Many students come to URI hoping to be prepared for the “real world.” Those who find their way to the Office of Internships and Experiential Education (OIEE) don’t just get to prepare for it—they get to live in it.
It’s not a secret that the job market has been tough on graduates in recent years. According to the National Association of Colleges & Employers 2010 Job Outlook, 76.6 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with work experience relevant to the position. URI offers its students a prime opportunity to develop this competitive edge by doing a semester-long internship designed specifically with future career goals in mind.
URI Internship Program Benefits
Allows students to earn between 6–15 elective credits
Enables students to put academic theory into real-world practice
Provides students with a supportive environment to explore career opportunities and to test career goals
Enhances students’ professional skills and abilities
Develops students’ self-reliance, self-esteem, and responsibility
Facilitates networking professional contacts and references
Gives students increased marketability and a competitive edge for employment after graduation and for graduate studies
Office of Internships and Experiential Education (OIEE), Roosevelt Hall
From learning to read X-rays and observing surgeries, to developing an individualized plan of care for a child with a language disorder, to writing player bios for the Providence Bruins, URI students get to learn the tricks of their trade first-hand. OIEE has recently had students creating criminal files for pre-trial conferences at the office of the Rhode Island Attorney General and writing, producing, and editing an online segment of The Rhode Show.
During the Fall 2010 semester, senior Peter Conn, a film media major, had an internship greeting audience members as they arrived for taping of The Martha Stewart Show, interacting with them during the filming, and working with the postproduction manager to select video samples from the footage.
Senior Ryan Alexander, a psychology major, created and edited an anonymous database of measures of child anxiety for youth ages 5–16 in the URI-affiliated Child Anxiety Program. This anonymous database is used to examine treatment outcomes and allows refinement of current treatment procedures within the Child Anxiety Program. Alexander became familiar with different methods to measure anxiety and scoring programs used to document data and outcomes: “The experience absolutely informed my professional development,” he said. “I now know that I do want to go into this field.”
“Usually the first question we ask students is, ‘what’s your dream job?’” explains Kim Washor ’96, M.S. ’02, coordinator for OIEE. “We work backwards from there. You can go anywhere and do anything.” Over the course of the Fall 2009, Spring 2010, and Summer 2010 semesters, 348 students participated in an internship, providing 97,736 service hours in a variety of agencies across the nation.
“Because our seminars include academic credit, we focus on helping students figure out how to connect the experience in internships with their academic curricula to help them reach their ultimate career goals,” says Washor. She sees each internship as an opportunity not only to apply what has been learned in the classroom, but to allow the experiences and insight gained on the job to influence the rest of the academic journey as well. Experiences like this are often career-defining for students at the beginning of their professional journeys, she observes.
URI’s internship program is distinct from others across the country, offering elective credit for part time and full time opportunities with a professional-development seminar that accompanies the field experience.
The seminars are offered both in class and online and are grouped by topic or major, making discussions rich for the students. Seminars include projects such as interviewing someone who has a dream job, developing interviewing skills, and examining the dynamics behind a chosen profession, such as necessary educational background and salary range. Detailed discussions of field experiences help the students integrate their work experiences with their academic backgrounds while supporting each other through the process. Ryan Alexander found the seminar invaluable: “You do a lot of work in professional development—creating a network, building a Web site, understanding your values, identifying your strengths. It’s been an amazing supplement to my internship experience that actually makes it more meaningful.”
“During the seminar, students create their own Web sites to showcase their learning goals and accomplishments,” Washor explains. “This is a great talking piece for an interview that gives our students an advantage over other students.”
The OIEE has been successful in preparing students to enter the job market equipped with that increasingly valuable commodity, relevant work experience. Currently, 39 percent of URI’s interns are offered full-time jobs upon graduation, either at their placement site or from connections made directly through their internships. “Prior to the recession,” Washor says, “75 percent of our interns were offered full-time positions.”
URI students who’ve completed a successful internship and moved into full-time employment found the opportunity provided by OIEE made all the difference. Elizabeth Berman ’09, who interned during the summer of 2009 at the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, now works as the chamber’s events coordinator, manages the Web site, and is launching an email marketing campaign. “I started doing all of this during my internship,” she says. “I wouldn’t really have been ready for the job market without that experience. It’s so much more than you can get just out of the classroom. Being able to network yourself is a big part of the job market. It’s tough to teach that.”
Intern advisors at OIEE love to connect students with URI alumni, particularly those who’ve come through the internship office themselves. “Alumni are often the best supervisors,” Washor says, “because they can relate to what the students experience at URI.”
Susanne Day ’06, a sales manager at Newport Life magazine, has just such a story, completing an internship and then going on to offer successful placements to URI students. “Our interns may be asked to research or write an editorial piece, or construct an email marketing campaign to our wide audience,” she explains. “We like to find out exactly what students want to accomplish after graduation and then tailor the internship to provide the skills needed for their résumés.”
Other alumni who’ve recently partnered with OIEE to offer internships are Jesse Friedman, M.A. ’09, of Rhode Island-based Triskallian Tours, and Nicole Roussell ’06, formerly at Rhode Island Monthly magazine.
OIEE helps URI students begin their professional lives by providing learning opportunities through partnerships with agencies that develop skill sets and instill confidence. “I see such a significant, life-changing difference in these students over the course of the semester,” says Washor.
By Bethany Vaccaro ’06