Getting the Job By Doing the Job
On-the-job training with internships and co-op education
"Anyone can write down that they've had experience in a pharmacy," Matthew Greenwell explains. "But when you get course credit for it, for an actual letter grade, you have evaluations. You have to write a paper about what you've learned. You have course objectives. It's something that I can show and prove on my transcript that I accomplished, and there's a certain accountability there that you wouldn't have in just a paid job."
For Western Kentucky University senior Matthew Greenwell, a Meade County RECC member from Union Star, internships offer a crucial leg-up when applying to graduate or professional school.
Greenwell, who has worked as a pharmacy tech for more than four years, opted to also do an academic internship at a Walgreens pharmacy in Bowling Green last semester, a move he hopes will make his pharmacy school applications even more attractive.
Greenwell has loved having the daily, hands-on experience of working in a pharmacyï¿½filling prescriptions, working with insurance companies, helping patients.
"Internships let you try out a career path. They let you know what you're getting into," he says. "If you've only had classroom work and you step out into a job after college, it would be hard to know what to expect."
Kacy Wilson, a biology junior at Western Kentucky University with a pre-med concentration, interned with a nonprofit organization called Unite for Sight, which works with communities around the globe to improve eye health.
Wilson, a Taylor County RECC member from Columbia, spent the latter part of May last year doing an internshipï¿½in Accra, Ghana.
She signed in patients for their surgeries in Accra and traveled with a team of doctors and nurses into distant villages where she'd help dispense medication and eyeglasses to some 200 patients a day.
"When people told me, 'I can read again' after their surgery, it reaffirmed my desire to become a physician," Wilson says. "Just knowing that I'd helped someone was so incredible."
Greenwell's working pharmacy internship and Wilson's unique, international internship are just a couple of examples in an array of interesting, exciting, on-the-job training experiences available to today's college students at home and abroad.
Gone are the days of photocopying, errand-running, and mindless busywork.
Today's college interns are getting real, practical training that's not only a great resume boostï¿½it's also fun!
Just ask Shelbyville native Adam Knecht, a sophomore at the University of Louisville studying computer science and computer engineering. Knecht snagged a coveted position as a Google intern last summer, working in the company's New York office on a 10-person technical support team.
"I loved being in the office. It was like being in a playground," Knecht says. "We only had to work until 5, but most nights we had dinner served in the office and we'd stay until 8 or 9 o'clock. The whole experience at Google spoils you. You get to work with a group of people who aren't just co-workers, they become your best friends."
Marshall County native Jeremy Turner, who received his bachelor's degree in occupational safety and health from Murray State University this past December, knew to expect fun when he applied for an internship with Disney in spring 2009ï¿½what wouldn't be fun about working at Disney World, after all?
But what surprised even Turner is how many doors that internship has opened since: "Every time I go into a job interview now, the interviewer immediately wants to ask me about working at Disney," he says.
The experience helped Turner land another impressive internship last summer with Hoar Construction, working to ensure safety and health compliance on construction of a new, $92 million hospital complex near Austin, Texas. And this spring, Turner is back at Disney again, this time working in a professional internship helping oversee health and safety at the Magic Kingdom's expansion of Fantasy World.
As Turner has seen, internships offer a great way for students to get their foot in the door of a particular company or field and begin networking for possible positions after graduation.
"Internships make students so much more marketable to employers," says Margaret Cambron, director of career development at Kentucky Wesleyan College. "It's just not enough anymore to only have the academic component. Students also need that work experience, to see what a particular profession is like, and to learn what will be expected of them on the job."
"An internship provides credibility for students on the job search and allows them to make stronger decisions about the career direction they would like to pursue," agrees Ann Zeman, director of careers development and counseling at Bellarmine University, where nearly 75 percent of the campus body participates in an internship or clinical experience before graduation.
Recalling how influential his own 10-month internship experience at Land Between The Lakes was after college, Richard Kessler, Environmental Studies program coordinator, made creating a similar program at Campbellsville University a priority. Since its launch in 2008, five students have taken part in the competitive Campbellsville University Environmental Studies Experience (CUES), and all of them have found it to be life-changing, Kessler says.
Thanks to their summer CUES internships, 2011 graduate Amy Etherington and current Campbellsville senior Spencer Adams partnered with biologists from Mammoth Cave National Park, the Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and the Kentucky Division of Forestry to conduct bird and bat counts. Adams also helped to eradicate non-native, invasive species in a prairie restoration effort at Mammoth Cave National Park, among many other projects.
After graduation, Etherington went on to pursue another internshipï¿½this one with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at North Carolina's Pea Island National Wildlife Refugeï¿½where she helped with turtle patrols along the beaches and tagged juvenile brown pelicans for tracking.
