortunate to have been selected to intern with Heather,” says Romanus, who plans to graduate from KSU at the end of the summer. “Now I’m helping recruit and interview our new interns. It’s an excellent experience for me and I love what I do.” Because Day Three is a relatively small firm, interns often sit in on client meetings. “We get to see all aspects of the business and it’s been a good learning experience—beyond what I’ve learned in class,” Romanus says. “The real-world situation complements what we learn in the classroom.”
The experience gained during an internship can be valuable in many industries. For example, interns with Futren Corporation learn about the hospitality industry and sometimes land a full-time job with the company that manages Indian Hills Country Club and the Georgian Club, among others. “More than one intern has become full-time since we started this program,” says Mitch Rhoden, CEO of Futren. “Interns are a benefit to us because they can work seasonally; they also get good experience in the areas of their majors—whether it’s golf management, hospitality or business.”
SPSU’s Long agrees that internships can also benefit businesses. “They’re a great way to recruit new talent and for the business to be exposed to the latest technology that’s being taught in the classroom,” she says. “Students also bring fresh perspectives and ideas to a workplace as well as offering the skills and labor necessary for special projects and short-tem needs,” says KSU’s Long. “They can also help a business broaden its visibility and name recognition with university staff, faculty and the community at large.”
Almost any student in almost any area of study can benefit from an internship. At Chattahoochee Tech, internships are offered in a broad range of majors, including culinary arts, electronics technology, automotive collision repair and biomedical specialization. Often these experiences lead to full-time employment. “Internships are important because they give students experience working in the field and allows the hospital or company to take a look at the students and the students to look at the department and determine if there is a fit,” says Mike O’Rear, Ph.D., biomedical specialization instructor at Chattahoochee Tech. “A large number of my students are hired where they perform their internship.”
Beyond the Classroom
While institutions of higher learning and other degree programs certainly help a students’ marketability in the working world, there may be limits to what they can provide. “As much as we try to replicate a functioning collision center, we are first and foremost, a teaching facility,” says Chattahoochee Tech’s automotive collision instructor Daniel Bell. “Internships provide students with first-hand training in automotive paint and collision centers. This training is the last step in preparing students to enter the workforce.”
Students often use internships to learn more about their career of choice, help them define their employment path or even earn extra money to pay tuition. “Students who participate in a co-op or internship reap many benefits,” says SPSU’s Long. “They can test-drive their career choice or define an area of interest, develop a professional network or even earn funds for tuition and other expenses. They also will become more competitive in the job market and secure a higher-paying job upon graduation.”
Internships can also help businesses try out potential employees. For Chattahoochee Tech, Long notes that businesses may be willing to take a chance on a person new to the field or with very little work experience in the internship setting. “They are able to train and evaluate that intern to see if they would make a good fit for the company,” she says. Having students in the community while still representing the school can be a great marketing tool as well. “The college’s teaching goes beyond the classrooms and campuses and becomes authentic experience for the students,” says Long. “With feedback that instructors get from participating students and internship sites, faculty are seeing the strengths and potential weaknesses within the curriculum.”
All three institutions agree that internships are an invaluable part of the learning and educational experience for students, the institution and the community. “There is also research and anecdotal evidence to suggest that students who participate in experiential learning have a higher graduation rate that students who do not, which is an additional benefit to the university, as many are funded based on retention/graduation rates,” says O’Laughlin. “In addition, the university also benefits from strong alliances with local and national employers.”
In today’s competitive job market, internships are a great way to stand out from the competition. The right position can help students apply what they have already learned, as well as help them gain new skills that they can take back to the classroom.