Career Services is in a constant evolution of how we can best serve our students. When I came in as the Director of Career Services and Testing at Sul Ross State University at the end of 2013, I went to my first National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Conference in the summer of 2014, which is the ultimate conference for career services directors. Unbeknownst to me there had been a recent change in career services. The new direction was career development. University departments across the country were restructuring their departments. Department names were changing, staffing titles were being revamped, and the focus was helping students “develop” their career path. The strategies of serving the students was dramatically redefined, there was a new philosophy to give a resurgence to the department, so the students could receive the validation in their career development path. It was taking the philosophy in a direction of connectivity (community connection). Guiding students to the value of the face to face through mentorships, internships, job shadowing, and the importance of shaking a recruiter’s hand at a career fair. It wasn’t really new information but it was in a new package to help invigorate the career service leaders or should I say career development directors.
The conference inspired me with their messages (connect with passion, paid internships with college credit, student mentorships with alumni, partnering with other departments, “network for your future”) that were seared into my brain. I was ready to come back and get to work. By the end of the year I was developing a mentorship program for students. I had recruited local employers and leaders of the communities for students to job shadow and talk to them about their professions, so they could learn and absorb the information for the future. I had over sixteen students apply and I matched six of the students with their mentors: one with a local biologist who ran the recycle program, another with the city manager, one with a retired meteorologist, a match with a psychiatrist, a student with a school principal, and another student with a university professor. The students built their relationships with their mentors at their own pace, many job shadowed with the mentor, several just visited and talked about the profession, but the connections were being made and resources created for the students. The students were networking for their future.
In the winter of 2015, Dr. Jenny Penland had been hired for the Director of Experiential Learning with the Title V El Camino Del Lobo Al Exito grant. Experiential Learning had been one of those concepts emphasized during the conference. Help the students get the experience on the job. In the summer, Dr. Penland introduced herself to me and discussed the idea of internships. She was doing exactly what had been stressed at the conference “partner with other departments”. Career Services and Experiential Learning are constituent parts with a symbiotic relationship that guide the students to resources that can help them in their future career. The internship program was conceptualized, developed and piloted. Dr. Penland successfully built relationships with the local and regional comunities for internships and collaborated with departments to help secure collage credit for the students. Elbert Bassham was the lead on spreadsheets for the companies and students, and instrumental in tech support. While Rob Soltz and Al Brautigam brought the internship webpage to life with their masterful skills. My role was support, assist with development of required documents for the students and referral for students and businesses. Committees met, documents were put in place, students recruited, and internships developed, success achieved.
Sul Ross has taken a significant role in keeping with the trends and after a year and half has an active internship program for our students that give them the opportunity to network and make the connectivity for their future. Internships are packaged in a bigger brighter bow than in the past for our students to open and embrace. The value of them cannot be over emphasized. They open doors for our students – the opportunity to work in their field, learn the basics, is this the match I dreamed of or am I needing to look at other options, so I can move into a different direction, network and learn the players in the field. Seize those opportunities and find an internship that can help you toward your future career.