Internships provide valuable experience, working students say

by Laura Martz

News Reporter

Picture yourself with diploma in sweaty hand -- the job hunt looming.

If only you'd gotten some hands-on experience in your field of study. If only you'd done some networking. If only you'd gotten some references besides your professors.

If only you'd done an internship.

Don't let this happen to you. Your college, the Cooperative Education Program or the Office of Career Planning and Placement can help you find one, whatever your major.

An internship is a temporary job that usually lasts several months. Interns are paid, get course credit or both. Students usually intern their junior or senior year.

After finishing school in May, journalism senior Patricia Davis will spend her summer reporting for The Daily Telegram, a newspaper in Temple. Because many reporters vacation in the summer months, she'll fill in on various news beats.

"I feel like I'm moving forward, although (Temple) is a little bitty town, and I'm a city girl," Davis said.

In his internship this semester at TCI Cablevision of Houston, radio and television senior William Hunter helps set up cable connections for cities and schools and works on a newsletter.

"Being able to see what goes into making everything happen is very interesting, and it's a lot more work than you think," he said. "The biggest thing you get out of an internship is networking."

Interning provides other benefits that may prove useful for people faced with impending graduation.

Advertising senior Carey Cappis said she might even get a job offer out of her internship at the Rives Carlberg Agency.

"I think I have a good chance," she said.

A job offer wouldn't surprise intern and business senior Lena Davis, who works with MCI Telecommunications Corp.'s computer system, either.

But occasional offers notwithstanding, "(interning) is the best thing you can do for your career. No matter what your GPA is, if you don't have experience, (prospective employers) really don't want to talk to you," she said.

Internships' financial benefits, though, vary wildly. Posts in glamorous fields like television typically are unpaid. Restaurant and newspaper interns may make $5 or $6 per hour.

An engineering intern, on the other hand, can make $2,000 a month, or more than $12 per hour.

The Cooperative Education Program arranges co-ops, intern jobs that students return to every other semester for about two years. Most are with large chemical, technological and scientific firms like Union Carbide Corp., IBM and NASA, though the city is also a big employer, said the program's director, Gerald Davenport.

Most co-op positions are designed for engineering majors, whose college oversees the program, but most companies request students from other fields, too, said Davenport, who has helped music, art and English majors find co-ops.

Hotel and restaurant management majors arrange internships through their college's own program. Chains like Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and El Chico Restaurants recruit on campus, though some students set up jobs themselves, often overseas, said HRM Assistant Professor Susan Sheridan.

She said an intern might work, for instance, in a restaurant's food and beverage division or a hotel's rooms division. Students rotate through various jobs -- the food and beverage intern might play hostess, cook and bartender.

Indeed, internships are a lot like real jobs, and students must apply and compete for them the same way they would for permanent positions.

Interns Cappis and Patricia Davis recommend students apply at least six months before they want to start working, and Cappis said researching the company before the interview is helpful.

And once you're on the job, Davis advised, "behave exactly as if it were full-time (permanent) employment."

Union Carbide intern and mechanical engineering junior Michael Kirby said students must work on their "people skills" in order to succeed in internships. "They don't really tell you that in school, but if you can't get along with these people, you're not going to get anything done," he said.

Lena Davis said, "Go in and give it your best. Don't go in there half-stepping. If you do that, you're misrepresenting the school as well as yourself."

Even if an internship turns out not to fulfill a student's expectations, she said, there's something to be learned from it, and it looks impressive on a rsum.

Visit The Daily Cougar