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Experiential Education + Academic Credit = Improved Career Decision Making and Development

EACE Blog contribution by Scott Borden and Sue Pye, Rutgers University Career Services

This article represents part one in a three part series focused on the strategic development, growth and evaluation of a for-credit internship program, the Rutgers Internship and Co-op Program (RICP) at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, a large, diverse state university.

A recent Gallup poll, entitled “Life in College Matters for Life After College” highlights what many in the career development field have understood for a long time, namely that workplace success and well-being, while challenging to predict, is connected to students access to and taking advantage of relationship development and experience attainment while in school.  The development of career-related relationships and deep-learning experience and exposure came in the form of mentors (engaged professors, counselors, advisors) and experiential education opportunities (internships and co-ops).

The interesting study goes on to state that:

The type of schools these college graduates attended – public or private, small or large, very selective or less selective – hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being. Just as many graduates of public colleges as graduates of not-for-profit private colleges are engaged at work – meaning they are deeply involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. And just as many graduates of public as not-for-profit private institutions are thriving – which Gallup defines as strong, consistent, and progressing – in all areas of their well-being.

Instead, the study found that support and experiences in college had more of a relationship to long-term outcomes for these college graduates. For example, if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.

Professionals in career services offices around the country continuously “go back to the lab” to develop improved ways and programs to effectively engage and  mentor students and connect them to internships and co-ops to deepen their access, knowledge, experience, professional networks and skill development opportunities. The Gallup study reinforces career advising professional’s efforts in this regard and stands as a call to action for educators, career development professionals and employers to continue to advance their efforts to build more robust partnerships with regard to student experiential education.

At Rutgers University Career Services (UCS), experiential education has become a primary focus in encouraging students to engage in experiential education activities early on in their college careers to help them become “internship ready” by junior year. Our goal is to foster an environment that encourages students to engage in meaningful activities throughout their undergraduate years. To further enhance the internship experience, UCS partnered with the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences to create the Rutgers Internship & Co-op Program in 2008 to provide an internship course promoting student learning through reflection.  The course represents a unique relationship between the university and internship site employers in helping students gain professional level work experience and valuable professional feedback and mentoring from their internship supervisors.

While the program has undergone many changes since 2008, Sue Pye, the Assistant Director for Experiential Education and Amanda Choo, the Coordinator for Experiential Education, agree that one of the many benefits of the course that has not changed is the feedback and mentoring provided by the internship supervisors.  Currently, over 150 students participate in the internship course in the fall and spring semesters with 100 participating in summer.  The course is offered online and is pass/fail.  Like other internship courses, students need to complete a specified number of weeks and hours as well as achieve a certain number of points through assignments, and ultimately, an average or better final performance appraisal from their internship supervisor. One of the unique aspects of the course is that it is open to any undergraduate major at the Rutgers University-New Brunswick campus who meets program eligibility.  Students in the course represent a diverse variety of majors from engineering to history.

The course curriculum focuses on career development and professional growth.  The primary course objective is to help students clarify career goals and develop career plans to improve access to post-graduation opportunities.  Pre and Post Surveys and rubrics are used to evaluate learning outcomes.  Students also evaluate their internship site and instructors.  Through this formal evaluation process, not only are learning outcomes evaluated but all aspects of the students’ course experience.  This valuable information allows the Experiential Education team to make impactful changes to the program.

Students apply for the internship course through an online application and must submit internship site information regarding the internship and the skills the student will develop.  Learning contracts and performance appraisals are also used to encourage the mentoring relationship between the student and supervisor.  All internship course instructors are experienced career professionals who are qualified to provide meaningful career coaching to students on how to get the most out of their internship experience and handle issues in the workplace with the goal of helping them gain the knowledge and sophistication required to manage their future career paths.
Though her primary responsibility as Assistant Director for Experiential Education is to oversee the RICP Program, Sue Pye also feels educating employers and building partnerships with faculty are also integral to her work and the success of the program.  This increased focus on engagement and partnership building with employers and faculty has been infused at all levels of the UCS team and has yielded positive results for students, employers and UCS. Sue serves as a resource to all employers interested in building an internship program or enhancing their existing program.  While not all internships may qualify for the RICP program, she encourages all employers to incorporate mentoring and other valuable aspects of for-credit internships into their programs. When recruiting employers, her goal is to increase the overall number of internship opportunities for students and encourage employers who have internships that meet RICP program requirements to be open to students interested in obtaining credits and participating in the RICP Internship Course.

