Internships: Best Practice and Smart Strategy

It is the classic conundrum faced by countless college graduates: How do I get a job that requires experience when the experience comes from doing the job? For an increasing number of Dalton State students, the resolution to the age-old problem is in internships which allow them to “try on” a prospective career field before graduating.

The internship may be for college credit or for pay or just for experience, but in any case it gives the student exposure to the career field without the commitment of all the resources necessary to train and process a new employee. Ideally the experience will confirm to the student that they are –or are not—on the right track to a satisfying career before the investment of additional effort and resources.

In the best case, the internship provides a win-win-win situation for student, employer and college: the student gets invaluable experience in field and perhaps a reference or two, the employer gets free or low-cost labor and perhaps a lead on an excellent future employee, and the college benefits from strengthening relationships with community employers while filling a pipeline with talent to meet local workforce needs.

Participation in an internship is one of those high impact practices we strive to offer at Dalton State that enrich a student’s college experience beyond the classroom.

As a mother, I can speak firsthand to the value of a summer internship. My son, Quentin, a third-year architecture major at Georgia Tech, interned this past summer with the local architecture firm, KRH Architects. The opportunity not only allowed Quentin to put into practice the knowledge and skills he had learned over the previous two years, but showed him what a career in architecture looks like on a daily basis. The good people at KRH gave him meaningful work to do which helped him build a portfolio and resume, but also taught him a work ethic and gave him valuable contacts that should help when he is searching for fulltime employment after graduation. Most importantly, it affirmed for Quentin that architecture is in fact the work he feels called to do and gave him a measure of confidence as a practitioner that the classroom simply cannot provide. I hope in turn that he provided value to KRH and expanded their professional capacity during the busy summer months.

Just as I am grateful to KRH for extending this opportunity to my son, so am I appreciative of every local employer who offers internship opportunities to our students. This is an important touchpoint between the college and the community. Some of our students, particularly in fields like healthcare and teacher training, have practical work experiences built into their curriculum, but others, such as those in business programs, STEM fields, and the liberal arts, rely on community partners to provide those opportunities. Those internships, I am proud to say, are starting to pour in.

The brand new Dalton Innovation Accelerator that just opened on Hamilton Street, for example, expands Dalton State’s presence downtown and provides an ideal site for students to serve local entrepreneurs with research and consulting assistance on matters such as business planning, marketing, branding and social media while Wright School of Business faculty members can assist with coaching and mentoring. This is yet another outstanding example of ways in which students can gain real world experience before committing to a career.

I am proud to say that we currently have more offers from local chemical companies than we have students to fill them. These are high-paying internships which are often followed by job offers. We have long had biology majors at the Chattanooga Aquarium, and we have math majors in our Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematics program who have worked with manufacturing companies and currently a local school system to resolve problems using mathematical solutions. Our social work students are all over Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee interning in DFCS offices, with area hospice services, the Conasauga Drug Court, local school systems and others, while communication majors are interning with local manufacturing companies, non-profits and even the Chattanooga Zoo providing public relations and community outreach.

Internships are a best practice in higher education for the reasons described but they are also a good workforce development strategy for our area. We know that many if not most of our students are committed to staying in our community and will be looking for jobs with our local companies and organizations. If you are interested in offering an internship opportunity to a student or students at Dalton State, I hope you will let me know. We can put our students to work for you.