"It really gave us an idea of what it would be like to be out there in the field collecting data, like a professional biologist would," she says.
Sometimes, internships lead students to their calling. Lora Shoulders, a 2011 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College, credits her internship with the Department of Community Based Services as well as a volunteer stint with the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for helping her discover her passion for working with kids in difficult life situations. She now works full-time as a youth counselor with the Yewell Home for Boys, a long-term, therapeutic residential foster center for at-risk youth in Owensboro.
And even for students already familiar with a particular fieldï¿½like accomplished portrait photographer Jesse Fox of Crescent Springs, a senior photography major at Northern Kentucky Universityï¿½an internship can offer valuable insight into other applications or directions within that career path.
Fox, who's already made a name for herself in the Cincinnati area for her striking and expressive portraiture, spent last semester working as an intern doing product photography for a marketing firm called Interbrand.
Suddenly, she went from capturing faces to taking pictures of the fronts of shiny, metallic potato chip bags, she said. At first, it was a challenge. But the internship took Fox out of her comfort zone and taught her a lot about lighting and working in a corporate environmentï¿½skills that will come in handy as she pursues her career, she says.
In today's sluggish economy, many students realize that landing an internship or a co-op position (see Tips for Finding an Internship, below) while they're still in school is a near-must if they want to be in demand and attractive to employers once graduation day is at hand.
Internship opportunities are literally endless, with positions available for nearly every field and major. There are both paid and unpaid positions, both full- and part-time. Most schools offer at least some academic creditï¿½anywhere from one to 15 college credit hoursï¿½for internship experience, depending on the amount of hours a student works there.
From working on-site in Nevada and Texas to ensure safety compliance at a gold mine and oil refinery, as Jacob Agbor, an Eastern Kentucky University master's degree student, has done, to working as a patient care assistant at Cincinnati Children's Hospital like Northern Kentucky University nursing student Hiral Patel, there is an internship match for nearly every field of interest.
Many students, like Murray State's Turner and Morgan Murphy, an EKU junior majoring in fire protection and safety engineering, take the initiative to line up a series of internships and co-op experiences, rather than settling for just one.
Murphy worked last semester with the Madison County Fire Department and will spend this summer working at Aera Energy, a California-based oil producer, as a safety compliance intern. Following that, she'll work next fall with Ceradyne in Lexington, manufacturers of ceramic composite armor used by the U.S. Military, among other products.
"We encourage our students to get as much career-related work experience as possible," says Gladys Johnson, director of EKU's Cooperative Education Program, which is the first in the state, and only the 12th nationally, to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Cooperative Education. "A degree alone in today's job market is not enough. We want them to gain a wide variety of experience in their field prior to graduation."
Russellville resident Jordan Johnson, a Campbellsville junior majoring in political science, made the most of her summer last year, with back-to-back internships in both the U.S. House and Senate, in the offices of Congressman Ed Whitfield and Senator Mitch McConnell.
"It was so interesting to see how different those two chambers are," she says. "And to be there through all the debt crisis, to see how lawmakers responded to that, was such good experience. It exceeded any expectations I had. It was so rewarding to actually get to put into use what you've been learning in college for years."
And, ultimately, internships lead to jobs.
Laura Johnson, a 2011 graduate of Campbellsville University with a degree in social work, was offered four jobs on the same day last Augustï¿½one with state government, two with nonprofits, and one at a universityï¿½a rare feat she credits to her semester-long internship experience with the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service, a position that had her traveling to nearly every county in the state.
"The internship was a huge factor in my (job search) success," she says. "It was so instrumental in building my skills at learning how to connect with people in a professional way."
CO-OP VS. INTERNSHIP
Some colleges use the terms "co-op" (short for cooperative education) and "internship" almost interchangeably.
But co-op education programs are generally longer-term appointmentsï¿½typically two semesters or longer, often with the same companyï¿½and are always paid positions.
In contrast, internships can be shorterï¿½some only for a summer or a semesterï¿½and some may be unpaid. Co-op education can be either full-time or part-time, 20- to 40-hour per week positions. According to Accreditation Council for Cooperative Education guidelines, all co-op positions must be paid and noted on the student's transcript. EKU's Cooperative Education Internship Program awards academic credit for both co-op and internship positions.
Gladys Johnson, director of EKU's highly respected Cooperative Education Program, encourages her students to consider a co-op whenever possible.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: >TIPS FOR FINDING AN INTERNSHIP
Learn the key questions you should answer when looking for an internship as well as find links and suggestions for where to search for internships. Go to finding internships for the questions and more tips.