In working with faculty, Sue’s goal is to promote the University Career Services resources and tools that may be valuable for faculty and their students.  This goal has been incorporated into the outreach activities of all staff Career Development Specialists, who schedule regular meeting opportunities with faculty and career-cluster-based “adopted employers” to deepen the awareness of the RICP Program, internships and broad-based, student experiential education opportunities.

The RICP Internship Course is not meant to compete with internship courses offered through academic departments, but serves as an additional opportunity for students who have completed internships through their department or an alternative for those who do not meet department eligibility.  A secondary priority is leveraging the expertise available at a large institution.  In her meetings with faculty and internship administrators early on in her tenure, she realized how the value of the information and expertise each faculty or staff member has to offer and created the Internship Advisory Group as a way to share this information and best practices among colleagues at the institution.  Through meetings and communication, internship faculty and administrators who provide credit-based internship courses discuss current issues such as unpaid internships and share knowledge and best practices.  This group also led to the creation of a web based directory of all credit-based internship opportunities available at Rutgers.  The directory, which is posted on the University Career Services internship website, provides a one stop shopping resource to assist Rutgers undergraduates in identifying their options when seeking the opportunity to earn credits for an internship.

Rutgers University - top majors of students participating in internships

Rutgers University – top majors of students participating in internships

Since the program began in 2008, over 1700 students have participated in the RICP Program internship and co-op courses with over 750 employers supporting students by offering opportunities.

Rutgers University - class breakdown of students participating in internships

Rutgers University – class breakdown of students participating in internships

Our senior survey data from 2013 reflects that 85% of RICP participants who graduated in May 2013 received at least two job offers.  Consistently, feedback from students who participated in the program highlights that students would recommend the internship courses to a friend as well as their internship site. While growing the RICP program is always a goal for Rutgers University Career Services, the over-arching goal is to encourage all students to participate in internships whether or not for credit and to encourage Rutgers employer partners to offer meaningful internship opportunities.  If internship sites incorporate the standards for credit-based internships, all students benefit, whether they are earning credit or not.

Watch for part 2 of this series next Thursday!

Please contact Scott Borden or Sue Pye for further information about The Rutgers Internship and Co-Op Program (RICP).

borden-scottScott Borden is a New Jersey licensed professional counselor, national certified counselor, national certified career counselor, and distance credentialed counselor. As a Career Development Specialist with University Career Services, he provides career counseling, life-planning, and related programming to undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing careers within the following areas: business, communication and English. While working with all undergraduate and graduate students, Scott also serves as a liaison to students on academic probation/at risk for retention and transfer students new to Rutgers.

Prior to his experience at Rutgers and in private practice, Scott was an operations manager for Lehman Brothers in NYC for six years, where he managed the OTC Equities group and provided team-building and communications seminars to staff.

Scott holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the College of New Jersey, a bachelor’s degree in finance and management from Monmouth University, and is a member of the NJ Counseling Association, NJ Career Development Association, Middle Atlantic Career Counselors Association, and Chi Sigma Iota.

Sue Pye

Sue Pye

As the Assistant Director for Experiential Education my goal is to help students gain meaningful experience through internships or other related opportunities to enhance their academic and career pursuits. I also serve as an Instructor for the Rutgers Internship and Co-op courses. I enjoy helping students identify and achieve their career goals.

I completed my bachelor’s degree at Rutgers with majors in anthropology and communication. I obtained my master’s degree in higher education at NYU. Prior to Rutgers, I worked at Seton Hall University, The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), William Paterson University, College of Saint Elizabeth, and Kean University.

As an undergraduate alumna of Rutgers, I value the Rutgers experience and understand the complexities of such an impressive and large institution. My advice to students is to hit the ground running and get involved. Start gaining experience and skills by joining a student organization, obtaining an internship, volunteering, obtaining a research experience, or studying abroad.

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