BY MELISSA DELLACATO
Editor in Chief
In 2013, approximately 48 percent of intern and co-op students were retained by their employers, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization that researches the employment of the college-educated.
“Make sure before you graduate from a four-year college that you have participated in an internship,” said Denise Schmidt, director of Career Services and Cooperative Education at County College of Morris. “It will give you confidence, it will give you connections… [and] it will give you great information for your resume.”
Students typically participate in internships or cooperative education, either in their final semester at CCM or when they transfer to a four-year school, according to Schmidt.
The terms “internship” and “cooperative education,” commonly known as a “co-op,” are defined differently by many higher education and professional institutions. CCM defines an internship as an unpaid position where the student puts in 150 hours in a semester, while a co-op is a paid position for 300 hours during the semester.
There are currently 18 degree programs at CCM that offer an internship/co-op option, according to the CCM website.
Schmidt cited the NACE survey when describing the benefits of completing an internship. According to the survey, many employers said more than a third of future new hires will come from internal internship and co-op programs.
Schmidt said there is no good reason not to do an internship before graduating from college.
“There really is no drawback,” Schmidt said. “I just think that sometimes students are reluctant to take that first big step out into the real world… I think it’s usually a fear thing that keeps them from doing it.”
Schmidt said many students think they don’t need to visit career services until graduation time. However, career services can help students as early as their first collegiate semester. For example, career services can assist students with finding a part-time job that is relevant to their major or that will help the student build valuable skills that they may need in the future. They can also help students with their resumes and getting the resumes into the hands of employers.
“Actually, when students come around for their orientation tours here… I tell them about it on their orientation tour,” Schmidt said. “Now that’s a little overwhelming, probably because they haven’t even started classes yet, but my point to them is really bigger than internships.”
Schmidt said that after companies hire their own interns, their next step is to look at interns from other companies. They want someone who has “tested themselves.”
“When you do graduate and you’re ready to apply for jobs in your field… you will be competing with graduates from your own school [and] other schools who have participated in internships and cooperative education experiences,” Schmidt said. “You will be at a disadvantage if you didn’t and you’ll likely be asked why you didn’t.”
According to the survey, of those who did an internship or a co-op and were hired by their employers full time, 89 percent are still there after a year. After five years, 75 percent of them are still there.
“That’s big for an employer because training people costs money,” Schmidt said, when referring to the statistics. “Losing people is money going out the door… So a lot of employers look at this as their recruitment strategy. ‘Let’s bring in interns and co-ops, keep those that we like, train them [and] invest in them,’ and they’re very happy when they can see after five years that those employees are still with them.”
At CCM, interns and co-ops are supervised by a faculty member in the appropriate department.
“You know how you go into a class and every time you come out of the class, you’ve learned something you didn’t know before? We want that kind of learning to go on in the workplace as well,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want the student to learn something and then repeat that activity for the next 12 or 13 weeks. It’s all about structuring the experience, providing learning, and that mentoring relationship, so that the student is being guided and taught by someone who knows more than they do in their field.”
Professor Bonnie Murphy, chairperson of the information technologies department, is currently mentoring two co-op students and one intern.
Murphy said she is responsible for making sure the student is completing tasks related to his or her major. Additionally, she makes an onsite visit once during the semester to see what the student has been working on and to meet with the supervisor(s). In turn, students are responsible for keeping a log of tasks they perform while on the job.
Since Murphy mentors interns in the information technologies department, many of the samples of work she sees are electronic, such as web pages or databases.
The interns and co-op students are also required to take a one-credit course with their internship. The textbook that accompanies it is called “Your Attitude is Showing” and deals primarily with human relations in business.
Murphy said that overall, an internship is a positive experience for the student and a great way to network and gain some real-world experience.
“The thing to really emphasize is that it is a wonderful learning experience. If students can fit it into their schedule, it really is helpful to them,” Murphy said. “And it’s not only good for them, it’s good for the college and it’s good for the programs to make sure they are on track as to what’s happening.”
Murphy said that some past internships have included developing a web page for a small business, scheduling and financials for a company, or working in a graphic design environment.
“The most profound experiences I’ve had are to see a student go from wearing jeans and flannel shirts, or jeans and Uggs, to dressing appropriately for a business office,” Murphy said. “So the transformation is very, very interesting and always rewarding for them as well as for me.”
Murphy said that the ideal internship will help students realize whether or not the career they’re planning on pursuing is right for them.
“It gives [students] a good indication of what to expect once they graduate and start a career. And oftentimes they’ll find ‘this isn’t for me. This isn’t what I want to do.’ And so it’s a very, very nice way to test the waters,” Murphy said. “And for those people who have found it is what they want to do, oftentimes it will lead to a full-time job.”
Two students are currently completing cooperative work experiences under the supervision of Murphy.
Chelsea Thompson, a 26-year-old digital media technology major, is completing a co-op at UPS in Mahwah, N.J. as a strategic communications intern. Her responsibilities include: updating websites with internal news and event coverage, taking photos of events and video editing.
“I remind people that [UPS is] a good place to work, and [I] keep the employees informed,” Thompson said. “I make people aware of what other people are working on because sometimes people get isolated with their own projects.”
Thompson said she found it difficult to work with the “soft deadlines” at first.
“My managers would give me three or four projects without hard deadlines. I was expected to prioritize,” Thompson said. “They gave me a bunch of things and basically said, ‘Finish as soon as possible.’”
Thompson said she didn’t learn many hard skills while interning, but rather she learned other workplace skills that cannot be taught in class.
“[I learned] relations with other people in the department [and how] to be aggressive when I need something,” Thompson said. “It was important to constantly communicate with my managers about what I’m working on… if they give me something new, I need to tell them how it’d affect my current projects.”
Thompson hopes to be hired full-time at UPS after she graduates from CCM.
“They’re pretty good about hiring their interns,” Thompson said. “I’ve seen, like, 10 other interns get hired there… The girl that hired me was a co-op [at the time] and now she works there full time.”
Overall, Thompson describes her co-op experience as “really good.”
“It meshed with how I learn,” Thompson said. “[On] my second day, they threw me into an event with a camera. I’m the odd person who learns by being thrown into something… It prevents me from getting bored.”
Another student under Murphy’s supervision is Michael Kucinski, a 19-year-old computer science major. He found his internship online on CCM’s career services job listings and currently has a co-op at AGO Insurance Software. Most of his responsibilities are related to web applications. Thus far, he has designed reusable user interface components, converted old web pages to newer standards… [and] researched possible technologies for future use within the new project platform.
Kucinski said that, while he was taught many valuable technical skills by interning, he learned much more than that.
“I have learned how to express my ideas and give presentations to communicate them effectively,” Kucinski said in an email. “I have learned how to listen to the ideas of others… [and] how to work as a member of a team. And finally, I have learned the importance of caffeine.”
Similar to Thompson, Kucinski said the hardest thing to adjust to was the “lack of immediate direction.”
“You are not always expected to finish a project in an hour, a day, or even a week,” Kucinski said. “It may seem silly, but I found myself stressed at first due to the amount of freedom I had.”
Kucinski said that without this co-op, he would be “entirely unprepared for the real world.”
“I think interning is a lot like driving for the first time after getting your learner’s permit; your classes have made you aware of the necessary steps involved, but actually doing it is drastically different,” Kucinski wrote in an email. “I am treated not like a student, but more as if I was a professional who has had experience. I believe that, just like getting a learner’s permit, an internship or a co-op is essential.”