Imagine attending congressional hearings, taking notes for foreign diplomats. Or researching and writing about exotic vacation destinations. Or rubbing elbows with Rev. Al Sharpton.
Though it might sound like work for people who have paid their dues, University of Iowa students have gained these experiences through recent internships—jobs that offer a glimpse into how concepts learned in the classroom carry over to “real world” work.
Internships—some paid, some not— also provide UI students with a level of experience and credibility that employers find attractive, and often pave the way toward full-time employment after college.
Tuma Basa, a 1998 graduate in economics, did three internships while at Iowa. At BET (Black Entertainment Television), his primary duties involved background research for Lead Story, a Meet the Press-type show where he created press packets for producers and guests. He capped off the internship by coproducing an episode of BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, a show that featured politicians and celebrities discussing current affairs and popular culture.
“We (the interns) were able to pick the topics, pick the guests, and we got a little shout-out at the end,” Basa says. “Now that I’m in the business, I realize that getting that sort of opportunity was amazing.”
Basa’s internship led to a full-time job at BET, where he worked for four years before landing a gig at MTV as manager of music programming initiatives.
Mary Beth LaRue’s internship took her down a similar path. The 2006 graduate in journalism and English served as the online intern for National Geographic Traveler in Washington, D.C. She researched various countries and locations, wrote and edited copy, and added content to the web site.
By the time her internship was over, she had a job offer, which she took after graduation.
“If I had not done any internships, I wouldn’t have made the valuable connections that I needed to find a job, and I would have had a lot less knowledge about the way the magazine business actually operates,” says LaRue, who also had interned at Jane magazine in New York. “You can only learn so much in a classroom.”
Interns often learn as much about themselves as they do about the career fields they are exploring.
“I think students are somewhat surprised at how much involvement comes with good internships,” says David Fitzgerald, director of experiential education at the Pomerantz Career Center. “The students are stunned, not only by what they’re offered to do, but what they’re able to do.”
Fitzgerald gives an example: a UI alumna interning with the assistant director of the U.S. Treasury was charged with preparing a tax-revenue analysis for Vice President Al Gore—to determine the administration’s stance on a particular piece of legislation.
“This young woman had to pinch herself—the level of the things she was doing, where it was going, and the kinds of decisions it was impacting,” Fitzgerald says.
Internships also can validate one’s career choice, or provide early signs to steer clear.
Collin Gerst, a senior from Oakville, Iowa, majoring in economics, says his experience at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., was overwhelmingly positive and confirmed his interest in international trade. But, he points out, others may discover things during an internship that they don’t like about a particular field.
“If that’s the case, you’ve learned something important: the career you were interested in isn’t necessarily the way to go,” says Gerst, who is interning with the Pomerantz Career Center this fall as a peer advisor.
The guidance of Gerst and his fellow peer advisors is one of many ways the University aims to help students find their way to a valuable internship experience.
Basa, LaRue, and Gerst all benefited from the University’s affiliation with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit organization that offers select students the opportunity to intern in the D.C. area for academic credit.
The University is opening a similar center in Des Moines in the spring of 2007. Several area employers, including the Science Center of Iowa and the Iowa Cubs, have committed to the venture. The University has secured short-term housing options and a mentoring partnership with a young professionals organization in Des Moines.
“We want to engage our students in opportunities here in Iowa, offer them a unique experience, and persuade them to consider the Des Moines area as a place of employment and a place to live after graduation,” says Gerald Wickham, associate director of internships at the Pomerantz Career Center.
Fitzgerald says nearly 4,000 interviews took place at the career center last year—a few of those were preparatory mock interviews, but most were for jobs or internships, providing the inroads to career exploration. In addition, the career center manages a job and internship database that employers can update and students can search, and students are free to drop by or make an appointment for advisement.
“My internship really opened my eyes to what there is in the world and what I want to do,” Gerst says.
by Christopher Clair