Internships at St. John's University: A Transition to the Workplace
Englander, Valerie, Moy, Ronald L., McQuillan, Thomas, Englander, Fred, Review of Business
The placement of undergraduate students with local firms through an internship program eases the transition from the classroom to the lob market. Internship programs offer numerous benefits to students, employers and the colleges and universities that serve as intermediaries.
An internship program administered by a college offers substantial advantages for students, employers and the college. For maximum effect, the attitudes of student and company candidates must be conditioned so that they participate for the right reasons and have realistic expectations about the outcomes. Faculty involvement is necessary for the intermediary function to be performed effectively. The benefits for students include:
* Exposure to the discipline of a professional work setting
* A better knowledge of the tasks performed by professionals
* An opportunity to develop skills relevant to a particular career choice
* The ability to evaluate whether a career choice is compatible with one's interests and personality
* Personal contacts that can help in the job search at graduation.
Employers are provided:
* Talented individuals who make a genuine contribution to the production process
* A knowledge of the skills and attitudes of students that can be used to fine-tune recruitment and training programs
* An opportunity to influence the training of future recruits by communicating the skills needed in a changing business environment
* A "free trial" of potential employees.
The sponsoring university is provided with a "reality check" of its program, i.e., a perception of what employers expect from recruits, which is useful for updating the undergraduate curriculum. The university is also able to offer internships as a selling point to encourage students to enroll in the institution. Of course, the ability of the program to deliver depends on its structure and effectiveness.
The internship program of the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John's University is unique. First, it has a full-time administrator who coordinates the program. Second, the program includes active faculty participation to integrate real world business experience within the academic framework.
Origin of the Program
The internship program at St. John's University began in 1987 with one company sponsor. The program now includes over 100 companies and has developed into a highly organized, research-oriented work experience for students. The program no longer places students in positions leading to full-time employment later, rather it exposes them to the opportunities in their field and gives them "real-world" research experiences. The program requires extensive interaction among company representatives, the faculty, interns and the administration on a regular basis. Approximately 50 to 100 students participate each semester in a wide range of internships.
To maintain a quality program, students must meet certain academic standards. Internships are available to seniors with an overall cumulative index of 3.0 and a major index of 3.25 out of 4.0. The internship coordinator interviews all students before they are selected to participate.
Over time, the role of a participating company has been refined. Early participants often found it difficult to devise a job description to realize a student's potential, and many students were expected to complete mundane tasks. The program coordinator helps companies establish an internship experience that is mutually beneficial. For example, nearly all the students will make extensive use of the computer software in their field. Companies expect students to have a computer background prior to their employment.
There are four areas of study for interns. In the Administrative Internship, students participate in hiring procedures, salary administration, performance appraisals, career development, compensation, benefits, labor advisement and communication planning. The intern may coordinate a sales conference from distributing invitations to planning the menu. Students in the Finance Internship aid in the development and sale of financial services, including mutual funds, and the launching of new products. Students have been placed on the security exchanges and worked at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and major financial services companies in New York City.
In the Marketing Internship, interns participate in the planning, preparation and monitoring of basic marketing strategies for a company and its clients. Students often bring fresh ideas into the creative departments of account management and media planning firms. Students in the Quantitative Analysis Internship collect, process and analyze data for research departments. Statistical analysis and data interpretations are used in report-generation and forecasting projects.
Interns are not paid but receive academic credit for their internship. Each company is required to set aside a portion of the workday for an academic research project. The coordinator seeks companies that are interested in maintaining a working relationship with the university and participating in the educational process. Employers who view interns as simply a source of free labor are quickly eliminated.
The Internship Calendar
During the month of September, the coordinator interviews companies who will participate in the Spring. At the end of October, the coordinator interviews students who will participate during the Spring semester. A student completes a review workshop resume for the coordinator, who then selects appropriate companies for the student based on her academic and business interests. Once a student is matched with a company, her resume is forwarded to the company.
An internship conference is held in November to initiate the interviewing process between new interns and company representatives. The typical conference consists of 25 companies (two representatives each) and approximately 100 students. Also attending the conference are faculty and university administrators. The coordinator updates participants on program developments and organizes roundtable discussions among company representatives and students.
The interviewing process continues through December. When a company makes an offer, it is submitted to the coordinator, not to the student. This allows the coordinator to help the student decide which internship will be most valuable. Also, the coordinator can keep track of which students have offers and whose resumes need to be submitted to other companies. When the student decides on an internship, she responds directly to the company and accepts or rejects the offer.
The Internship Curriculum
A student is required to (1) work 135 to 160 hours during the semester to a maximum of 16 hours per week, (2) attend monthly seminars coordinated by a faculty member assigned to the program, (3) complete a term paper related to the work involved and (4) keep a daily log of work activities. Finally, a supervisor evaluates the student; a sample form is shown in Exhibit 1.
An important aspect of the program is a monthly seminar with a faculty advisor present. Students interact with fellow interns, which allows them to experience numerous internships through their classmates. By discussing their work experiences in class, students share valuable information with other interns, such as computer requirements and how to deal with supervisors, and they develop public speaking skills. The students also learn how their assigned tasks match those of their peers. This information provides ideas about other tasks that they could perform and the "courage" to ask for additional duties or responsibilities.
The seminars are enlightening for the faculty advisor, who sees first hand what students are doing in the workplace and the skills required. This knowledge is important for revising old and designing new course syllabi.
The meetings are open and freewheeling with students directing the discussion. The students exchange ideas, problems and solutions. One student may feel underutilized. Another may have had similar difficulties at first, until her job was geared more to her interests and abilities.
