Sunday, September 23, 2012

College Internships, Yet ANOTHER hurdle?

Matt,our oldest, is lucky. He actually has a job in the major he studied. As I watch his college friends all struggle to make it in this tough economy, as they apply, interview, take jobs waiting tables, live 4 to an apartment or move back in with their parents, I can't help but wonder that even with a college degree, the divide created by income continues to determine the ability to succeed.

Matt has student loans, he went to summer school, he did fine with his grades, he was an "average" kid academically.  So why is he employed in his field of study when others are not?  I think at least part of the answer is the fact that he had summer internships.

Matt had 3 fantastic internships, all three of them were paid. This gave him a tremendous advantage when interviewing. He has that magic word on his resume  "experience".  He was lucky that we could afford to help him travel to these internships and could help him cover his housing for the summer. Many of his friends were not so lucky.

So are internships now just one more hurdle students without economic means have to jump?  

Many (most?) students borrow money, do work/study, work another job in the evenings and in the summer they MUST take jobs that will let them be able to sock away enough cash to continue their education. In many of their fields of study internships are unpaid or barely paid, so without the financial means to pay rent, travel and living expenses in order to work for a company for free, these students simply cannot get the experience they need to be competitive in today's job market.

Add to this the fact that sometimes, it is in fact, "not what you know, but who you know" so if parents went to college, have a professional network, they can make phone calls to friends, relatives and business partners to assist their children in obtaining an internship.  If a student is the first to attend college in their family, no matter how much their family believes in and supports them , they may not possess these types of "connections" to assist their students.

Ideas for solutions?
Schools & communities can provide bridges for these students as young as high school. In Columbus, Indiana, Cummins provides high school students with engineering internship opportunities. We need more programs like this, preparing students for college & career at an early age. We can include mentors in high school who can become the facilitators, the "networkers",  for internships for these students as they pursue their calling. Higher Ed can work with these corporations to solve these problems, starting conversations around the fact that housing, travel & low pay are barriers to many talented candidates for their internships.

We must all work together to build these bridges for our students, breaking the cycle of poverty and leveling the playing field. What are your ideas?


  1. Theresa, I could not agree more that our K12 schools need to connect high school (and middle school) learning to the workforce and allow more internships, job shadowing, hands-on learning experiences in the community (local and global). Trying to build a "connected learning framework" takes a lot of innovation and time - both of which are stifled in today's high stakes test education systems.!Connected Learning /c1qdn

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