Internships have become a mainstay of the college experience and a valuable commodity in the post-graduation job market. The internship search has also become rather fraught, as students must choose between paid and unpaid internships, explore academic credit options like those offered by University Internship Programs and determine which experience will provide the best return for their time.
The new internship center is part of the overall development of the Career Center, formerly known as University Career Services. The changes are in accordance with the “total advising” approach outlined in President Teresa A. Sullivan’s Cornerstone Plan. The holistic approach combines academic advising, personal mentoring and robust career counseling and will provide students with more opportunities for experiential learning.
The new internship center will help students navigate the intricacies of the internship search and work with both employers and students on internship learning plans, student reflections and evaluations.
“We are seeking the highest-quality paid and unpaid internships, using the internship center’s review process to ensure the best experience for both students and employers,” said Kimberly Link, associate director of the internship center. “The internship center will be a centralized resource for internships as well as a connection to the many experiential learning opportunities on Grounds.”
The Career Center is building partnerships with key companies that students are interested in and with organizations like the Virginia Commonwealth STEM Industry Internship Program, which pairs Virginia college students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics companies to fill increasing demand for highly skilled workers in those areas.
“Our goal is not only to cultivate and develop internship opportunities across a wide spectrum of industries and organizations, but to prepare students to be successful job seekers and career managers, so that they can source opportunities through their own networks and those we bring forward,” Link said. “Networking, job searching and developing a personal ‘brand’ as a candidate are critical lifelong skills for students.”
Many of the internship center’s services were piloted this spring and will be fully available in the fall. These include weekly internship lunch-and-learn sessions, office hours conveniently located around Grounds and résumé and cover letter reviews, all conducted by U.Va.’s team of career counselors. Additionally, a robust online community will offer internship postings, alumni mentoring through the Virginia Alumni Mentoring program and other resources.
The center will work with faculty and staff to more broadly publicize internship postings that have previously been circulated only among individual departments, and will integrate with newly launched Career Communities to share targeted opportunities in particular fields.
U.Va’s career counseling team will meet with students individually and hold workshops and events to help students to identify experiential learning opportunities and develop the skills necessary for a successful search. Along with internships, experiential learning opportunities might include assisting with faculty research, developing independent research projects or participating in short externships shadowing professionals in a field of interest.
These experiences help students develop what U.Va. clinical psychologist Meg Jay has referred to as “identity capital” – the skills, experiences and traits that will define students’ careers.
“Students need stories about their skills and competencies when they are interviewing with employers,” said Everette Fortner, associate vice president of career and professional development. “Developing that identity capital requires you to go out, experience new things and stretch yourself. Internships, externships or research provide great opportunities for that.”
Recent statistics confirm Fortner’s assertions. According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 60 percent of respondents preferred to hire someone who had gained work experience through an internship or co-op.
A recent Gallup survey of U.Va. alumni suggests that internships contribute to increased engagement and satisfaction in post-graduation work. Approximately 60 percent of U.Va. graduates who reported an applied learning internship or job during college also reported being engaged in their current workplace, meaning that they find their work intellectually stimulating and enjoyable.
“Internships are a great first step that helps students to begin the daunting process of searching for a fulfilling career,” Fortner said. “Students often tell us that they are not quite ready to discuss a long-term career or that they do not know what they are passionate about yet. Internships give students a comfortable, approachable way to begin thinking about that and go try something out.”