Faculty members play an important role by sharing experiences from previous semesters. Past evaluations have found that students are afraid to ask for additional duties and responsibilities. The faculty member can encourage the student to take the initiative to define her role in the company. Experience suggests that employers enjoy working with the students, but they find some interns lack the self-confidence, but not the skills, for success in the business world. The faculty member can convey this information to the students and encourage them to seek more responsibilities.
A term paper bridges the gap between the work and academic experiences. Students are informed that they are responsible for a project related to their experiences, which can include a problem they worked on or a discussion of what they learned. The project elevates an intern's exposure at the company, since the sponsor is forced to assign tasks that provide a valuable educational experience. Usually, companies keep the projects on file for future reference. At the end of the semester, students present their projects to fellow interns and often to upper-level management at the firm. This has led to some interesting discussions and valuable experiences for both students and faculty.
Making the Most of an Internship
Students must know at the start what to expect from their experiences. Some of the more motivated and ambitious students often have unrealistic expectations. They fail to realize that the limited time that they work prevents a company from using them on long-term projects or projects requiring a lot of on-the-job-training. As a result, they are disappointed in their placement. The disappointment diminishes when the student realizes that there are many ways to benefit from the experience, including simple tasks like sitting in on staff meetings and listening to what others are saying.
Students often fail to realize that an internship offers an excellent opportunity for gathering information that can help in their search for a job after college. The information available includes:
* Is this the type of company I want to work for in the future?
* Will I acquire new skills?
* What do employees do?
* What hours and life styles are required?
* How stressful are the jobs?
* Am I interested in the jobs?
* What are the opportunities for advancement?
* How long does it take to advance?
* Are there interesting "back-room" jobs?
* Is this the type of supervisor I would like?
* Does she treat employees fairly?
* Is she a good mentor?
* What type of skills is this business looking for?
* Do I possess the skills?
* How can I obtain the skills?
* How do I get into this line of work?
* What are the educational requirements?
* What is the company looking for?
To answer these questions, students need to use all resources available. Many of the questions can be answered by simply watching other employees and talking to fellow employees and the supervisor. Students learn by observing differences between the business person they aspire to be and other employees. Is there a difference in the way successful employees dress? Do they speak and act differently? What is the difference between a manager who is respected and gets things done and one who is not successful? Students can learn by sitting in on internal meetings. Meetings between the firms and its clients provide valuable information about the firm and the importance of networking in the business world.
Benefits for Employers
Employers benefit from an internship program in a number of ways. Interns are talented students who contribute to an increased output for the firm. Participation reduces a firm's recruitment costs since management can identify individuals with the skills and personal traits needed based on the "audition" implicit in the internship experience. Participation expands the network of informal contacts for new employees. If an intern does not continue at the firm, she may recommend classmates who have the skills and attributes that the firm is seeking.
Participation can reduce recruitment costs because there is less employee turnover. An intern who continues as a full-time employee has a better understanding of the working environment and the division of responsibilities in the firm. So the employee is less likely to be surprised or disappointed with the job. The employees know what they are "getting into" and are less likely to change jobs.
Specific training of an employee involves the accumulation of knowledge and skills that increases her productivity in the work environment of a particular employer. By contrast, general training involves the accumulation of knowledge and skills that increases her productivity in a related job with any employer. If a firm hires an intern, she will be familiar with the firm's operational procedures, thereby reducing the need for specific training. General training costs are less because the intern knows how to conduct herself in the workplace, for example, how to make a presentation, the appropriate deference to the organizational hierarchy and the appropriate manner to offer constructive criticism.
The firm also gets a current view of the inventory of skills of college graduates. The interns possess a skill mix that is representative of the pool of recent college graduates who will compete for entry-level professional positions. Thus, firms are able to assess what professional or occupation-related skills they need to emphasize in tailoring their training program for new employees entering at the professional level. This input reduces the costs of training and yields a more effective focus for the training program.
The learning experience goes beyond the knowledge that students gain from participation. Clearly, students gain valuable work experience, make important contacts and add to their resumes. In addition, the close interactions among the university administration, faculty advisors and employers allow for additional learning to take place. The monthly seminars allow faculty members to see what skills are required in a changing workplace. The supervisor evaluations allow employers to pass along to the university the strengths and weaknesses of the students they supervise. The evaluations tell faculty and administrators what is lacking in the curriculum, for example, weak communication or quantitative skills.
Faculty members also gain a better insight into the juggling act that students have with their busy schedule that includes classes, internships and part-time jobs. This allows them to help students prioritize their activities.
The internship program has benefited all involved. Both faculty and students have learned about the strengths and weaknesses students bring to the business world. Students have gained confidence in their skills and in their school for providing this opportunity. The practical benefit of an internship is a persuasive selling point to incoming students. Prospective students and their parents can be made aware of the nature and mechanics of the internship program at campus events to attract new students.
The internship program has allowed companies to actively participate in the education process, and their assessment of the students can lead to refinement of the academic curriculum. These refinements serve the interests of the companies by altering the mix of skills provided by the academic program to match their requirements.
The importance of the information that employers provide is widely recognized. In particular, they have pointed out the need for students to strengthen their computer skills and enhance their written and verbal communication skills. Students also need to bolster their self-confidence in the workplace.
In sum, a successful internship program requires close interaction among employers, faculty, school administrators and students. Companies communicate their needs to the faculty and administrators. This information highlights the deficiencies in the current program and lends support for more successful programs. The lessons learned benefit future interns and the educational system as a whole.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Internships at St. John's University: A Transition to the Workplace. Contributors: Englander, Valerie - Author, Moy, Ronald L. - Author, McQuillan, Thomas - Author, Englander, Fred - Author. Journal title: Review of Business. Volume: 21. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring-Summer 2000. Page number: 28. © 2009 St. John's University, College of Business Administration. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.