As recently as five years ago, internships were rare and not considered necessary for students. As recently as three years ago, internships were what business students did in the summer.
Now internships, cooperative education positions, and other work experience have become a necessity for many students. The University of Iowas Career Development Services office has completed the first academic year of The Iowa Advantage, a new program to help students learn to analyze their competitive strengths and show them effectively to prospective employers in order to win competitive internships.
Jane Schildroth, director of Career Development Services, says employers tend to regard internships as three-month job interviewsa chance to get to know a future employee well before either employer or employee has committed to a full-time hire. Instead of make-work or clerical assignments, students are given real-world problems to solve.
"Many students come back to campus saying, Wowthey just turned this program over to me. You wont believe what I learned," Schildroth says.
Sometimes, that can change the entire focus of a students career. Cory Speth, a Bettendorf, Iowa senior, interned at the Center for Macular Degeneration in Iowa City, taking samples and analyzing them in a laboratory.
"At first I had wanted to be an M.D.," he says, "but from my internship, I realized that I want to gain my Ph.D. because it is the best route for me to continue my personal goal of contributing to the medical research field. It completely changed my view of my future."
Matthew Peasleys internship at Fisher Controls in Marshalltown this summer was "fantastic!" he says. He worked in a flow scanner group developing a mechanism to access databases on the World Wide Web and then put it on Fisher Controls web page.
Peasley, a sophomore business major concentrating on management information systems, is from Marshalltown. While this was his first internship, it was the third summer he has worked at Fisher. He started as a junior in high school in a School to Work program.
"This internship was perfect for my major," Peasley says. "But it would have been perfect if I had not liked it, too. Thats the good thing about internships."
For others, an internship can be a reality check and motivator. "My internship was a humbling experience," Elaina Livings, a junior in business, admits. "I excelled in the pseudo-reality of academia, but working in the real world posed a completely different environment, one where I would have to start anew and work hard to succeed."
More Majors Offer Internships
Internships are not just for business majors, either. Students in art, philosophy, English, and other fields in which internships have not been stressed in the past now find positions in fields related to their majors. For example, a student majoring in journalism and art wrote news releases last summer for the Health Science Relations office on campus and a music student was a camp music counselor.
Nursing began requiring a clinical internship for undergraduates just this year. Jesse Bueno, who graduated in July, said that his 125 hours of clinical internship at Genesis West Hospital in Davenport confirmed his goalto be a pediatrics nurse, eventually at Childrens Hospital in Kansas City, where his brother lives.
The internship gave him a chance to do a lot of nursing, always with supervision, he says. "I like little kids. They have no worries; theyre free. I like to see them get better."
Lisa Hueblik, a nurse and certified teaching assistant on Pediatrics 5E at Genesis West, says Bueno performed well in his internship. "Jesse is really friendly, really good with children. The male children really like him, and he finds a lot of ways to relate to them."
In evaluations of their internships, many of the 389 students who had internships last summer agree that the experience confirmed their choice of a career field. But others say they learned that it was not what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.
"The movement now is toward scheduling an internship earlier in the academic career," Schildroth says. "Most students still think about them for the summer following junior year, but more are moving that up to sophomore year and perhaps doing two internships during their college careers."
Luke Gutzwiller of Council Bluffs worked this summer with Ramon Torres-Isea, a research assistant in the Physics and Astronomy Departmentafter finishing his first year at Iowa. He helped set up undergraduate laboratories in the department under Torres-Iseas direction.
"I was able to learn a lot by putting equipment together," he says. "I wanted to stay in Iowa City this summer so I was happy to have this opportunity. The head of Physics and Astronomy, Wayne Polyzou, really worked hard to help me get this chance."
Iowa Advantage Process
Students hear about The Iowa Advantage first at Orientation. They see the Career Development Services web site and view electronic portfolios that last years students developed. Then they come in for an in-depth, one-hour interview with an adviser.
They attend two group sessions each semester to learn how to analyze their own skills, what theyve learned over the past semester, and what that might mean to a future employer. Then they think about ways to convey that information in a portfolio.
"By the time theyre in an actual job interview, theyre going to know what to say," Schildroth says.
Finally, in a follow up interview just before a semester break, students come in for a half-hour to think about scheduling job-shadowing, information interviews with people in their intended fields, or internships during the next semester.
"By their second or third semester in the program, theyre moving more toward the computer lab, creating their electronic portfolios that show their work on the Internet," Schildroth says. "Then when they meet prospective employers visiting campus or at job fairs, they can hand them a business card with their web address and tell the interviewer, "You can view my work at this address," she adds.
"All the employers we work with are enthusiastic about this program," Schildroth says. "Theyre not accustomed to seeing portfolios of work, but they enjoy it. And a student can say, Look what Ive accomplished!"
Career Development Services conceives of the program as four semesters in duration, though individual students may opt out whenever they choose. In the programs first year, some seniors asked to join.
"Its really difficult for seniors," Schildroth says. "It takes more than two semesters to learn about yourself and the skills you have, and then put them in a usable form. We advise seniors that we will work with them, but theyll have to work harder and faster than they would if they had started earlier.
"Its more fun with first-year students because you can advise them on getting involved in professional organizations, signing up for interviews, and doing internships and they still have time to do them."
-By Anne Tanner